April 27, 2011

David Foster Wallace's marginalia-filled self-help books.

Maria Bustillos got access and reports in great detail.
That Wallace even had a copy of Bradshaw On: The Family came as a great surprise to me, as I mentioned earlier. But later I talked with my very old friend, S., who went into recovery almost exactly when Wallace did. S. explained that John Bradshaw was all the rage in AA circles at that time. (Bradshaw is the guy who popularized the idea of the "inner child" in the '90s, and he had a TV show on PBS that was hugely popular.)...

A highlighted passage in Bradshaw On: The Family:
Thought Disorders:
You are always reading about your problems, learning why you are the way you are.
You are numb
You control your emotions and feel shame when you can't
You gauge your behavior by how it looks–by the image you believe you're making.
Lots more at the linked piece, which reads a bit too much like the author's raw notes. The extensive thing ends with this, a quiz Wallace gave to students:
WIN A LUNCH WITH DAVE, SPARKLING CONVERSATIONALIST, WELL-MANNERED EATER, BY SIMPLY IDENTIFYING WHAT ALL THE FOLLOWING WORDS HAVE IN COMMON:

Foreign
Big
Diminutive
Incomprehensible
Untyped
Pulchritude
S-less
Unwritten
Indefinable
Misspelled
Vulgar
High-class
Invisible
Unvowelled
Obscene
Bustillos offers her answer: "My only stab at a guess is that these are words that can be used to describe writing itself, though I feel like 'pulchritude' is kind of wrong, that way. I would love to hear other ideas." No way she'd win the lunch! Isn't it obvious that Wallace was offering up an inkblot to open up the writer's minds? He could then pick the person who'd be most amusing to talk to for an hour. If you just want a correct answer, it's: They're all adjectives. But who wants to eat lunch with someone who'd say that?

ADDED: As several commenters point out, "pulchritude" is a noun. I need to be more careful. At lunch, I would spill the iced tea.

24 comments:

john said...

Depends who pays for it.

rhhardin said...

"Do not indulge the cult of adjectives such as indescribable, inenarrable, rutilant, incomparable, colossal, which shamelessly lie to the nouns they distort: they are pursued by lewdness."

- Lautreamont

Henry said...

Almost off topic. I just finished The Bicycle Runner, Franco Romagnoli's sparkling memoir of his coming-of-age in Fascist Italy.

He uses the word "pulchritude" several times in reference to female beauty. Such an awkward word. The sound is foreign to the meaning.

ghytred said...

I am not Big, but Diminutive. Foreign, High-class, yet Incomprehensible and Indefinable. On the internet I am Invisible. Misspelled, Obscene, lacking in any Pulchritude, 'S-less' should have been Untyped; almost Unvowelled it should be Unwritten.
Vulgar.

PS Surely Pulchritude is a noun?

rastajenk said...

Indeed. Pulchritudinous would be the adjective form, would it not?

(With four responses...not that anyone cares.)

raf said...

ghytred got there first. I think "pulchritudinous" might be the adjectival form.

wv: suadsms. WV's answer. The words are all suadisms. Duh!

raf said...

And then rastajenk slips in ahead, too. Must learn to type faster.

dorkismo said...

The quiz answer is revealed in the comments: they're all words whose meaning is belied by the form of the word itself: big is a little word, pulchritude is an ugly word, etc.

ghytred said...

dorkismo joins the list!

The Crack Emcee said...

I told you he was a NewAger. Check the last post on him.

You people think I'm joking, or throw the title out indescriminantly, when it's you who are failing to notice the difference between who I say does or does not fit the description and why. Wallace was easy.

Ann's pretty obvious, too.

The Crack Emcee said...

Meade, too, BTW.

FEAR.

Robert said...

They are all written in the Roman alphabet.

Since when was S-less deemed a word?

Martin said...

Your answer is not correct.

Paul said...

"Vulgar" isn't uncommon in its formation (an adjectival ending on a latin word). The common man might not use it properly, if at all? A commoner would probably know its more recent (vulgar) definition as a synonym for grossness, but then what's chaste or tasteful about v-u-l-g-a-r?

"High-class". Aristocrats don't talk about the aristocracy?
The Aristocrats is a very low-class joke. Or hyphens are for proles?

Mickey said...

They all start with a capital letter.

They all sound kinda boring. None of them are interesting or make me think of anything interesting. Adjective or noun, they do more to obscure than illustrate.

They're in real contrast to the words used to describe the person you might eat lunch with, "SPARKLING CONVERSATIONALIST, WELL-MANNERED EATER." That puts an interesting image in my mind right away.

ricpic said...

The list of words was put together by a smart aleck who figured the title professor gave him leeway to treat his students cavalierly.

Oligonicella said...

The most obvious similarity is they're all on a list put together by someone egomaniacal enough to believe he's worth launching a competition to have lunch with.

William said...

Description of the Obama Doctrine....If I were a self help author, I would not want the blurb of a notable suicide. "This book really opened my eyes." David Foster Wallace.

Rob said...

I'm reading TPK now, and there is a point in the book where the narrator ("as author" as he is at pains to point out - so I assume this is a quasi-autobiographic section) has been given an "insipid" self-help book from an unnamed relative, and he (i.e., the narrator, David Wallace) is annotating it sarcastically in preparatjon to send it back to said relative. So I am forced to wonder if DFW actually used the self-help books as actual aid, or just as novel fodder.

Cherish said...

"So I am forced to wonder if DFW actually used the self-help books as actual aid, or just as novel fodder."

I wondered this, too. At first read, the notes are heartbreaking, and it's all too easy to assume he's thinking about his own mother, for example. But, isn't it more likely that he was using the books to help him develop characters he hadn't had direct experience with?

dbp said...

I doubt this would win, but who knows--giving DFW's penchant for math:

All of the words in the list are members of the set: "THE FOLLOWING WORDS".

dorkismo said...

@Paul, you're right, sorry ... I should have said formation, or usage; they're self-contradictory words in some way. "Vulgar" is a high-class word, whereas "high-class" is a vulgar one, etc.

William said...

Dorkismo's analysis seems right on. One cannot say, however, whether this is the correct reading or simply an astute observation.

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