David Foster Wallace was unique
David Foster Wallace : Freak show America
When David Foster Wallace threw over a thousand pages of "Infinite Jest" at the Americans' feet in 1996, he was a young man of 34 years and his dark intelligence shone into the last corner of this literary monster. With parodic poison, he conjured up the spirits of an America of the near future lying in the rubble of civilization and soul ashes. At the same time, he left no doubt that it was a matter of crawling out alive from under the ruins of the present. “Infinite Jest” was, if not an optimistic, then at least a passionately positive, vital novel - especially in its destructiveness.
It has not yet been decided in what form the “infinite fun”, which in Ulrich Blumenbach's translation has grown to almost 1,600 pages, will reach its German readers today, who already have one foot in the future described by Foster Wallace. How the "fun" ended for those who instigated it is, however, irrevocably certain. On September 12, 2008, at the age of 46, David Foster Wallace hanged himself in Claremont, California. From his youth he had lived in the shadow of a depression that was sometimes more, sometimes less controlled, but in the end resisted any therapy. For him, suicide was a liberation.
The temptation to canonize him as a martyr is not easy to fend off. Foster Wallace, who gained a reputation for himself as a specialist in deformed existences with his volumes of short stories, did not deserve such glorifying attention. His creative work of language, which lives not least from virtuoso speech corruption, can assert itself without them. Nevertheless, the death of Foster Wallace changes the view of his magnum opus yet again.
“Infinite Fun” is about nothing more than self-creation and self-destruction - and not only fantasizes about the planned crack suicide of radio presenter Madame Psychosis: “One of the vicious myths is the view that people are always euphoric, generous and extroverted immediately before they do redecorate the map in the long run. In truth, the hours leading up to suicide are, by and large, a period of tremendous selfishness. Never in harmony with herself as with self-cancellation will she lock herself in Molly Notkin's bedroom or bathroom and smoke one from the tin in such a way that she falls, stops breathing, blues, holds her heart convulsively and dies. "
The whole thing then just goes well again - or just wrong. The perspective makes no difference. Yes, it is part of the character of this storytelling that it leaves you no choice between anxious sympathy and head-shaking ridicule. In any case, you don't draw any short circuits when you link the fact that "Infinite Fun" is largely about tennis and drug therapy to the fact that Foster Wallace himself was a talented tennis player, a persistent stoner and ultimately a successful suicide.
Because one is the material, the other is its literary transformation. And Foster Wallace takes everything to an absurd point, who wants to make existential seriousness felt again through unrestrained distortion, instead of failing because of a pathos that nobody wants to know anything about. Washed down by kitsch, it is no less used up than an irony elevated to second nature by advertising and television, which no longer allows a glance at the merciless first nature.
In his cruelest moments, David Foster Wallace celebrates splatter orgies without permission to laugh. When he describes a wilted stillbirth, for example, the details have an ultra-realistic format that turns into the surreal. He tells how the cocaine-eaten Randy Lenz lives out his fantasies of omnipotence by slitting dogs' throats and packing cats alive in tear-resistant garbage bags, only to knock them to death at traffic signs or telegraph poles. But it also shows that people like Lenz only act out something that happened to them themselves. Matty Pemulis, for example, has been abused by his father for years - which Foster Wallace imagines between blurred tenderness and lust for rape on an eerie angle that wants nothing but to do justice to the process itself.
Foster Wallace tries less in the art of empathy than in the staging of situations. You don't need to imagine that you are getting close to your characters, even if you spend several hundred pages with some of them. With every line he makes it clear that literature is a conscious game that, however, requires an effort outside of itself.
All of this does not make the thing the author is pursuing any more accessible. In any case, readability would be the last thing one might expect from this novel written against all economics. In his cascades and swirls, he rather designs an over-the-top counter-system to the self-destructive mega-machine that he sees here in the capitalist work. She wants to breed success and achievement - and produces nothing but numbness and debility. People live in the “year of the Whopper”, “the incontinence underwear” or “the Tucks hemorrhoid ointment”. “Infinite Fun” shows America as a gigantic freakshow - and its residents as a people of free-range prisoners who would all have to be brought in.
But one after the other, as far as this is possible in a novel whose end is at the beginning. It begins with an interrogation of 18 year old Hal Incandenza by the management of the Enfield Tennis Academy. Hal, who is one of the high hopes of this family-run boarding school, is said to be responsible for his declining performance. From there, the book is retrospectively devoted to the neurotic perils of the entire Incandenza clan - but this is by no means dutifully linear. A second narrative is dedicated to Don Gately, who after a criminal drug career is the good spirit of Ennet House, a therapy facility for drunkards and addicts. Just as the Academy's boarding school is a refuge for weird adolescents, Ennet House is home to a community of the disturbed. The residents are also related to one another in their secret drug use.
Tennis is treated as a kind of Zen: as a sport whose set of rules dissolves the deeper you go into its description. “The infinite roots of the beauty of tennis are auto-competitive in nature. One fights one's own limits in order to transcend the ego in imagination and execution. Disappear in the game: break through boundaries: transcend: advance: win. "
A third strand deals with a group of Québec separatists who rebel against the Organization of North American Nations, or O.N.A.N. for short. In their struggle against the great powers that include Canada and Mexico, they are looking for the ultimate weapon: a film made by Hals' father James Orin Incandenza called "Infinite Jest" - the "Infinite Fun" that gave the novel its title. The film, whose director killed himself at the age of 54 by sticking his head in a microwave, is said to be so entertaining that its viewers can no longer tear themselves away, become apathetic - and die.
But until you get on the track, you follow grotesque conversations in the desert of Tucson, Arizona between Hugh Steeply, a “feminized American” with a middle name Helen, who has a prosthetic breast, and Remy Marathe, a multiple agent, whose leg amputated him for the AFR's special terrorist task force qualified: the "Assassins en fauteuils roulants", the assassin in moving wheelchairs.
At most, this sketch conveys an inkling of the richness of the subplots and subplots, of the variety of medical, mathematical, pop culture and film aesthetic discussions - or the alternating baths of brutal farce and poetic sophistication, slapstick and language berserk, comic observation and psychotic streams of consciousness. Foster Wallace's imagination gallops wildly, and what he has not included in the main text can be found in the 200-page notes - if there were a hierarchy associated with this hallmark of his narrative.
From a literary-historical point of view, Foster Wallace not only outbids François Rabelais, who at the beginning of the 16th century accumulated masses of words with his cycle about the giants Gargantua and Pantagruel, which are still regarded today as a model of intelligently out of hand narration. But it is also possible that he felt like sending some of his contemporaries out of their seats. Because, of course, “Infinite Jest” is not unique in American literature for the past fifty years. William Gaddis wrote a comparable monster in 1955 with “Forging the World”, and Thomas Pynchon created an epic in 1973 with “The Ends of the Parable” that plowed through similarly heterogeneous worlds - drug fog and sexual perversion included.
Foster Wallace stands at the end of a postmodern era from which he wanted to drive out the self-reflective artistic will for the sake of reality, as he saw it embodied in writers such as John Barth or Robert Coover. He undoubtedly succeeded in doing this with “Infinite Fun”. At the price, however, that this reality, where it does not concern the raw human condition, is pervaded by references and allusions to films and television series, which in 20 years' time will require their own annotation machine. Even as a science fiction novel, its net and networking metaphors have already fallen halfway out of time. This does not affect the fundamental demands placed on the reader. Pages of text without a paragraph. Endless descriptions of tennis matches. A late-student wandering intellectual silliness still trying to escape academic ruin. A fixation on the anal. And all in all: a monumental formlessness.
Not only it can be justified from the material. But for every ingenious passage there is one in which Foster Wallace starts his text machine with a clatter. He produces abundance through rhetoric, repeating, layering paragraph by paragraph, words and parts of sentences, indulging in a blind enumeration - and at the same time leaves the grammar of perception intact. Just the way he declines through the courts of the Enfield Tennis Academy only gives the impression of something narrative untamed. The excessive shows itself above all in excess. It doesn't help that Hal Incandenza is an admirer of the Oxford English Dictionary and is as intoxicated with alienating and verbalizing as good dope. Sometimes all that remains for the reader is techno jargon and syllable trash.
Barren, satirically laboriously redeemed expanses stand next to highlights such as those offered by the stories “Little girl with strange hair”. “Endless fun” puts them all together, tries out the technique of the interviews, cleared of his questions, as he perfected in the “Short interviews with nasty men”, and testifies to the fact that Foster Wallace's talent was more short-range. In a manageable length, each with its own pitch, he drafts texts such as the address by James Incandenza's father to his ten-year-old son, who is dedicated to tennis, who is also supposed to learn how to open garage doors in the correct sportsmanship - an eulogy to the spirit of the world of things.
Foster Wallace is particularly good at describing internal states. The consumption after the next boom, the cold turkey of withdrawal - or a schizophrenic experience, which he tells as a haunted by a ghost. Foster Wallace's satirical talent is also enchanting when attending Alcoholics Anonymous sessions. If he can still let off steam linguistically, he is in his element. Madame Psychosis, for example, likes to read on her radio show from the PR circulars from L.A.R.V.E., the League of the Absolutely Male Disfigured and Disfigured: “People with saddle noses. People with atrophic limbs. And, exactly, chemists and pure mathematicians majoring with throat atrophies too. People with Scleroedema adultorum. People with serodermatosis who are oozing. The hydrocephalic. Consumers, cachectics and anorectics. People with Brag's disease with their severe red skin erosions. Cases of nevus flammeus, carbuncle formation, or steatocryptosis, or all three, which may God forbid. Marin Amat Syndrome, you say? Bring you here. Psoriatic. Eczematous avoided. And scrofulums. You bell-shaped steatopyknikers in your custom-made trousers. You with pityriaisis rosea. It says here: 'Come to me who are repulsive and neglected.' "
In order to translate something like this, you need at least a dictionary in addition to a dictionary - perseverance and standby experts. Ulrich Blumenbach had that for five years - and a knack, no, the paw for the titanic project anyway. As far as one can translate the “Infinite Fun”, deeply rooted in American culture as it is, into German, it has made it into the most crooked, twisted sentences.
A not entirely unknown German poet once wished that his gravestone should say that he had made suggestions with his work. In the case of David Foster Wallace, that would be false restraint: “Infinite fun” is a sledgehammer.
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