Saturday, January 30, 2010

Legacy Islands

There is all this wonder now, about what the great author might have left behind. Will there be a great book in his vault?

Sorry to say it out loud, but I really could care less. Not interested, is what I mean. I could not care less for the man behind the beloved text. There was nothing more that he could write, and so he recused himself from life.

David Foster Wallace is by far the greater writer, and he recused himself more cruely. I've been reading his take on tennis starlet Tracy Austin, which reflected also upon the author's own self-consciousness tossing up his serves in public as a tennis pro in training.

He celebrates the transcendent accomplishment of sports super-stars, whose techne/technique/kung-fu(if you want to be wrong-headed about it) leads them to an embodiment of godliness, accomplished by a perfect vacancy in the strong mind which got them, the athletes, to that point of natural-law defying beauty.

He himself, he writes, could never get to that kind of perfect poise, playing tennis, although at least a few of his readers thought he came pretty close in in his writing. He's a magician with words, tricking you into following arguments that far (that far!) beyond your capacity to understand. Over-reaching metaphor, until you almost stand with him at whatever transcendent meaning he has, himself, accomplished.

But the trouble with writing is that it can never be a spectator sport. The audience was as essential to Tracy Austin's transcendent tennis as it was to her youthful self-destruction. It defined the context for perfection. It destroyed her body during its course of growth. The audience was the adversary she could overcome quite naturally in her gifted youth. The audience triumphed.

For a writer, the audience has skin in the game, and triumph is annihilation in fact and not on any performance stage. It is a dance in private, and how could David Foster Wallace ever have known that there are limits to argumentation, limits to metaphor, beyond which you are and must remain alone, dancing with only stars, having made an object of yourself. Synecdoche death.

Thank God for the Chinese. I mean that ironically, since, of course, there is no God in Chinese, nor metaphor the way we mean it. Just raw competition, falling short of which is defined pretty clearly by the hoards left behind. Writing accomplishment there is the reward, as in tennis, for practice practice practice according to a regimen no different in intensity from the one required to empty your mind in the kung-fu of martial arts.

How glad am I that I never was a prodigy of tennis nor of words. I can be satisfied that JD Salinger was more autist than artist, and that there is nothing to be found in further writings that is not already cliched behind whatever secret combination. His vault would be the last place I would look for greater writings. That ship has sailed. This world has changed already.

I would that I might have had a conversation with David Foster Wallace, though. I would have asked him about the limits to rhetoric, to narrative, to technique, to craft. The limits even, to art. I would have tried out a Chinese approach. Not the one the Chinese now, still, remain saddled with, but one which comes at the remove of a different tradition, in comparison, really, against it.

Once in the traction of words in the single language that the mediated world is left with, there is no resistance against the disappearance of the self sucked up into the tuba of the words which were their own transcendence. There is no drug, nor alcohol sufficiently refined against it that would not leave you at the same place in the end. Vacant. Voided.

Evolution is a farce played out on a competitive stage only if you wish to see it thus. Beneath its truth of dog eat dog, there is love in the granting of life to the victor. It's very hard to see, and no question about it, but it is there nonetheless. This willingness to be made the object. Fuck with me, sucka. I'm yours. I have wanted you, alone, all this time. I've made myself up. I'm ready.

Words are their own object. Carved upon the earth, they bring the heavens closer. They must be outered and still they will silence you forever. Not terribly complicated, although if you are well endowed, then it might be more difficult to cut loose of what got you started.

Be thankful that you're not. They will suck you in, these words.

Not these ones, silly.

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