Tag Archives: art

David Foster Wallace: The Infinite Jester.

I have just finished reading Every Love Story Is A Ghost Story, D.T. Max’s biography of David Foster Wallace, an author I’ve heard about but never read. I doubt I’m the only one in the latter category. He’s mentioned in the same breath as Dave Eggars, Thomas Pyncheon, Jonathon Franzen and Dom DeLillo. Of these authors, I’ve only read DeLillo’s Point Omega – and that’s only because it’s a short novel. I still didn’t get it – if there was anything in there to “get” that is.

Wallace achieved fame after the publication of his second novel, Infinite Jest. There is a copy of this 1,079 page monster beside me right now, looking at me, daring me to open it up and read it. It’s a scary proposition. All the more so because the author himself felt he couldn’t top it. No matter how hard he worked (and he came up with some great excuses when he couldn’t quite find the inspiration), Wallace’s anxieties and ongoing struggle with depression and addiction – as well as a succession of failed relationships – ripped his undoubted talents as a fiction writer to shreds. His non-fiction, particularly his journalism, kept him alive – but only to a point.

Wallace committed suicide at the age of 46. He left behind his wife of four years, and an unfinished manuscript for what would eventually become The Pale King, a novel about boredom and the I.R.S.

So why would I be interested in a writer I’ve never read, especially one I’d probably never read? * Because he (and I’m sorry if this sounds clichéd) suffered for his art. When he faced long bouts of writer’s block, he wrote to DeLillo and Franzen to complain about his lot. Nowadays we writers moan about our lack of creativity on Facebook or Twitter. Both actions are cries for help, but Wallace had a bit more class about him. He was also a deep thinker; there wasn’t a subject he didn’t want to know about. He studied philosophy, mathematics, tax accounting (for The Pale King), and was a clever, funny, but insightful critic on modern-day consumerism and mass entertainment. Infinite Jest is Wallace’s commentary on a society brought up to worship television, a society that has become addicted to addictions, become increasingly disconnected, and mourning for a loss of community. Wallace gives us no answers because that would be the easy way out. We have to find these for ourselves.

And this is why I am drawn to this man. He echoes my thoughts right now. The world he wrote about in 1996 is still very much the world of 2012. We’re still searching for answers, looking for meaning in an ultimately meaningless society. Will we find them? Wallace didn’t stay around long enough to find out.

* (I will clarify my above statement. I have read Wallace: it was an article he wrote about Roger Federer – Wallace played tennis to a high level when he was younger – and it’s an exquisite piece of writing.)

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The Daily Whatever: On Strangers in Coffee Shops.

You have an hour to kill, so what else are you going to do but go for a coffee somewhere, right? This is Dublin, and like any major city, there are about as many coffee shops to choose from as there are pubs. But you like Fixx because the staff there make better cappuccinos than Starbucks (which isn’t hard, in all fairness). To them it’s like an art form,

You order, pay for, then collect your cappuccino and sit down to read your book. For once you get a good seat, a comfortable one that you can flump into. You hang your coat on the chair opposite so no one will ask to sit with you. You’re going to be with people all night; all you want is an hour and some space to yourself. Besides, the book you’re reading – 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami – requires concentration; a table to yourself is what you require.

Because your head is dug into a book all you see of the woman who sits on the table next to you is her legs. She’s wearing black tights and black calf-length boots. Your eyes move up and you notice that she’s wearing a grey suit. At that moment, though, you can’t see what she looks like because she’s facing away from you. Her hair is jet black and you suspect she might be foreign, Chinese or Japanese maybe (although she might be a touch too tall to be Oriental).

On her tray she has a small pot of tea, a brown scone, some butter and jam. You go back to your book – but it’s too late; your attention is diverted. Her hair is short but her fringe covers her eyes. You see, however, that she wears glasses. But she’s looking down. First at her phone, as she checks her messages, then at her scone, as she decides whether or not to eat it. She pours her tea but you’re frustrated that you can’t get a look at her face. She may or may not be beautiful.

She doesn’t touch her scone but instead stretches her legs. You spot that she has knobbly knees. But you still can’t see her face. You return to your book.

Then you give up because you’re fascinated by this woman, this stranger whose face you can’t see. You see a wedding ring on her finger and think, At least her husband knows what she looks like. She picks up her phone and either makes a call or checks for voice mail. She says nothing, in fact there is no reaction at all. She drinks more tea, but this time cuts the scone in two and spreads some butter on it. She takes a nibble and puts it back on the tray. Then she looks down at her lap, and it is then you wonder if she’s upset about something, this woman whose face you can’t see. This woman in a grey suit, wearing black tights to cover her knobbly knees, wearing a long fringe to cover her eyes. You’re still not sure of her nationality, but you suspect she isn’t happy about something because she turns away and stares out the window.

Then she lowers her head again, concentrating on her lap. You think she has closed her eyes. You are utterly entranced by this stranger, and you find this weird because normally you don’t pay too much attention to other people (a strange trait for someone who writes, no?). She nibbles at her scone once more, then returns to her reverie. You are convinced she’s sad.

Then she gathers her coat and bag and heads off to the toilet. You wait for her to come out so you can get a good l00k at her face. But when she does she remains as enigmatic as when she came in. You think she may be beautiful. Sad but beautiful.

You return to your book. You now have thirty minutes to kill.

Write Here, Write Now: The Importance of Imagination.

It’s not enough to say you’re a writer; you must have something to show for it, some kind of proof. Whether they’re lines from a poem you wrote when you were four, or outlines for the next Great Irish/American/British Novel, a writer, fledgling or otherwise, will have something written down. Somewhere.

I was tidying out my bedroom the other week when I came across a hand-written manuscript dating back at least ten years. Three things surprised me. First, my handwriting is terrible. I can read the parts where I wrote when I was sober. I can’t read the parts where there was drink taken. You see, I wrote most of it in my local pub. I sat at the counter and drank while writing the book that would make my fortune. I was the source of much amusement to other customers, as well as the owner of the establishment.

The second thing that surprised me is the way the story made sense, in a surreal nonsensical kind of way. Each paragraph, each chapter contained scenes and dialogue that to this day fills me with a certain amount of pride. It had Beatles lyrics sprinkled about the place; it had spectral observers; it had angst and unrequited love – all in 27 drunken pages. Stephen King had nothing on me.

The third thing that surprised me is that I wanted to know where the writer was going with his story. Namely, where did I want to go with it? Was there an endgame? Would the story be worth pursuing? Was it important enough to me to continue?

And that, for me, is the crux of matter. When I was young, I read comic books – as I’m sure most of us did to some degree – but I would copy the story into a notebook, using the pictures and speech bubbles as prompts. I “wrote” Judge Dredd and Strontium Dog stories from 2000AD. I used Captain Kirk and Mr Spock as templates for new adventures set in other universes. In other words, I used my imagination. It was important for me then, and I guess it’s important for me now.

I don’t drink any more, but I now work in the pub where I started my then magnum opus. I may go back to it one day…when I have the nerve to do so.

 

 

Adam and Eve: The Next Internet Sensation

The following is a short movie about pick-ups and how they’ve evolved over the decades; from the smooth and almost chivalrous attraction of the 20s and 30s, to the “free love” variant of the 60s, right through to the YUPPIE Blackberry type associated with our modern age.

This is film, less than 10 minutes long, is the creation of John Sanders, Erin Hunter and Mark Perry. It came to my attention via a friend, Ryan Hunter (whose sister is the woman in the film). Please feel free to share this the rest of the world. I think it’s great.

Kick-Ass…WTF?

Kick-Ass Movie Poster

Kick-Ass is the 2010 movie based on the comic book of the same name created by Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr.

It is not a kids’ movie. No sireee! Any movie that has an eleven-year-old actress using the “c” word is definitely not one to bring the sprogs to see. But seeing that I had a night to myself I decided to rent out a couple of movies, including this one.

The film tells the story of an ordinary teenager, Dave, who sets out to become a real-life superhero calling himself Kick-Ass. Dave gets caught up in a bigger fight when he meets Big Daddy, a former cop who, in his quest to bring down the evil drug lord Frank D’Amico, has trained his 10-year-old daughter to be the ruthless vigilante Hit-Girl.

Chloe Grace Moretz as Hit-Girl (Mindy Macready)

It stars Aaron Johnson as Dave/Kick-Ass, Nicolas Cage as Damon Macready/Big Daddy, Chloe Grace Moretz as Mindy Macready/Hit-Girl, Mark Strong as Frank D’amico, and  Christopher Mintz-Plasse as Chris D’Amico/Red Mist, Frank D’Amico’s son.

Like I said at the start, this is a movie for grown-ups. It’s violent (and not always in a cartoonish way, either) and frequently foul-mouthed. Now I’m no prude. I love these kind of movies. I was brought up on James Bond and the original Die Hard will never leave my personal Top 10 of all-time favourite flicks.

Hit-Girl tells it as it is.

While I really enjoyed this film for what it was – escapist but violent entertainment – I am well aware of the controversy surrounding it. Moretz was 11 at the time of filming and it seems wrong somehow to hear her speak in such a profane way. I live in Dublin; I’m well used to hearing that kind of language on the streets. It’s second nature to a lot of the kids here. But that doesn’t make it right, though.

Sure it’s funny and I suppose Millar is making the point of a child acting as an adult in order to survive. I can see that; but it doesn’t make for comfortable viewing.

What's wrong with this picture?

Neither would the violence meted out to Hit-Girl sit well with most movie-goers. Sure, she most definitely gives as good as she gets. Her kill-count is higher than the bad guys. Hell, her kill-count is higher than most Bond movies. But the young lady takes a severe battering at the end of the film. I read a review in the Irish Mail on Sunday where the reviewer gave Kick-Ass one star out of five mainly because of this. He wrote that violence against children is not fodder for entertainment. I can see his point, but I have to stress that while it was his personal opinion, mine is slightly different.

Yes, I agree that violence against children is not entertainment; but when you see a film like Sleepers (starring Kevin Bacon and Robert de Niro), the same argument could be made here. In both cases, though,  the children wreak revenge on their abusers. There is a happy ending of sorts, and be honest, who doesn’t like to see kids come out on top?