When was the last time you really looked at a lobster? I’m not talking about glancing at that tank at the front of the restaurant; I mean seriously hunkering down in front of a tank and taking a look at that scaly face. Here’s what you would see: That thing is ugly. He (ugly, so of course in my head, he’s male) is not something that I necessarily have a lot of sympathy for–of course, I’ve never really spent a lot of time thinking about lobsters, in particular, either.
Apparently David Foster Wallace has.
Enter this particular collection of essays by David Foster Wallace, named for the article that I was obviously leading up to, “Consider the Lobster,” which takes a good hard look at the Maine Lobster Festival & some of the possible moral issues surrounding putting a living creature in a pot full of boiling water.
That’s what DFW does in all the essays: he takes a look at industries, events, establishments, and works that we may take for granted or even think about in a certain, predisposed, lazy way–like eating lobster–and forces the reader to think maybe a little differently. The first essay is about the “adult movie” industry–almost fifty pages of porn stars, crude film directors, and lines like “Mr. Tom Byron describes being able to tumesce and ejaculate more or less on demand as an exercise in ‘control, like meditation or surfing'”(35).* But it also humanizes the industry, person by person, and forces the reader (well, me, I can only assume me) to take a hard look at what exactly our culture glorifies and how much–how amazingly much–money is spent on “adult video” (and what a stupid euphemism that is) in the States every year.
Another thing I love–and hate**–about DFW is how amazingly effortless his prose is. He talks in his essay “Authority and American Usage” about “Academic English, a verbal cancer that has metastasized now to afflict both scholarly writing…in which ‘it is normal to come across long passages which are almost completely lacking in meaning'” (115). I wanted to shout YES! YES! Thank you! I think back to all the literary criticism I read in college, exhibit A in meaningless, overly pretentious rhetorical garbage where simple things like have pronouns clearly connected to their antecedents are apparently too difficult. But what’s the alternative when it comes to thoughtful, academic writing? Well, here’s a really, really good example. It’s right here in your hands. Here is a collection of essays that are thought-provoking, meaningful, important, even academic, and they don’t give a normal person a total migraine to sort through and understand.
I could go on and on about these essays–there are 10 in total, ranging from lobster to porn to John McCain to Dostoevsky to usage to talk radio–but I don’t want to spoil all the fun. I’ll leave this at incredibly highly recommended, five stars, two thumbs WAY up, and you’ll have to go read it for yourself.
*Now I know that I’m going to get some incredibly interesting hits on this blog.
**To clarify, this is because I’m obsessively jealous.