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the pale king: a review

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Here’s a review of David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King by, well, you can figure it out… Lots about bureaucracy in there, no? Really like the image (above) they put with it…

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April 25, 2011 at 1:35 pm

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I don’t really understand the point of this piece at The New Statesman about DFW. Basically, Aime Williams a) doesn’t seem to have read much Wallace, and hasn’t yet finished The Pale King but b) offers the incredibly insightful point that he has some serious fans who may have trouble evaluating his work while c) calling him silly for having some strange orthographical habits, d) didn’t really like Oblivion because other people did (do you see any other explanation?) and e) seemed to think that the title of one of his essay collections was a sign of some sort of childishness.

Overall, the argument of the piece seems to be I haven’t liked DFW but a few of the quotes from the new book that I’ve seen in reviews look interesting. Still, his fans are irrational and make me want not to like him… Not quite the stuff of riveting literary journalism, no…

Huh. To my mind better practice to a) read the books, at least more than one of them b) decide why you do or don’t like them and then, and only then, c) write up something about why. Guess I’m just old school like that…

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April 17, 2011 at 1:51 pm

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dfw, bureaucracy, left sexiness, etc

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Excited to be writing up a review of David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King. And even more excited to be able to say that the politics of this unfinished novel are at once incredibly subtle but utterly profound – exactly the right answer to so much that has gone wrong lately and continues to go wrong today. Won’t scoop myself by telling you just how this works, here, but for a quick preview of the sorts of things that I am thinking about, and that I think Wallace was thinking about as he wrote this, let me point you to some old posts. First, if you’re interested, take a look at this one on bureaucracy. Second, here’s the final paragraph of my critique of Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism and its about bureaucracy:

On the final pages of the book, when Mark addresses the question “What is to be done?,” one of his primary suggestions is that the left focus on the reduction of bureaucracy – a suggestion that certainly seems to correspond with the evidence and analysis that he provides throughout. Still, and given what I’ve said above, it is a suggestion that is not without a significant amount of danger. For while we would all like to do less of this maddening bureaucratic work, and while much of this bureaucratic work is aimed ultimately at the cynical reduction of public service in the name of efficiency, there are more pernicious (and more likely) paths to the reduction of bureaucracy than leftist agitation and refunding. I know I’ve focused disproportionately on education in this post, but just one more time: I’m sure, for instance, that the for-profit University of Phoenix in the USA would love to give the Tories a hand at straightening out the UK further and higher education systems and their reams of paperwork once they get in office… Or, as will likely be the case, the Conservative government (or pre-emptive Labour) can allow universities to set their own student fees, which will let “students decide” with their increasingly empty wallets and increasingly large student loans how the funds are apportioned rather than a board of bureaucrats monitoring the self-monitoring of the academics.

Anyway, hopefully if you’re interested you’ll see the review one way or another.

A side point,perhaps a controversial one:

Sort of frustrating situation nowadays amongst what we might call the youngish writing left. Here’s the problem: I’m continually tempted to write something longer on bureaucracy. I have a feeling (obviously you can disagree!) that I’m on to something with this line of argument – perhaps even something like an important “rebranding” of some words whose usage allows for a considerable amount of political mayhem to go on ostensibly with the support of the public. If it doesn’t deal with vibrators and porn, or zombie movies and eco-distaster, or moody depressive pop music, or dumbish sci-fi, pubic hair styles, or some sort of (in the extreme case) blinkered souixante-huitardism it doesn’t feel as though there’s a tremendous amount of market space for it. In other words, let’s say (just play along with me for a second) that one has a hunch that she or he has a good answer to some of the current problems and impasses, but that that answer, in the end, is somewhat boring or even utterly unsexy.

More deeply, one might have a secondary sense that the above referenced themes give themselves on to bad political arguments – arguments that seem to me to have lots more in common with the worst trends in the status quo than anything else. (Left feminist works that mostly spend almost all of their energies hating on women, works “against capitalism” that argue – to my eyes – against the same institutions that capitalists would love to destroy, etc…) (Zizek and Badiou, if complexly in the case of the later, do seem like the bad influences that had set a lot of this in motion…) In short, it starts to seem that somehow the instinct or decision to take up “sexy” lines of approach or themes leads to shit arguments… In particular, in almost none of the cases that I’m referencing here is their the slightest hint behind the attitudinizing and easy critique of a path forward, the simplest step to be taken – at least, again, ones that haven’t already been part and parcel of the right’s approach already (per what I say about Capitalist Realism above…)

I’ve heard all the arguments about “sexing up socialism,” and definitely agree that there’s some serious PR work to be done. But somehow, the current atmosphere seems incompatible with going about things the right way. Maybe I’m wrong, being a bit defeatist about things, but it is the sense that I have.

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April 17, 2011 at 10:40 am

“the ninth guy on the bench”

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From a footnote in John Jeremiah Sullivan’s GQ review of David Foster Wallace’s forthcomign The Pale King,

Early in 2008, GQ asked him to write about Obama’s speeches or, more largely, about American political rhetoric. It was still a somewhat gassy idea as presented to him, but Wallace saw the possibilities, so we started making inquiries to the Obama campaign, and even made reservations for him to be in Denver during the convention. Our thought was to get him as close to the head speechwriters (and so as close to Obama) as possible. But Wallace said, very politely, that this wasn’t what interested him. He wanted to be with a worker bee on the speechwriting team—to find out how the language was used by, as he put it, “the ninth guy on the bench.” It also seemed like maybe a temperament thing, that he would be more comfortable reporting away from the glare.

More, I’m sure, to come on The Pale King. Going to walk across the street now to Waterstones and check if they have any in stock yet….

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April 4, 2011 at 10:44 am

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