David Foster Wallace Discusses the Loo

I have only fairly recently come to know (and now love) the writing of David Foster Wallace. Though aware of his work for awhile, it took several casual conversations with this blog’s other writer as he read Infinite Jest before I finally took that first step into Wallace’s unique world. Since then I have rather voraciously been eating up this man’s work, fiction and non-fiction alike. As I finish my second of his books, I rejoice that I received a third just this weekend for my birthday.

How does one describe D.F. Wallace? First of all, one points out that DFW does what I just did, repeating and truncating words (or in this case names) into acronyms (and less) without bothering to warn the reader. It’s a bit jarring at first, but soon you get used to it and then it becomes some endearing signature in W’s works. He also, like, tends to speak very conversationally despite the fact that he’s a sesquipedalian [1]. But enough. My poor attempt to emulate does the man no justice. The best way to give you a flavor is to let him speak for himself.

The following are a group of quotes pulled from the span of only a few pages, said pages being picked quasi-randomly as they were the point when I finally was able to pull myself away from his essay and open a Word document to type. In this scene, W is describing his cruise ship cabin in, left to a lesser writer what would be excruciatingly boring detail, but when is in his hands, is just a delightful muse; never before have I been so enraptured by a man’s discussion of the john [2].

Re: spending a lot of time in his cabin and particularly watching Jurassic Park:

Its essential plotlessness doesn’t emerge until the third viewing, but after that the semi-agoraphobe treats it like a porno flic, twiddling his thumbs until the T. Rex and Velociraptor parts (which do stand up well).

Re: his bathroom:

Cabin 1009’s bathroom deserves extravagant praise. I’ve seen more than my share of bathrooms, and this is one bitchingly nice bathroom… The ingenious consideration on the anti-slime soap dish is particularly affecting.

1009’s bathroom always smells of a strange but not unnice Norwegian disinfectant whose scent resembles what it would smell like if someone who knew the exact organochemical composition of a lemon but had never in fact smelled a lemon tried to synthesize the scent of a lemon.

The showerhead’s force pins you helplessly to the stall’s opposite wall, and at 98.6° the head’s MASSAGE setting makes your eyes roll up and your sphincter just about give.

This last  passage has a footnote:

Perhaps with this in mind, the shower’s floor has a 10° grade from all sides to the center’s drain, which drain is the size of a lunch plate and has audibly aggressive suction.

Re: his toilet and the sound it makes upon flushing:

Along with this sound comes a concussive suction so awesomely powerful that it’s both scary and strangely comforting – your waste seems less removed than hurled from you, and hurled with a velocity that lets you feel as though the waste is going to end up someplace so far away from you that it will have become an abstraction… a kind of existential-level sewage treatment.

This is followed by two footnotes, the first of which uses the phrase “an almost Final Solution-like eradication of animal wastes and odors” and the second (which itself has a foot-footnote) details his irrational fear that the ship’s Hotel Manager might want to assassinate him using said toilet.

At the peril of sounding sycophantic, this writing is bloody enthralling. Each of these passages produced an actualol, as opposed to the standard run-of-the-mill LOL (which involves no laughing), or worse, the uncapitalized lol which involves no laughing and not even the pretense to capitalize the damn thing and fake it [3]. And to boot, I again emphasize this was the span of only a few pages. The ability to hold this kind of humor/candor/interest density is another solid reason I like him.

I hope that at the least I have wooed you into considering picking up his stuff. I’ve been gradually building my Wallace-chops by tackling his short stories and essays before I hit up his beast-tome Infinite Jest. Take this as my advice that you do the same and be able to revel, as I have, at passages like this…

…and he wore sunglasses inside, and epaulets, and kept talking on the phone for long stretches of time in Greek when I was in his office after I’d skipped the karaoki semifinals in the Redez-Vous Lounge to make a special appointment to see him; I wish him ill. [4].


[1] That means he uses big words. He also does a lot of footnotes1a.

1aAnd foot-footnotes. See what I did there?

[2] This all comes from his essay “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again” from the book of the same title, Back Bay Books, New York, 1997.

[3] I mentioned before that my birthday just past. From this anti-Internet jargon vitriol I’m spewing, you might guess it was my 50th, but I’m only 25. The intra-generational gap between my siblings and myself, however, is large enough to keep me from having anything approaching a satisfying text (txt) conversation; their egregious use of exclamation points (!!!!!!!!!) is staggering.

[4] This quote is in reference to the above mentioned Hotel Manager who may or may not have wanted to kill DFW.

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