to play football, not to play trumpet
ONE At irregular intervals, one of my girlfriend’s cats—yes, there are two and yes I realize this means I am playing with serious cat-lady-down-the-road fire—will face the wall or a window or a door and emit what is possibly the world’s most angst-ridden noise, somewhere between a meow and a strangled cry of existential dread.
Sometimes, the girlfriend will call out to the cat, acknowledging the deep roiling depths of his soul-dread. The cat will continue making the noise, unconsoled. Then, because it is a cat, it will completely forget about it and go do something else.
TWO Some years ago a strange literary conception popped into my mind in the course of writing twenty or so pages of a novel about the whittling of a set of five ninjas*: one of the characters in the book was subconsciously off-putting and consciously morose because instead of the usual organs and cells and atoms and subatomic particles he was comprised of layer after layer of tiny cats. Cat nerve cells stretched down his spine, each with their mouth on the tail of the adjacent cell; messages were passed when a sensory cat would be disturbed and bite down, causing the next cat to become impotently angry and use the only means of revenge at his disposal, which would be more biting. These cells had cat organelles and cat molecules all the way down to the frantically yowling electron cats and ovoid neutron cats that looked more like balls of yarn than cats and spent their time purringly content, &c.
I never got around to fleshing that idea out, but when I saw David Foster Wallace respond to a question posed by Charlie Rose with a sort of enraged incomprehension—literally saying “are we really talking about X?” before stammering out a spittle flecked, blindingly intelligent answer—I saw my man made of cats in the flesh. Wallace seemed repulsed by everything around him down to his own skin and torn between flight, murder, or suicide; lacking the ability to decide, he grit his teeth and soldiered on.
No more of that.
*(The ninjas were I dunno, symbolic of a friendship forged in one of those houses occupied by five to eleven guys in college and eventually ended up cinders as the people from the house splintered into their adult lives. It was (obviously) autobiographical and (equally obviously) embarked upon during that horrible post-college, mid-twenties lull where you are just getting used to the idea that you are not a special snowflake and all your friends moved, or you did, and your connections to the world are flimsy and unsatisfying.)
THREE I think, insofar as it is possible for anyone who really, really likes David Foster Wallace to think like this, that the aforementioned is pretty much #1 on my list of personal heroes. At this point, styles and formatting and idioms from his writing are so deeply embedded into mine that I’d forgotten where I got “&c”—DFW for etc.—from. “Bats” is my preferred term for insane. On Friday, I referenced Orin Incandenza, Wallace’s insanely valuable and accurate punter from Infinite Jest. In a 2005 post I urge you to not go back and read because yikes the prose, I riffed on a section of DFW’s brilliant article on fringe tennis player Michael Joyce. I’m extremely disappointed in myself because the season preview didn’t claim the offensive line gave me the howling fantods.
At some point a few years ago, I read the 1,079 pages of Infinite Jest in five days. When I was done, I was livid it wasn’t 300 pages longer. I went back to the beginning and read the first 50 or 100 pages again and realized that the book really was infinite: it was a loop. You could start from any point in it and end at any point and it would be the same: brilliant, infuriating, incomplete, and recursive. Wallace wrote a book on infinity and a thesis on modal logic and sometimes seemed more like a math genius with a side of authorial genius.
I mean, obviously, right? Obviously as soon as I picked something up.
FOUR Wallace would see-saw back and forth on a topic and in writing about one thing would invariably recurse his way into something entirely other, precisely define that, and then tie that back into the main thrust of his argument. Yesterday I re-read his review of a usage dictionary—usage! English usage!—and found this brilliant summation of why this blog is a successful endeavor:
…all the autobiographical stuff in ADMAU's Preface does more than just humanize Mr. Bryan A. Garner. It also serves to detail the early and enduring passion that helps make someone a credible technocrat — we tend to like and trust experts whose expertise is born of a real love for their specialty instead of just a desire to be expert at something. In fact, it turns out that ADMAU's Preface quietly and steadily invests Garner with every single qualification of modern technocratic Authority: passionate devotion, reason, and accountability, experience, exhaustive and tech-savvy research, an even and judicious temperament [uh… I try. –ed], and the sort of humble integrity (for instance, including in one of the entries a past published usage-error of his own) that not only renders Garner likable but transmits the same kind of reverence for English that good jurists have for the law, both of which are bigger and more important than any one person.
Probably the most attractive thing about ADMAU's Ethical Appeal, though, is Garner's scrupulous consideration of the reader's concern about his (or her) own linguistic authority and rhetorical persona and ability to convince an Audience that he cares.
He did this all the time, accidentally. Writing on lobsters, he defined the only morally and logically consistent position you can have on abortion. Writing on the Illinois State Fair, he defined an entire elusive section of the American populace. Writing on cruise ships, he defined his life: “a supposedly fun thing I’ll never do again.”
FIVE DFW, like all of the people who have written truly great things about sports since I’ve been paying attention, was not a sportswriter. He was a writer whose attention occasionally turned to sports, mostly tennis, and people who invest their time in the intricately choreographed peregrinations of athletes were always better off for it. The last time Wallace touched upon the subject was a New York Times Magazine article on the 2006 Federer-Nadal Wimbeldon final. This I also read yesterday, after considering the vast array of brooding photos that accompanied news stories and tributes across the internet, after revisiting the Rose interview in which Wallace seemed like a preternaturally unhappy person.
Necessary background for what’s to follow: the piece is titled “Roger Federer as Religious Experience,” states its thesis thusly…
if you’ve never seen the young man play live, and then do, in person, on the sacred grass of Wimbledon, through the literally withering heat and then wind and rain of the ’06 fortnight, then you are apt to have what one of the tournament’s press bus drivers describes as a “bloody near-religious experience.”
…and touches upon on a seven year-old boy named William Caines who was diagnosed with cancer at two and a half and served as Wimbeldon’s inspiring moppet du jour—my words, not Wallace’s.
In typically infuriating DFW fashion, Wallace buries the very crux of his piece—this cannot be disputed, it’s the title and thesis—in footnote #17. Perhaps he wanted to hide it. Didn’t know what to do with it. Wanted to say it but whisper it. Whatever. Midway through the third set there is a Federer Moment. DFW writes:
By the way, it’s right around here, or the next game, watching, that three separate inner-type things come together and mesh. One is a feeling of deep personal privilege at being alive to get to see this; another is the thought that William Caines is probably somewhere here in the Centre Court crowd, too, watching, maybe with his mum. The third thing is a sudden memory of the earnest way the press bus driver promised just this experience. Because there is one. It’s hard to describe — it’s like a thought that’s also a feeling. One wouldn’t want to make too much of it, or to pretend that it’s any sort of equitable balance; that would be grotesque. But the truth is that whatever deity, entity, energy, or random genetic flux produces sick children also produced Roger Federer, and just look at him down there. Look at that.
Everybody but everybody is dredging up the thousand and one points in Wallace’s writing that presage a premature, self-inflicted demise; this might be the one passage in his entire oeuvre that makes it shocking. And I think that sports may not be such a silly thing to make a career of describing and relating and experiencing.
SIX I even kind of look like DFW: tall, broad-shouldered, glasses, shaggy, shoulder-length brown hair, perpetual growth of stubble.
SEVEN I love that image of DFW at Wimbeldon, in the stands, those things converging on him, forgetting all the things that make his suicide so very unsurprising, thinking just look at him down there.
Look at that.
A wonderful tribute to an enigmatic man. It's obvious that you have captured his essence not only in this piece, but also in your daily writings. I'm now having a "look at him" moment about you.
With appreciation and admiration---T9
And I think that sports may not be such a silly thing to make a career of describing and relating and experiencing.
I even kind of look like DFW: tall, broad-shouldered, glasses, shaggy, shoulder-length brown hair, perpetual growth of stubble
forgetting all the things that make his suicide so very unsurprising
And all posted at 3:50 AM. Brian, should we be worried?
Uh, not unless you're concerned about my sleep schedule conforming to societal norms. If so: worry.
I was concerned that my first diary was going to have the title Brian's Cry for Help - And What the MGoBlog Community Can Do For Him. About the sleep thing, that's you're girlfriend's and her cat's issue to resolve.
In seriousness (and yes, I can be serious at times), this post is a reflection of why I appreciate MGoBlog and the community it has fostered so much. You have not hesitated to present fascinating writings far removed from Michigan sports, and this has thus allowed/encouraged others to try to do the same. The recent popular diary inquiring what 5 books blog readers had recently read comes to mind (not near as intellectual, etc, but you get my point). The WLA blog as a whole is another.
The end result of your tireless efforts is a most interesting blog and blog readership.
It was not the most likely place to come across a touching tribute to David Foster Wallace (who shares his first and last name with my college roommate, the finest writer I have ever known personally, and my Michigan football partner in crime since 1996), but quite well done Brian. Well done indeed.
This clearly needs many, many, many more footnotes.
Well, at least Neal Stephenson's new book is out....
Thank you. DFW was one of those guys who got it, and this is a tragedy.
Sports is a sense of freedom and escape for most people. Hence why I try not to become overly angry about it since I have no control in it. People who cover sports well arouse an emotion inside of a fan that can not be duplicated and because of that, becoming an expert who covers sport is a necessary therapy for the rest of us.
Them cats. They shriek, they scratch, they cough up fur-balls, they give you looks like Charlie Rose just asked you an assinine question. They get fat, get hit by cars, rub against your leg when you least expect it, appear in the dead of night (eyes aglowin'). All, apparently, w/o reflection. Fearful, but not scared; tentative, but not worried. Fed, but not content... ...wait a minute, they are content. At least the house cats are. The feral cats, now, the ones out in the wild, with their domesticated genes, not so content. Scratch more, shriek more, not likely to EVER rub against your leg. Definietely less content. Fuckin' cats. RIP, DFW
Them cats. They shriek, they scratch, they cough up fur-balls, they give you looks like Charlie Rose just asked you an assinine question. They get fat, get hit by cars, rub against your leg when you least expect it, appear in the dead of night (eyes aglowin'). All, apparently, w/o reflection.
Fearful, but not scared; tentative, but not worried. Fed, but not content...
...wait a minute, they are content. At least the house cats are. The feral cats, now, the ones out in the wild, with their domesticated genes, not so content. Scratch more, shriek more, not likely to EVER rub against your leg. Definietely less content.
Between all of the noise surrounding both football, hurricanes, and the ongoing implosion of the financial sector, this news has not gotten much coverage. Echoing the poster above, thanks Brian, for writing this piece.
You never cease to impress me. I knew little about DFW, but now I am eager to sojourn into his literary work. Let's see what Buzz Bissinger's position is on this...
CRAZY HORSE LIVES
Brian's paen is as much about Michigan football as
The Federer article is fantastic, thank you for sharing. It makes me appreciate that much more sitting 20 feet from his chair during the Djokovic match last week.
It would be nice to care about something, anything, as much as you care about this singularly great author. Perhaps someday.
I thought when I first read the usage article that it provides a pretty brilliant (if incidental) evaluation of blogs and why we like the ones we do.
"It also serves to detail the early and enduring passion that helps make
someone a credible technocrat — we tend to like and trust experts whose
expertise is born of a real love for their specialty instead of just a
desire to be expert at something."
The power of nerds and obsession. The ones who just can't help examining every bit of minutiae to see where it fits and to see if it leads to something new learned about the subject at hand. These are the people you want to listen to.
Non-sports figures eulogized in this space (at least that I can recall):
David Foster Wallace
One of these things is not like the others.
they broke the mold with DFW. RIP.
"The difference between homicide and suicide is mostly a matter of where you perceive the door top to the cage to be." -- IJ
Posts like "DFW" are why this tOSU fan recommends mgoblog to bemused friends and family members.
actually has a winning record versus Michigan then I believe your avatar is a little inappropriate.
I'll second that. Hold off on that until you've won the next 17 games in a row, until then, you are the little brother. Cute though, nice try.
Because games from 1900-1945 are so emblematic of the game today. We should revel in our superiority from when blacks didn't have equal rights and women couldn't vote. That completely resembles the game today doesn't it?
I first switched over to this site from the Rivals site as my primary source of Michigan sports marginalia about a month ago. The Orin Incandenza reference you dropped a few days ago pretty much encapsulated why I find this site so much more agreeable. This post was very well done.
The image and discussion contect juxtaposition is unreal in your post today. Driven home by the 'East Lansing is a girl of questionable affection' advertisement along the side. I am thoroughly inspired by both what you have written and with the future exploration of DFW's work. It seems inspiration is the lifeblood of greatness, and I am selfishly and truely glad you have an abundant amount.
sdogg - he came here post a compliment of Brian. Maybe you cut him a little slack?
Plus that is a funny avatar. It's like 100x higher level than tO$U jokes.
Great post Brian, thanks.
Shit Brian, I thought you were coming to Dallas/Fort Worth when I read your headline. If you wanted to highlight the essence of David Foster Wallace by a bunch of eclectic run on thoughts, you did so with style. Nice to see your love for ninja pussy...cat!
First thought was "Dallas-Ft Worth?" Next thought was "Didn't F-ing Win?" Then I read the article. Nice piece.
I remember my sense of sorrow when Stevie Ray Vaughan died in that helicopter crash in '90. It's a strange feeling... not the same a losing a loved one, but very personal and heavy nevertheless. I just remember thinking over and over what a terrible loss it was for mankind.
Great post Brian. After watching that interview with Charlie Rose, I was wondering if anyone could tell me why Wallace wasn't interested in interviewing David Lynch? I was hoping Charlie would ask him. He seemed so enthralled with Lynch's work, and I would think that he would want to get into his mind.
the essay on Lynch in A Supposedly Fun Thing explains it--a lot of it his own awkwardness. i don't think the lack of interview prevents him from getting into lynch's mind.
This could be the best thing you've ever written. Reading this when I was in college was inconsequential, but now, reading it for the second time, I understand a little bit more. Hopefully I'll come back to this in a few years and understand even more.