In March 1996 Rolling Stone assigned the young reporter David Lipsky to do an in-depth story on David Foster Wallace. Wallace was finishing the publicIn March 1996 Rolling Stone assigned the young reporter David Lipsky to do an in-depth story on David Foster Wallace. Wallace was finishing the publicity tour he was doing for Little,Brown, the publisher of Infinite Jest. They spent 5 days together talking and sharing space and meals during the drive from Wallace's home in Bloomington, Illinois to Chicago, a flight to Minneapolis where Wallace has his last tour appearance, and the drive back to Bloomington. They talked in the car and on airplanes, hung out around Wallace's house and around hotels, ate takeout, and all the while talked, talked, talked while Lipsky probed Wallace's conversation for his ideas about everything from writing literary fiction to McDonald's french fries.
David Foster Wallace comes across as a genuine young man (he was 34 years old--Lipsky was 30) who was a little uneasy about his huge success and new fame because he wasn't sure how to deal with it and was afraid it'd become more important than he wanted it to be. He understood why he wrote and talked freely about it. He detailed the various stages in the writing of Infinite Jest. However, his conversations with Lipsky won't provide help in interpreting it or tips in how to read it. He did say twice it's about loneliness. But a major concern of his was the fear he'd written a novel whose difficulties would turn most people away. Rightfully, he was proud of what he'd done, yet was self-effacing and shy about it. We know he was incredibly smart--reading his conversations here displays what we'd already heard--but he was funny, too, and caring about everyone he knew.
As you might expect, 2 writers talking for 5 days would have much to say about literature. Both were published novelists, and Wallace was teaching creative writing at Illinois State at the time. The comments Wallace makes on culture weren't limited to books, though. He had a fondness and understanding for popular culture and, though an intellectual writer, wasn't above being absorbed by our culture's less ambitious forms. He was a television junkie, for instance, willing to sit watching for days, literally. And he talked knowledgeably to Lipsky about pop music. A sign of his intelligence was that he understood and could discuss what he liked and found meaningful in such forms while 2 pages later commenting intellectually about an author or philosopher. Wallace and Lipsky reached high and low.
The book's endpaper calls this a "biography in five days." It's biographical material but limited mostly to the time of Wallace's writing of Infinite Jest and its post-publication. A reader will have to look elsewhere for details of Wallace's life. Lipsky's book is more like a 300+ page interview. But for all that it's thoroughly fascinating in the news about Wallace it delivers and in the energy given off by the exchanges between these 2 intelligent guys. If you're reading Wallace or want to or are the least interested in him, I'd think this to be essential material....more
No. I knew the answer before reading the book, but the detailed argument can be instructive.
Coker writes several convincing reasons why war will contiNo. I knew the answer before reading the book, but the detailed argument can be instructive.
Coker writes several convincing reasons why war will continue. War, he says, is still evolving in that it can maximize the competitive edge of this group or that. War will continue as long as that's true. The geopolitical divide of have and have not nations, the continuing economic inequality, will always contribute to war. Human values differ widely; there's no single vision of peace which can have meaning across all cultures. In fact, going hand in hand with Coker's belief that organized violence is an inherent evolutionary trait of man, is his explanation that peace isn't a value built into our species in the way of other traits, such as language or the need for esteem.
Coker writes well about the will to war as an element of our evolutionary trajectory and the natural order of societal competition. He's most chilling when he writes not of biological but of technological evolution. Our wide use and dependence on digital technology in militaries requires less reflection, therefore leading to a general inability to empathize. In future combat soldiers will feel and think differently. The current rush toward robotics--most apparent in the use of drones by more and more militaries--is merely a logical step in the history of technological development. He maintains the aim is to make war more humane by reducing human interaction and therefore increasing the accuracy of weapons. While such weapons reduce the emotion of war, they increase consistency of behavior while also providing more humane actions by removing hatred from the equation. All these ideas are steps in warfare to reduce human casualties and add efficiency to battlefield weapons that advanced militaries are enthusiastic about. But they lead to his disturbing question: "How long will war still need us?"
He writes that the thing about present and future wars is that such digitized technology requires soldiers with rich imaginations and perceptions, and I wondered if the varied states of educational systems would leave some societies, including some in the old guard of power, at a disadvantage.
Christopher Coker is called a philosopher of war. While I'm not sure what that is, I see he's a professor of international relations at the London School of Economics and that he writes widely about war, using as sources many philosophers from Aristotle to John Gray. This particular book is very short but long on ideas distilled into an essential understanding of man's continuing impulse to make war....more
The story is this: a friend of Alexander Masters finds 148 ragged notebooks discarded in a skip in Cambridge, England. They turn out to be a massive dThe story is this: a friend of Alexander Masters finds 148 ragged notebooks discarded in a skip in Cambridge, England. They turn out to be a massive diary begun in 1952 and continued until a few weeks before they were found. Masters, a biographer, begins studying them to determine what happened to the diarist and why they came to be thrown out. He assumes the person died and whoever was left with the diary simply threw them away, not wanting to be burdened with them. Masters takes on the task of piecing together the record contained in the 148 notebooks so that the diarist's life can be told.
Essentially it's the biography of an unknown person. In order to be the biographer of someone nameless and faceless, he has to become part sleuth. And the story is revealed slowly as he works for over 4 years to bring it out of the moldy notebook pages, revealed bit by bit as a mystery Masters is solving. The thing is, Masters's study of the diaries and how he finally put all the pieces of the puzzle together are much more interesting than the abundant quotes from the notebooks themselves. These aren't Virginia Woolf's diaries full of mischievous gossip and literary anecdote or Alfred's Kazin's journals crowded with bookish critique and sex. They're merely the humdrum everyday events of a woman (I'll reveal that much) to whom nothing much happened at all, even though she had serious aspirations in music, art, and writing. Masters admits the diaries are agonizingly tedious but compares them to a group of deer he unobtrusively observes in the forest near his home. The woman and her diaries are a true thing, unaware they're being observed, and the strength of their unaffectedness gives them their value. "Her drama is that she is not fiction," Masters writes.
It's difficult to write impressions of a book like this without disclosing key details. The book is Masters's story as much as it is the diarist's, how he was able to connect all the dots and be able to tell us what he's learned about the diaries and who wrote them and why. Part of the biographer's task, though, is to make his subject interesting, and that Masters doesn't do. Not only are the diary entries not interesting, but when we have the whole case laid out before us--identity, life story complete with loves and aspirations and accomplishments, the motivations for keeping a diary for 50 years, all that--it's anticlimactic and hardly seems worth the effort and the resulting book. ...more