Jon Stout's Reviews > The Broom of the System

The Broom of the System by David Foster Wallace
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Jun 30, 10

Recommended to Jon by: Zadie Smith
Recommended for: traditionalists and linear thinkers
Read in June, 2010

The novel was fun and held my interest all the way through, but it didn’t have the philosophical punch I was looking for, or perhaps I didn’t see it. There was some philosophy. Beyond Wallace, Iris Murdoch is the only other novelist I know of who can talk about Wittgenstein without appearing to be name-dropping.

There were philosophically informed passages, such as the story of the man who suffered from second order vanity. A vain person doesn’t want other people to know that he’s handsome, intelligent, etc. A second order vain person doesn’t want other people to know that he’s vain. And, as it turns out, one can die from second order vanity.

Perhaps the philosophical question is, “Do people have lives beyond their talking about their lives?” The novel slips between different levels of fiction. There were stories, dreams and episodes in which I did not know if the characters were from the novel, or from fictions within the novel, so that there was no difference between the world and language. In general, the novel slipped between snippets of experience, including TV shows and Road Runner cartoons, but especially between well-observed colloquially expressed reactions and meaningful silences.

Maybe I look for too much philosophy in my novels, and also for an ending which draws the narrative threads together. But life is not like that, and in this case neither is language.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Chris (new)

Chris Forfar Enjoyed your aside "Iris Murdoch is the only other novelist I know of who can talk about Wittgenstein without appearing to be name-dropping"-
BTW-I'm curious, what was the plot?


message 2: by Jon (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jon Stout The story is about Lenore, apparently a disguised version of Wallace. Lenore's grandmother, an early student of Wittgenstein (like Elizabeth Anscombe), has disappeared. Lenore has a wishy-washy lover and a vigorous ex-frat-boy lover. There are many narrative threads, subplots and internal stories.


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