j's Reviews > The Broom of the System

The Broom of the System by David Foster Wallace
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Mar 06, 2015

liked it
bookshelves: personal-collection, 2011, 52-in-2011
Read from December 30, 2010 to January 07, 2011

This book flat-out demands a multi-layered meta-review. I mean, it has everything a po-mosexual could ask for: characters aware they might be characters in a novel, nested short stories read by the characters that comment on the parent text, an intentionally unresolved and fractured plot, pages and pages of ironic philosophical dialogue, and an ending that just

Unfortunately, that level of post-modern detachment requires real talent, the talent of, say, David Foster Wallace. Yet DFW famously criticized this, his debut novel, as reading like the work of a hyper-literate 14-year-old. Maybe. 14-year-olds aren't generally known for their restraint and this book includes everything, whether it works or not. The thing is, an astonishing amount of it does work, provided, of course, you are into this sort of thing. It is very much of a muchness: an evangelical talking parrot, a global conspiracy involving baby food, missing senior citizens, secret chemical formulas, childhood sexual obsession, mirages in a man-made desert, a fat man occupying infinite space, a character named Wang Dang Lang. You have to just go with it. It helps that it is really, really funny. Don't let the pout and that stupid bandanna (and, you know, the tragic way he died) fool you: DFW was a funny man.

This review in inadequate. But it is aware of that fact. Onto Infinite Jest! I have a feeling this was just a warm-up.
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Quotes j Liked

David Foster Wallace
“...that, to repeat what I heard for years and years and suspect you’ve been hearing over and over, yourself, something’s meaning is nothing more or less than its function. Et cetera et cetera et cetera. Has she done the thing with the broom with you? No? What does she use now? No. What she did with me--I must have been eight, or twelve, who remembers--was to sit me down in the kitchen and take a straw broom and start furiously sweeping the floor, and she asked me which part of the broom was more elemental, more fundamental, in my opinion, the bristles or the handle. The bristles or the handle. And I hemmed and hawed, and she swept more and more violently, and I got nervous, and finally when I said I supposed the bristles, because you could after a fashion sweep without the handle, by just holding on to the bristles, but couldn’t sweep with just the handle, she tackled me, and knocked me out of my chair, and yelled into my ear something like, ’Aha, that’s because you want to sweep with the broom, isn’t it? It’s because of what you want the broom for, isn’t it?’ Et cetera. And that if what we wanted a broom for was to break windows, then the handle was clearly the fundamental essence of the broom, and she illustrated with the kitchen window, and a crowd of the domestics gathered; but that if we wanted the broom to sweep with, see for example the broken glass, sweep sweep, the bristles were the thing’s essence. No? What now, then? With pencils? No matter. Meaning as fundamentalness. Fundamentalness as use. Meaning as use. Meaning as fundamentalness.”
David Foster Wallace, The Broom of the System

Reading Progress

12/30 page 30
01/05 page 183
38.0% 3 comments
04/22 marked as: read
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message 1: by Ian (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ian Grayejoy The hyper-literate 14-year-old in me loved both the book and your review, and I loved your review too.

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