Adam's Reviews > Oblivion

Oblivion by David Foster Wallace
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's review
Oct 30, 12

bookshelves: 1970-present, prose
Read in October, 2012, read count: 2

Oblivion is far and away DFW's best story collection. The stories here, for the most part, showcase DFW's most disciplined and complete writing, and his most mature. The Pale King is more like Oblivion than any of DFW's other writing, but it doesn't match the sophistication of these stories.

This stuff is razor-sharp, and distills DFW's finest traits as a writer, and most of the thematic concerns broadly found in his work. There's a literary sensitivity and profoundly incisive attention to human and social realities in Oblivion that marks, in some ways, the most consistently complete achievement of what DFW was striving toward his entire career. For one thing, his concern with mediated narratives and the nature of language is finally entirely integrated into his fictional narratives. The result is that these stories are all that much more emotionally exhausting and sincere and communicative and important.

"Another Pioneer" and "Good Old Neon" are my favourites from this collection, but they're pretty much all great. "The Suffering Channel" really grew on me this second reading.
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Quotes Adam Liked

David Foster Wallace
“What goes on inside is just too fast and huge and all interconnected for words to do more than barely sketch the outlines of at most one tiny little part of it at any given instant.”
David Foster Wallace, Oblivion

David Foster Wallace
“What teachers and the administration in that era never seemed to see was that the mental work of what they called daydreaming often required more effort and concentration than it would have taken simply to listen in class. Laziness is not the issue. It is just not the work dictated by the administration.”
David Foster Wallace, Oblivion

David Foster Wallace
“The paradoxical intercourse of audience and celebrity.The suppressed awareness that the whole reason ordinary people found celebrity fascinating was that they were not, themselves, celebrities. That wasn't quite it. (....) It was more the deeper, more tragic and universal conflict of which the celebrity paradox was a part. The conflict between the subjective centrality of our own lives versus our awareness of its objective insignificance. Atwater knew - as did everyone at Style, though by some strange unspoken consensus it was never said aloud - that this was the single great informing conflict of the American psyche. The management of insignificance. It was the great syncretic bond of US monoculture. It was everywhere, at the root of everything - of impatience in long lines, of cheating on taxes, of movements in fashion and music and art, of marketing. In particular, he thought it was alive in the paradoxes of audience. It was the feeling that celebrities were your intimate friends, coupled with the inchoate awareness that that untold millions of people felt the same way - and that the celebrities themselves did not. Atwater had had contact with a certain number of celebrities (there was no way to avoid it at BSG), and they were not, in his experience, very friendly or considerate people. Which made sense when one considered that celebrities were not actually functioning as real people at all, but as something more like symbols of themselves.”
David Foster Wallace, Oblivion

David Foster Wallace
“Atwater knew — as did everyone at Style, though by some strange unspoken consensus it was never said aloud — that this was the single great informing conflict of the American psyche. The management of insignificance. It was the great syncretic bond of US monoculture.”
David Foster Wallace, Oblivion

David Foster Wallace
“-when he thinks of the starry-eyed puerility and narcissism of these fantasies now, a rough decade later, Schmidt experiences a kind of full-framed internal wince, that type of embarrassment-before-self that makes our most mortifying memories objects of fascination and repulsion at once, though in Terry Schmidt's case a certain amount of introspection and psychotherapy had enabled him to understand that his professional fantasies were not in the main all that unique, that a large percentage I bright young men and women locate the impetus behind their career choice in the belief that they are fundamentally different from the common run of man, unique and in certain crucial ways superior, more as it were central, meaningful--what else could explain the fact that they can and will make a difference in their chosen field simply by the fact that thy themselves have been at the exact center of all they've experienced for the whole 20 years of their conscious lives?”
David Foster Wallace, Oblivion


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