Patrick O'Neil's Reviews > A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments

A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace
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Jul 11, 2008

it was ok

Somewhere I’ve heard it said that a good writer can write about anything and make it interesting. David Foster Wallace is such a writer, a good writer, and he does, at times, seem to write about anything. Although sometimes he seems to endlessly write about anything and then at the same time about everything else but the subject that he is supposedly writing about.

However, if I may be so bold as to make a small analogy here, most of the time he appears to be flogging a live horse until it is dead, then flogs the dead horse until it is way beyond dead. Takes a lunch break – during which he describes what he is eating and where – then goes back to flogging the dead horse until he turns it around and describes how it feels to be flogging a dead horse. Somewhere around page 207 of the same essay he explores the sociological ramifications of flogging a dead horse while simultaneously expounding on the socioeconomics of horse flogging while footnoting his resentments against those who have issues against horse flogging, dead or not. Needless to say I am somewhat mentally exhausted after reading A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again.

I knew there was going to be trouble when I started skipping pages in the second essay “E Unibus Pluram” as I only engage in that sort of behavior when I really, and I do mean really, hate whatever it is that I am reading. Three of his other essays: “Greatly Exaggerated”, “David Lynch Keeps His Head” and “Tennis Player Michael Joyce’s Professional Artistry as a Paradigm of Certain Stuff about Choice, Freedom, Discipline, Joy, Grotesquerie, and Human Completeness” I found pretty much unreadable – with the Michael Joyce essay I started to choke just trying to digest the title. There were moments, especially in the David Lynch essay, that I wanted to scream and toss the book across the room – and frequently did. “E. Unibus Pluram”, Wallace’s seemingly coherent and over intellectualized diatribe on network television unfortunately, or fortunately contained a lot of material that was lost on me as I don’t watch television, especially not sit-coms and though I seem to remember the shows that he was referring to I still never partook in their viewing so I really couldn’t get the cynical references to their influences on society.

However “Derivative Sport in Tornado Alley”, “Getting Away from Already Being Pretty Much Away from It All” and “A Supposed Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again” are, in my opinion, nothing short of brilliant and the saving graces for the book. Ignoring Wallace’s perchance to inject lengthy footnotes whenever and wherever possible I breezed through all three of these “chapters” enjoying Wallace enjoy himself celebrating his aloofness while infusing his phobia-ridden angst in every situation that he could. Maybe it was the subject matter, maybe it was that almost familiar uncomfortable-ness that Wallace flawlessly portrays that we can all relate to oh so well – I don’t know. But I can safely say that I didn’t toss the book across the room once when I was thoroughly engrossed reading those three essays.

As for the aforementioned footnote issue: Wallace’s near obsessive use of footnotes at times felt like he was thumbing his nose at his editor, or more likely his past editor(s), as almost all of these pieces are extended articles/essays that he was hired to write for various magazines/publications. Maybe just maybe one or two of his editors also felt as I do that Wallace tends to go off on a tangent and tried to reel him in and now here he is given near carte blanche to expound like a maniac and given that these original pieces do work he didn’t want to ruin their “flow” and just tagged on his footnotes like blurting out his opinions, though in a somewhat more controlled manner. Not being a real big academic/research reader myself the footnotes felt awkward and were not really a lot of help to me as I tend to not like having to stop reading, refer to a number, and then look to the bottom of the page for the further details – yes, I’m going to blame it on ADD and a low attention span. For me it breaks the rhythm of the essays up and as I’ve already stated I think Mr. Wallace is rather long winded and his use of footnotes only extends and complicates his work even further.

As for what Wallace was trying to accomplish grouping this collection of essays together I really have no idea. Other than now I am pretty much convinced that Mr. Wallace is a self-obsessed neurotic who tends to want us to sense that he is out of place everywhere that he goes and is too smart for his own good. That he can intellectualize the hell out of anything, no matter how small or trivial it may seem, taking what little fun or enjoyment that anyone else may have had out of the equation.

Although I’ve also heard it said that we tend to not like seeing some of ourselves in others and maybe this is why I object to Wallace’s over opinionated, self-absorbed, cynical-as-hell, judgmental, angst-driven, phobia-ridden and at times better than attitude. Of course all of those, ah, er, qualities of mine I deserve because, well, I'm better than the rest of you. Just kidding, sorta… No really I am, about the better than deal, not about Wallace – who, as they say, is all of those things and a bag of chips.
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message 1: by s.d. (new)

s.d. Damn!


Shmuli Cohen Probably time you read Infinite Jest me thinks.


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