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Thursday, January 10, 2013

Maybe some writers exist solely to prompt responses superior to the prompts themselves

For example, Elizabeth Wurtzel. What is she saying? She's miserable but happy to be miserable because it would be even more miserable to live in a way that would make her less miserable? Who knows. But Amber and Eve Tushnet have suggestions far more coherent than their subject. And this mess of an essay led a friend to send me this excellent story by DFW, "The Depressed Person," apparently based on Wurtzel herself, which is as sharp a rebuke as can be imagined, improved even further by Wurtzel's unprovoked attack on him in her own thing.

12 comments:

Amber said...

What a kind thing to say! Thank you.

Withywindle said...

So, I take it that the existence of both Wurtzel and the Wurtzel-critiques indicates that neither strand Represents the Culture; but rather that the Culture has Both Strands in it. Next question: how important is the Wurtzelite Strand? Does she represent two women and a toy dog named Boomer, or something more? -- I ask this having condemned Narcissistic Romanticism in my time, but struck now by a vague concern than I might have condemned with too broad a brush.

Andrew Stevens said...

I think you and all your links are being a tad bit harsh on her in exactly one particular. I don't believe her comments on David Foster Wallace constitute anything like an attack. She knows this person, David Boies, who she believes is by far the smartest man she has ever met. Trying to grope for a way to describe just how smart she thinks he is, she says, "Hey, I knew David Foster Wallace. And he was really damn smart and a lot of people know that, so I can compare David Boies to him and get my point across." She implies that David Foster Wallace may be the second smartest man she has ever known. I'm scratching my head trying to figure out how this constitutes an attack.

According to Wikipedia, Harold Bloom said of DFW's best known work, "You know, I don’t want to be offensive. But Infinite Jest is just awful. It seems ridiculous to have to say it. He can’t think, he can’t write. There’s no discernible talent. Stephen King is Cervantes compared with David Foster Wallace."

Now that's an attack. I've read Infinite Jest and I've read op-eds by David Boies and heard him make oral arguments. I have no difficulty believing David Boies is a smarter man than David Foster Wallace was, and I don't think I'm denigrating David Foster Wallace by saying so.

Miss Self-Important said...

Withywindle: Well, there's Eat, Pray, Love. So two women, and probably a Chihuahua or some other dog bred solely for living in women's purses. I think the DFW story is actually a good account of how this romantic narcissism comes about and how simultaneously natural and repugnant it is to us. It's also purely distilled Rousseauian amour-propre, by the way, although I know you'll be annoyed with me for mentioning that.

AS: I'm not a partisan of either of these Davids, but I think if you want to praise someone's intelligence, there are a number of ways you could formulate it that make more sense than Person X is smarter than Person Y, who is only as smart as Mediocre Person Z. David Boies is the smartest man I've ever met b/c of X thing he said/did. Or, b/c he is smarter than Oliver Wendell Holmes, another lawyer. Not DB is the smartest man I've ever met b/c he's smarter than this other man I once met who did entirely different things but did once write a story destroying me, so maybe I'll return the favor? DB makes DFW look like David Remnick? Well, since all three of these people exist, then it's not a matter of appearances, but a straightforward claim that DFW is only as smart or as good a writer as Remnick. That's just a randomly inserted slight that has little to do with Boies's intelligence one way or the other.

Andrew Stevens said...

I confess I might be missing something crucial since I know nothing about David Remnick, but just looking at his c.v., it's not obvious to me that anyone should be embarrassed at being compared to him. Pulitzer Prize, Editor of the Year, seems to have had a sterling career. Maybe he has a reputation as a dunderhead in certain social circles, but damned if I could figure out which ones. (People who hate The New Yorker, maybe?)

But, yeah, I do agree it's not the most artful thing I've ever seen anybody write and your interpretation may even be a natural one, even though I really don't think she was meaning to be insulting to Wallace.

Miss Self-Important said...

I think Remnick is a stand-in here for uninspired technical competence. No one considers him a groundbreaking writer in the manner of DFW, as far as I know. She's not suggesting DFW is an illiterate teen poet, sure, but she is knocking him down a notch in the supposed but actually non sequitur-ish service of elevating Boies. Of course, she might not have meant to do so; it is somewhat difficult to discern what this essay means in several places.

Andrew Stevens said...

I agree it's ambiguous. I read it to my wife (without telling her which side I was on) and she agreed with my interpretation, but after reading it again, I'm a little more inclined to side with your interpretation. Just because Wurtzel has that line about how David Boies is "not overrated," which could have been meant, given what preceded it, as a sly implication that DFW is.

Of course, I think we can all agree that Elizabeth Wurtzel is overrated.

Withywindle said...

MSI: I'm not annoyed when you mention Rousseau. I'm just aware he's an interest of yours. :)

Flavia said...

Gawd. Just read the essay now (in my dead-tree, subscription copy). Expected to hate it; didn't expect such blithering incoherence. All I can presume is that NYMag commissioned her to write something else, and this is the dreck she turned in.

And yes, she's horrible on DFW. There's no reason to identify him as the specific person whom Boies is smarter than, nor to belittle him as "a lesser David." If Boies is indeed such a genius, there's a near-infinitude of people he's smarter than, and identifying one (especially a dead one, especially one who's a much better writer that Wurtzel) as THE ONE he's smarter than is just gratuitous meanness.

loafingcactus Mary said...

I particularly liked Phoebe's comment on Amber's blog. I must confess I didn't read the entire DFW piece closely because it is a bit too--dare I criticize?--blah-blah-blah for me, but I did read the last paragraph very closely and DFW with his own issues must have identified in at least some way. I once identified with Wurtzel very much, though I always managed my life much, much better, and am horrified to see that she in her 40s and refuse to think about the fact that I kept such a better lid on it and haven't reached the same level of mundane success as her (but she, a lawyer, why?). The difference as I see it is that David Foster Wallace was supremely generous in describing the world he did not (perhaps could not) inhabit, and Wurtzel never has been.

Miss Self-Important said...

Flavia: Well, it worked for NYMag. Lots of readers. I'm not sure whether the dreckiness of something is really a *problem* for NYMag.

LoafingCactus: Yes, I do think DFW sympathizes with the Wurtzel character. Or at least, that we readers are intended to sympathize, and be strung along through her increasing self-knowledge and then see an indictment of our own narcissism in the conclusion, whether we're depressed or not. But the NYMag piece recapitulates the DFW story without any of the concluding self-awareness that the story suggests. Fictional, repugnant Wurtzel remarkably comes off better than real, pathetic Wurtzel.

Andrew Stevens said...

LoafingCactus, you are less famous than her. I think her article was pretty clear that you are probably more successful than she is.