Another example of the unworkshoppable

In yesterday’s post I quoted this passage from IJ (page 24):

His last piece of contact from the appropriation artist, with whom he had had intercase, and who during intercourse had sprayed some sort of perfume up into the air from a mister she held in her left hand as she lay beneath him making a wide variety of sounds and spraying perfume up into the air, so that he felt the cold mist of it settling on his back and shoulders and was chilled and repelled, his last piece of contact after he’d gone into hiding with the marijuana she’d gotten for him had been a card she’d mailed that was a pastiche photo of a doormat of course green plastic grass with WELCOME on it and next to it a flattering publicity photo of the appropriation artist from her Back Bay gallery, and between them an unequal sign, which was an equal sign with a diagonal slash across it, and also an obscenity he had assumed was directed at him magisculed in red grease pencil along the bottom, with multiple exclamation points.

I just want to point out that, once again, some of DFW’s writing would absolutely get slaughtered in workshop.  The passage above goes in so many different directions before coming back to the idea of “his last piece of contact from the appropriation artist.”  I know this because my own writing was criticized heavily in workshop for doing stuff like this.  I really love the sort of wave-riding you do in sentences like this–getting pushed back and forth, to and fro, in the sentence’s tide and rhythm–but my classmates always complained about how this style of writing “took them out of the story” and made them stop and reread the sentence (as though thinking about what you’re reading is a bad thing).

This whole chapter of IJ, pages 17-27, reads like this.  And it reads like this for a reason: the guy’s a pot junkie, needs his fix, and his anxiety ramps up when his fix doesn’t arrive.  The sentences become longer and more manic as we move through the chapter. And you, the reader, need to stop and digest this, because this story is about addiction, consumption, and (maybe) redemption.  It’s a post-modern fable, and you, the reader, need to stop, reread, and take the time to understand what this all means and how it affects these characters and how it’s not all that far removed from real people’s experiences.  The style, with its many digressions in one sentence and sentences occupying whole paragraphs and single paragraphs stretching for five massive pages, is just another tool of the writer to convey tone, setting, characterization to the reader.

On another tip, a nice thing about rereading IJ is that, knowing what’s going to happen and what everything is going to mean, it’s easier to get through long, laborious passages like this second chapter.  I remember reading this the first time and just being bored out of my mind, angry that DFW wasn’t trying to dazzle me anymore like he’d just done in the opening chapter.  But now I understand that this is the first true volley in the novel, the first true establishment of the addiction-and-its-consequences theme.  And, yeah, now I can sit back and enjoy the novel for what it is instead of being self-consciously aware of the fact that I’m currently reading one of the greatest novels of the late 20th Century.  Feels good.


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