On avoiding writing about 2666

Every time Fuller posts about 2666, I experience anger masquerading as envy. Envy because I can’t quite figure out how to write about this thing; anger because I’m too lazy to figure out how to write about this thing and he’s making me confront that.

It’s a pretty frustrating dilemma to be a literature teacher who doesn’t know how to write about literature. As if there’s some Way. As if what I did with Zinn’s A People’s History (which, yes, is not literature) wasn’t proof that I have no hope of following conventional reflections about books. All I did with that revisionist epic was unleash hell after every chapter, invariably without any “legitimate” analysis/criticism of the book itself. I pointed at it just enough before launching into some madman purgation. For whatever reason, it felt like the right way to approach it.

With 2666, I’m so in awe of the world Bolano’s built that I don’t feel like I have the right to describe it, as if I’m entering Dante’s Inferno and I’ve abandoned all hope of explaining anything to the living when I return from each plunge into the book’s depths. I don’t actually understand how one person could produce it, which makes it a perfect fit for Infinite Winter. I felt and feel the same way about Infinite Jest. It still makes no sense to me how David Foster Wallace, alone, created it.

Perhaps that misses the reality of creation. Artists frequently describe how they don’t feel responsible for their work, as if it just came from nowhere; as if they just surrendered to the universe or whatever and became the medium through which the story decided to live.

On his podcast recently, Pete Holmes talked to Penn Jillette about how “genius” is a word used to distance you from the work you simply don’t want to do (and/or think is worth doing). So if I say, “Oh, David Foster Wallace is just a genius,” then I excuse myself from ever trying to write; from ever opening up to whatever cosmic soup it is that spills over through people and forms into words on a page that nourish us. This sort of divine inspiration doesn’t happen with casual invocation but dull dedication. At the risk of echoing American Dream logic, if you work hard, such magic is more possible. Remember, you’re one way for a story to tell itself, so there’s no guarantee that you’ll be its ultimate champion. It uses you. All we are, after all, are information carriers (see: DNA), aka storytellers. There’s very little work you have to do, except all the work you have to do.

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