Sunday, May 1, 2011

Eccentricities Flourishing in Bureaucratic Immensity: How Transcendental Boredom & Immersion Will Save Us All in David Foster Wallace's The Pale King

Finished the new David Foster Wallace today at the park! Obviously, this post differing the one of last month when the book was solicited, as this is impressions after the read itself. No doubt I'll be reading it a second time, almost immediately when the Pale King Book Club is ready to go. For now, what I have to say is damn, it was nice out there with all the solar-inductive vitamin D, to be immersed, yes immersed in this kind of depth of intellectual/existential life-affirmation through the tedious lives of the ultimate bored; employees of the IRS. But really, let's begin with a quote; "Bliss - a-second-by-second joy and gratitude at the gift of being alive, conscious - lies on the other side of crushing, crushing boredom. Pay close attention to the most tedious thing you can find (Tax Returns, Televised Golf) and, in waves, a boredom like you’ve never known will wash over you and just about kill you. Ride these out, and it’s like stepping from black and white into color. Like water after days in the desert. Instant bliss in every atom.”

This in a sense, not only being the theme, but also, almost in a meta-literary sense, Wallace's objective with the (unfinished) novel. From The New Yorker "The Pale King" expands on the virtues of mindfulness and sustained concentration. Properly handled, boredom can be an antidote to our national dependence on entertainment, the book suggests. As Wallace noted at a 2005 commencement speech at Kenyon College, true freedom “means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.” In the new novel, a character comments, “Maybe dullness is associated with psychic pain, because something that’s dull or opaque fails to provide enough stimulation to distract people from some other, deeper type of pain that is always there, if only in an ambient low-level way, and which most of us spend nearly all our time and energy trying to distract ourselves from.” - This is the concept explored here, to the extent and genius that Wallace explored entertainment, habit and addiction in "Infinite Jest". As David's notes, shared in the editorial at the end of the book state; “They’re rare, but they’re among us. People able to achieve and sustain a certain steady state of concentration, attention, despite what they’re doing. Midwest meditation semifinals. Contestants hooked up to EEG -- it's who can achieve and maintain Theta waves for the longest period of time. It's the ability to be IMMERSED".

That very thing, we have right here, in this book. And Wallace is suggesting, that through that kind of discipline, anti-distraction, self attention, and again; "because something that’s dull fails to provide enough stimulation to distract people from some other, deeper type of pain that is always there, if only in an ambient low-level way" we're made to face our-selves in a way that's seemingly less and less common in daily life with all the noise, distraction, media, texting, spectating, digital documentation of ourselves having experiences, having dialogs about our spectation of experiences, banter, hyperbole, hysteria and the braindead megaphone of the media, that most-all of us seek to fill a larger, and larger part of our time on a daily basis. This novel explores the antithesis to that and is, in itself, in a way, both meta and literal, that very thing. Transcendental boredom seems a radical answer to what we're missing from our daily content of life, but hell, if that's what it takes to break us free from the cycles of near-addictive entertainment and distraction, maybe it's the unsavory antidote to what is really ailing our twitter-brains. Good luck.