It’s time to start again. The last few years have been tumultuous. Barren in terms of artistic or scholarly production, but rife with tectonic-plate-shifting life changes. I could write about those, but ultimately, I’m not interested in using this blog as a platform for thinking about my personal life. Instead, I want to get back to being a halcyon that flies–I want to create new things in the world.

Part of that is going to need to be my thoughts on New Sincerity as a literary movement in contemporary fiction, as this is the topic of my dissertation. At the moment I’m digging deep into the work of David Foster Wallace, and so that’s going to be at the foreground for the time being. Enough meta-blogging.

Why am I interested in DFW? I never was talented at being a fan-boy for anything. I don’t memorize Wallace quotes. I do think, however, that Infinite Jest was a very important book at the turn of the millennium when it comes to the West thinking about itself.

I’ve decided that instead of first becoming embroiled in the conversation surrounding this book, I’m going to come up with my own take on what it is I think Wallace is saying here.  Having recently reread it, I have some thoughts.  To begin with, I’m pretty sure Wallace wrote this novel, in part, to diagnose the chief ailment of America as anhedonia:

One kind [of depression] is low-grade and sometimes gets called anhedonia or simple melancholy.  It’s a kind of spiritual torpor in which one loses the ability to feel pleasure or attachment to things formerly important.  The avid bowler drops out of his league and stays home at night staring dully at kick-boxing cartridges.  The gourmand is off his feed.  The sensualist finds his beloved Unit all of a sudden to be so much feelingless gristle, just hanging there.  The devoted wife and mother finds the thought of her family about as moving, all of a sudden, as a theorem of Euclid.  It’s a kind of emotional novocaine, this form of depression, and while it’s not overtly painful its deadness is disconcerting and… well, depressing. (692-693)

But when Wallace writes about anhedonia, he does so without quite explaining how, exactly, it is caused on such a wide scale in the West. He provides a clue, however, when he writes about Hal:

One of the really American things about Hal, probably, is the way he despises what it is he’s really lonely for: this hideous internal self, incontinent of sentiment and need, that pules and writhes just under the hip empty mask, anhedonia. (695)

The word “hip,” in that sentence, functions as a kind of assertion that the anhedonia Hal feels has been intentionally cultivated by Hal. In order to not be fake, Hal must actually become the nonchalant, cool kid that seems to embody Talleyrand’s advice to his company under Napoleon: “Sourtout, pas trop de zele” (Above all, not too much zeal). Hal has fashioned himself into a mentally ill person in order to fit in with his hip, disaffected peers.

But how did anhedonia become fashionable in the first place? I have some ideas, but I’ll save them for a later post 🙂