22 September 2008

David Foster Wallace Digresses, as Was His Wont: We Shall Miss His Vegetarian Leanings

David Foster Wallace's article 'Consider the Lobster', which he was originally commissioned to write about the Maine Lobster Festival for Gourmet magazine, is an amazing piece of writing, although Wallace was obviously the first person to note that a food magazine wouldn't necessarily take too kindly to his obsessive footnotes, and would probably not be too happy at all that about half of his article was a (very scientifically pitched) argument that read in parts like a vegetarian tract. This, of course, was one of David Foster Wallace's hallmarks: he was more digressive than Lionel Britton. The video here was created by a buddhist vegan organization, but let that put no one off: Wallace's words have been heavily simplified, but this still makes for good viewing, in spite of the black and white words without pictures. We can only hope that the publicity surrounding Wallace's suicide will make him more widely known in the UK: he was a major writer in any generation, not just this. But the fact that an intellectual maggot like Gordon Ramsay is (by common definition) also a human being seems to suggest that we are indeed, as Lionel Britton claims, moving in intellectual reverse: don't we need a way of categorizing human beings according to basic brain capacity? (Politicians would never allow this, of course, and for obvious reasons.)

Digression: last year I spent several weeks in Carbondale, IL (Wallace used to delight in the two-letter abbreviations of states, among acronyms and other abbreviations that would make you flip back pages to find out if you could see what he was talking about), and as well as driving out to surrounding states such as Missouri (MO) and Kentucky (KY), I visited nearby Murphysboro, IL, for its apple festival (Wallace is quick to point out in 'Consider the Lobster' that some of the other festivities in the U.S. include the Kansas beer Festival, the Tidewater crab festivals, the Midwest corn festivals and the Texas chili festivals, for instance), although this was only on the way to Chester, IL, a small town tucked right up against the Mississippi River, where there's a tiny Popeye Museum dedicated to the work of the creator of that cartoon figure, Elzie Segar, born in Chester in 1874.


Snatch51 said...

The discussion about boiling a lobster is certainly an important one, and shouldn't be dismissed.

Is Barack Obama raising this in the election?
If not, why not?

Of course if he doesn't win Maine it's hard to see him winning the election.
Maine is lobsters.

Dr Tony Shaw said...

I suspect that Obama will steer clear of any mention of lobsters, snatch51: as you say in a comment below, 'The propensity to kill is one of the defining, if disgusting, markers of our species'. I think that if Obama wins in November – and I certainly hope he does – he's going have his work out saving his own ass to worry about lobsters (1).

Talk of Barack Obama and David Foster Wallace of course automatically seques into thoughts of John McCain: Wallace wrote a (characteristically ultra-long) article on McCain for Rolling Stone magazine in 2000, in which he asks the reader to imagine how McCain must have felt, having to operate the ejector seat of his plane after it was shot in Hanoi,and then plummet into enemy territory with two arms and one leg broken (2). No matter what anyone might think of McCain's politics – or that of the ghastly Sarah Palin – (almost) no one deserves that to happen to them (see footnote 2).

(1) 'Maine is lobsters', you say. In the midcoast area it is, yeah, but in the north it's potatoes.

(2) McCain spent five and a half years in prison in North Vietnam, mostly in solitary confinement, and was tortured and starved into the bargain.* War isn't a healthy business, but it's bread and butter to politicians.

*Wallace mentions this in the article 'Up, Simba', which is reproduced in the book Consider teh Lobster (I've always wanted to create a footnote within a footnote: it's the David Foster Wallace in me.)

Snatch51 said...

If Obama goes for 'save the potato' then he will be toast, or should that be chips?

Dr Tony Shaw said...

Palin would love to see him serving mooseburger and chips.