On the George Washington Bridge Project: Mind Games

17Mar09

In which The Gay Recluse becomes increasingly obsessed with the George Washington Bridge.

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Today I finally read the New Yorker article about David Foster Wallace, which was by turns inspiring and depressing; inspiring because (and this is hardly a surprise) he seemed to genuinely believe in fiction as a means to reflect/analyze/transform currents of our society, and depressing because of his unending doubt about everything from his ability to write a compelling novel to his own mental health, which was apparently precarious for many many years before he finally committed suicide.

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His unfinished novel, which will be published next year, supposedly examines boredom as a potentially transcendent force in modern society; it’s set in an IRS office in Illinois, and describes a group of tax auditors, some of whom are better able to deal with the mind-numbing tedium of their work than others. Ultimately, it sounds like DFW was unable to resolve — or at least to his own satisfaction — the fundamental dilemma of how to make a novel about boredom not boring.

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Whatever the merits of the novel, it seems that he was touching on an important theme in our culture; seriously, are there not days when the meaningless implications of everything you do at work becomes such a towering wave of ennui that you wonder how you can possibly live another minute, even if by most measures you have a job that is ‘interesting’ and ‘valuable’ and possibly even ‘lucrative’? (In this post, ‘work’ may/may not be a metaphor for ‘life.’) And do you — as DFW postulates — resign yourself to these waves? Do you quit fighting and simply allow them to pass through you so that you emerge on the other side more ‘mindful’ and able to ‘live in the moment,’ so that perhaps you can find gratification in composing say, an elegant e-mail to a senior VP or finally figuring out a mathematical function on a spreadsheet or even participating in a ‘team project’? Ultimately, it seems to me that the issue DFW confronted was (in two parts): 1) ‘how do we stop thinking, when thinking is so painful?’ (or, via Huysmans via Pascal: ‘The soul is pained by all things it thinks upon’) and 2) if we do stop thinking, can we still feel ‘meaningful’ or ‘human’ in modern society, and not like ‘just another corporate drone’?

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In this post, there are four photographs: three of them contain an airplane, which may/may not be a metaphor for our desire to ‘leave our lives behind,’ whereas the one picture without may/may not represent the desire to contemplate that which we have seen so many times before with the (irrational/sustaining/instinctual) hope that we will find something there that we have never seen before.



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