Posts tagged essays

penamerican:

17 Personal Essays That Will Change Your Life
David Foster Wallace, Joan Didion, George Orwell, Kurt Vonnegut, Nora Ephron…the gang’s all here. 

penamerican:

17 Personal Essays That Will Change Your Life

David Foster Wallace, Joan Didion, George Orwell, Kurt Vonnegut, Nora Ephron…the gang’s all here. 

What goes on inside is just too fast and huge and all interconnected for words to do more than barely sketch the outlines of at most one tiny little part of it at any given instant.
David Foster Wallace; Oblivion
Happy birthday, David Foster Wallace (February 21, 1962 – September 12, 2008).
“The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.” ― David Foster Wallace, This is Water

Happy birthday, David Foster Wallace (February 21, 1962 – September 12, 2008).

“The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.” ― David Foster WallaceThis is Water

Death in the Afternoon by Ernest Hemingway

“When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature. If a writer can make people live there may be no great characters in his book, but it is possible that his book will remain as a whole; as an entity; as a novel. If the people the writer is making talk of old masters; of music; of modern painting; of letters; or of science then they should talk of those subjects in the novel. If they do not talk of these subjects and the writer makes them talk of them he is a faker, and if he talks about them himself to show how much he knows then he is showing off. No matter how good a phrase or a simile he may have if he puts it in where it is not absolutely necessary and irreplaceable he is spoiling his work for egotism. Prose is architecture, not interior decoration, and the Baroque is over. For a writer to put his own intellectual musings, which he might sell for a low price as essays, into the mouths of artificially constructed characters which are more remunerative when issued as people in a novel is good economics, perhaps, but does not make literature. People in a novel, not skillfully constructed characters, must be projected from the writer’s assimilated experience, from his knowledge, from his head, from his heart and from all there is of him. If he ever has luck as well as seriousness and gets them out entire they will have more than one dimension and they will last a long time. A good writer should know as near everything as possible. Naturally he will not. A great enough writer seems to be born with knowledge. But he really is not; he has only been born with the ability to learn in a quicker ratio to the passage of time than other men and without conscious application, and with an intelligence to accept or reject what is already presented as knowledge. There are some things which cannot be learned quickly and time, which is all we have, must be paid heavily for their acquiring. They are the very simplest things and because it takes a man’s life to know them the little new that each man gets from life is very costly and the only heritage he has to leave. Every novel which is truly written contributes to the total of knowledge which is there at the disposal of the next writer who comes, but the next writer must pay, always, a certain nominal percentage in experience to be able to understand and assimilate what is available as his birthright and what he must, in turn, take his departure from. If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an ice-berg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water. A writer who omits things because he does not know them only makes hollow places in his writing. A writer who appreciates the seriousness of writing so little that he is anxious to make people see he is formally educated, cultured or well-bred is merely a popinjay. And this too remember; a serious writer is not to be confounded with a solemn writer. A serious writer may be a hawk or a buzzard or even a popinjay, but a solemn writer is always a bloody owl.” 

[W]e live in an era of terrible preoccupation with presentation and interpretation, one in which relations between who someone is and what he believes and how he “expresses himself” have been thrown into big time flux. The horrific struggle to establish a human self results in a self whose humanity is inseparable from that horrific struggle: That our endless and impossible journey toward home is in fact our home.
David Foster Wallace; Consider the Lobster

franzenfreude:

Once a nerd, always a nerd

There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.
Martin Luther King Jr.; A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Every now and then I come across someone on the subway who defies easy categorization. I remember, for instance, a man who boarded the 3 train in Brooklyn a few years ago wearing military fatigues and a bandolier packed with little glass bottles of liquids. “Who is man enough to buy my fragrances?” he shouted. (When one rider replied that he wasn’t sure, the man responded, “Are you man enough to kill a hooker in Moscow with a crowbar?”) More recently, there was a man on the uptown 6 wearing a pair of oversized New Year’s glasses—the ones where the 0’s serve as eyeholes—who played atonal jazz on his saxophone and asked for no monetary compensation in return. I could keep going, but no doubt anyone who has lived in a city for any length of time has their own mental list of these self-styled subterranean eccentrics, grouped together not so much by any particular characteristic other than the fact that they seem only to exist underground.

Over the years I’ve made casual study of this joyful band of accidental philosophers as they’ve decorated my dreary morning commutes with their Bedazzler guns of mischief. A few months ago I had the good fortune of getting to know one of them on the R train.

Beautiful essay by Joe Kloc in the Paris Review on the lives of New York City’s permanent transients. (via kalakutaqueen)
Grammar is a piano I play by ear.
Joan Didion; Essays & Conversations

mcnallyjackson:

Both Flesh and Not, the latest and presumably last collection of essays by David Foster Wallace, is on the shelf as of this morning. Unpacking the boxes, we agreed that we both desperately want to and really don’t want to read this immediately; this is it; what’s the rush, etc. What we want to read asap though: each chapter is separated by a double-page spread of American Heritage Dictionary definitions lifted from the vocabulary lists Wallace famously kept. They are organized alphabetically, from abattoir to ylang-ylang (which, really, didn’t Wallace ever see an Herbal Essences commercial?). Asian tree oils aside, many are words we don’t and want to know because we think they’ll reveal all sorts of truths about the great man.

vicemag:

The Deaths of David Foster Wallace
Theories
When David Foster Wallace committed suicide, his death wasn’t just mourned—it was read. It was read like code, like apology, like an event in a novel—not simply a plot-level event but a meta-level event, a commentary on the history and future of the novel itself. Theories went something like: Wallace killed himself because he’d lost faith in postmodernism and/or his own efforts to replace it (“killed himself if only to prove that postmodernism was dead”)1; because he was sick of irony but couldn’t see a way out of it; because his own virtuosic mind was no match for its own despair; because he’d lost faith in the ethos of daily attention to which his writing paid homage—as his friend Jonathon Franzen put it, had “arguably…died of boredom.”2 Insofar as one could find hope in his magnum opus Infinite Jest—“no single moment is unendurable”—his death seemed to negate this hope, to proclaim that this hope was not—ultimately, in the final analysis—enough.
Wallace’s widow, on the other hand, doesn’t talk about his suicide in terms of aesthetic or metaphysical despair. “It was just a day in his life,” she says, “and a day in mine.”3 She folds his death back into the longer story of his life—it was one day amongst many—and robs it of the sense of inevitability that others have forced upon it.
Even the title of D.T. Max’s new biography of Wallace, Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story, suggests the size of his suicide’s shadow: it has become impossible to love Wallace’s work without reckoning with his ghost, how he ghosted himself. The book’s structure reinforces this suggestion of totalizing importance by closing, somewhat abruptly, with the event of the suicide itself. There’s no closing retrospective glance—no depiction of the mourning or eulogies—only the hanging and the unfinished manuscript left behind.
Max generally steers clear of the “Was his suicide an expression of generic/metaphysical anxiety?” fray, but his final lines nonetheless linger on an uneasy parallel between life and art:
“This [manuscript] was his effort to show the world what it was to be ‘a fucking human being.’ He had never completed it to his satisfaction. This was not an ending anyone would have wanted for him, but it was the one he had chosen” (301).
He had never completed it to his satisfaction… Vague pronouns offer a syntactical slide between living and writing; the uncompleted “it” refers to the struggle of being “a fucking human being” and the struggle to write a manuscript about what this struggle was like; “this” means both the end of Wallace’s life and the nonexistent ending of his book.
Max closes with Wallace’s act as an expression of agency (“he had chosen”) and with a suggestion about the way in which his agency worked against the desires of others—“not an ending anyone would have wanted for him.” In this, Max closes his book by glancing towards the people left behind—editors and loved ones and the fans who were also, for Wallace, “loved ones” of a different stripe.
Wallace often spoke of his readership in terms of love:
“…it seems like the big distinction between good art and so-so art lies somewhere in the art’s heart’s purpose, the agenda of the consciousness behind the text. It’s got something to do with love. With having the discipline to talk out of the part of yourself that can love instead of the part that just wants to be loved.”4
In his biography, Max gives us both sides of Wallace—the part of him that could give love, and the part of him that desperately wanted it. His writing was always courting both ideals; his suicide felt—to some, to many—like a betrayal of both.
CONTINUE

[Excellent article]

vicemag:

The Deaths of David Foster Wallace

Theories

When David Foster Wallace committed suicide, his death wasn’t just mourned—it was readIt was read like code, like apology, like an event in a novel—not simply a plot-level event but a meta-level event, a commentary on the history and future of the novel itself. Theories went something like: Wallace killed himself because he’d lost faith in postmodernism and/or his own efforts to replace it (“killed himself if only to prove that postmodernism was dead”)1; because he was sick of irony but couldn’t see a way out of it; because his own virtuosic mind was no match for its own despair; because he’d lost faith in the ethos of daily attention to which his writing paid homage—as his friend Jonathon Franzen put it, had “arguably…died of boredom.”2 Insofar as one could find hope in his magnum opus Infinite Jest—“no single moment is unendurable”—his death seemed to negate this hope, to proclaim that this hope was not—ultimately, in the final analysis—enough.

Wallace’s widow, on the other hand, doesn’t talk about his suicide in terms of aesthetic or metaphysical despair. “It was just a day in his life,” she says, “and a day in mine.”3 She folds his death back into the longer story of his life—it was one day amongst many—and robs it of the sense of inevitability that others have forced upon it.

Even the title of D.T. Max’s new biography of Wallace, Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story, suggests the size of his suicide’s shadow: it has become impossible to love Wallace’s work without reckoning with his ghost, how he ghosted himself. The book’s structure reinforces this suggestion of totalizing importance by closing, somewhat abruptly, with the event of the suicide itself. There’s no closing retrospective glance—no depiction of the mourning or eulogies—only the hanging and the unfinished manuscript left behind.

Max generally steers clear of the “Was his suicide an expression of generic/metaphysical anxiety?” fray, but his final lines nonetheless linger on an uneasy parallel between life and art:

“This [manuscript] was his effort to show the world what it was to be ‘a fucking human being.’ He had never completed it to his satisfaction. This was not an ending anyone would have wanted for him, but it was the one he had chosen” (301).

He had never completed it to his satisfaction… Vague pronouns offer a syntactical slide between living and writing; the uncompleted “it” refers to the struggle of being “a fucking human being” and the struggle to write a manuscript about what this struggle was like; “this” means both the end of Wallace’s life and the nonexistent ending of his book.

Max closes with Wallace’s act as an expression of agency (“he had chosen”) and with a suggestion about the way in which his agency worked against the desires of others—“not an ending anyone would have wanted for him.” In this, Max closes his book by glancing towards the people left behind—editors and loved ones and the fans who were also, for Wallace, “loved ones” of a different stripe.

Wallace often spoke of his readership in terms of love:

“…it seems like the big distinction between good art and so-so art lies somewhere in the art’s heart’s purpose, the agenda of the consciousness behind the text. It’s got something to do with love. With having the discipline to talk out of the part of yourself that can love instead of the part that just wants to be loved.”4

In his biography, Max gives us both sides of Wallace—the part of him that could give love, and the part of him that desperately wanted it. His writing was always courting both ideals; his suicide felt—to some, to many—like a betrayal of both.

[Excellent article]

If, then, I were asked for the most important advice I could give, that which I considered to be the most useful to the men of our century, I should simply say: in the name of God, stop a moment, cease your work, look around you.
Leo Tolstoy; Essays, Letters and Miscellanies

Is it the End of the Book As We Know It?

I’ve been working at Barnes & Noble for well over a year now. I am my store’s Digital Sales Manager (even though B&N recently changed that title). So my insight into e-reader devices has grown exponentially over the last year. Here are several things that really worry me about digital books.

First, I’m not opposed to them but I do see some serious flaws in the whole idea. The reading devices themselves are only useful for a certain amount of time. Eventually, just like any other electronic device two things will inevitably happen: the device will eventually break down and become non-operable. Or, the device will become so technologically obsolete it will eventually be useless. The latter typically happens before the former (e.g. Nook first editions are no longer made and have become obsolete, and my Kindle second edition is now obsolete). The former is currently happening. Readers come into the store with their first edition devices, we cannot fix them so they have to trade up because their current device is no longer made. Let me remind you that physical copies of books never become “obsolete” in the same sense that digital readers do. Granted, a book may go out of print, but if you have it and take care of it, it will last until you die. Even then, if it’s taken care of, it will continue to live on.

Second, digital readers/books will eventually cause B&N to downsize their locations. In other words, I believe that digital books will force B&N to close at least 200 or more of their stores, and force the company to find smaller buildings for the remaining stores. The cost of keeping up with current technology is extremely expensive.

Third, eventually, and I’m not sure when, the book in the form as we have always known it will fade. Those who still want physical books will be forced to find them at second hand bookstores. This will cause independent bookstores to either turn to a used books market or go out of business. So, digital books/readers will cost a lot of people their jobs.

Fourth, once a reader’s device no longer works, their only option (unless they get an app on their PC or other device - which will also break down) is to buy another device. And this will go on and on and on. So, not only is the reader buying electronic reading devices (that are not too cheap I might add), they are buying the digital books as well. Buying the reading device itself is shelling out extra money that could otherwise be spent on books.

To me, the above sounds bleak. While I am not opposed to digital books, I simply love and prefer physical copies. What all this means for me is that from now on I will buy nothing but physical copies of books. Because, to be quite honest, sometime in the future I will not be able to do so from a new book vender.

Is there a plus side to reading digital books and using eReaders? Yes. First, you do save space in your home. Second, you can take thousands of books with you on the device when you travel. Third, the new release digital titles are less expensive than their printed editions. Other than these three things, I can not think of any other advantages. Can you?

We must be free not because we claim freedom, but because we practice it.

William Faulkner; Essays, Speeches & Public Letters

[Happy 4th to those of you who live in the U.S.. Cheers!]

We live in a culture that inundates us with the internet, movies, music, television, and cell phones. You can’t go to an auto repair shop without there being a television in the waiting room; same with a hospital. You can’t walk through an empty grocery store without music being played on the intercoms. Ask yourself this; when is the last time you were alone. I mean completely alone, no internet, no movies, no music, no television, and no cell phone? A time when no other human can be seen or heard? Alone time is time for reflection, time to think, time to rejuvenate, to become alive again. There is no time like time alone. It’s a necessity.
TBV