I am not lonely when with the dead. This is not to say that I feel alone when with the living. After all, the living have their charms, of course. But I feel most alive with the dead: reading their sentences, contemplating their lives. I am comforted with them, by them.
The living in the twenty-first century do not like to feel. They avoid feeling. The living live at a delicate mezzo-forte. Anything beyond this is feared or medicated. Melancholy is tempered by soulless entertainment and joy by irony. Opinions are whispered from around indistinct corners. The living express themselves passive-aggressively.
I, too, have lived too long beyond indistinct corners. I’ve obfuscated pain, sublimated pleasure, checked all the right boxes, attempted to kiss the right asses. I’ve played by the rules. Writing at fortissimo (or ppp) makes me nervous. It makes me shake, wondering if I can handle it, if I can control it. So, I wade tentatively into darkness. I walk in bad faith. I write and act like the living.
It is time to act like the dead. This weekend, I read the essay “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction”. Prof. Daniel Silliman recommended it to me last week in a conversation about Mumford & Sons and “the new sincerity”. Himself dead of suicide at age forty-six, David Foster Wallace’s essay is a searing critique of cool watchers who hide behind irony, never saying anything direct. Of course, being Wallace, it is expansive and brilliant. You should read it. In fact, stop reading this and go read that.
In his final paragraph, he writes this:
The next literary “rebels” in this country might well emerge as some weird bunch of anti-rebels, born oglers who dare somehow to back away from ironic watching, who have the childish gall actually to endorse and instantiate single-entendre principles. Who treat of plain old untrendy human troubles and emotions in U.S. life with reverence and conviction. Who eschew self-consciousness and hip fatigue. These anti-rebels would be outdated, of course, before they even started. Dead on the page. Too sincere. Clearly repressed. Backward, quaint, naive, anachronistic. Maybe that’ll be the point. Maybe that’s why they’ll be the next real rebels. Real rebels, as far as I can see, risk disapproval. The old postmodern insurgents risked the gasp and squeal: shock, disgust, outrage, censorship, accusations of socialism, anarchism, nihilism. Today’s risks are different. The new rebels might be artists willing to risk the yawn, the rolled eyes, the cool smile, the nudged ribs, the parody of gifted ironists, the “Oh, how banal.”*
From his dead lips to God’s ears.
*: David Foster Wallace, “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction” in A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again. New York: Black Bay, 1997. 81. (Also, see the .pdf link above.)