‘Real life happens in private, alone, before an empty house, without the gaze of an audience to ennoble or redeem it ‘
Reading ‘The Pale King’ by David Foster Wallace, America’s greatest literary talent, made me feel that it is a disguised autobiography of his pain, a recount of his torments that inflicted all his life in a most insightful style. Some torments one is born with and foolish psychiatrists call them acute depression.
David Foster Wallace’s untimely 2008 death sadly was an epic tragedy that still hurts me immensely for two reasons: first, I think of him as a genius entrapped within his own tedium – I feel for a second a part of ‘him’ being me; secondly he could have broken through by changing his desire to define nothingness and boredom, he died to find ‘attention and respect in his real world’ where there was no one to give him that. A man is a prisoner of his surroundings; I wish he would have changed those surroundings, the world would have been spared the premature death of a great talent.
Genius is an enormous prison and a colossal cross to carry. Geniuses are considered mad, they are served hemlock or burnt at the stake. It is a very lonely existence where everyone finds faults and considers you a harm. This is the test, and this is the burden David Foster Wallace lived with. Regretfully you are required to choose your gratifications from the throngs of sorrow. Don’t look for any gratitude in life, there is none. You play your role and you are obliged to ease out in the quiet of the night. Once you recognise that ‘easing out,’ the stillness becomes your delight. Half your life misery stems from the ‘innate desire’ to receive ovation for heroism that no one else recognises. No one is bothered, no one reads you or even can fathom you, that is what the real tragedy is. If you slay and conquer that craving of recognition in infancy, you win the world. Look at his pain if you can discern it, discussing the smashing success of Infinite Jest with Charlie Rose in 1997, Wallace said (showing his disdain at oversimplification of subject matter):
Every writer dreams of attention, but the fact of the matter is that this is a long, difficult book, and a lot of the attention began coming at a time when — I mean I can do elementary arithmetic — a lot of people hadn’t had time to read the book yet. So, the stuff about me or interesting rumours that developed about the book and all that stuff getting attention, I didn’t like that very much just because I wanted people to read the book.
Defy ‘pain’ rather thrive on it to make the best out of the cards you are dealt with, never let ‘pain’ conquer your determination, let pain become your ecstasy. Life is about carrying on even if there is no audience, no one to applaud or to admire, no one to see you, if no one queues up to see and no one is interested. It is in this eerie silence of the night you need to surmount your demons. That is where most of us fail, that was his ordeal pinnacle of his being. The lesson DFW provides us all is that living a ‘real life happens in private, alone, before an empty house, without the gaze of an audience to ennoble or redeem it.’ This is the genuine test, it is a regimented existence and to overcome that is principally significant challenge.
‘The Pale King’ surpasses definition of monotony and dullness as never before:
“Enduring tedium over real time in a confined space is what real courage is,” a professor of accounting tells his students. “There is no audience. No one to applaud, to admire. No one to see you. Do you understand? Here is the truth — actual heroism receives no ovation, entertains no one. No one queues up to see it. No one is interested.” The critics believe that The Pale King ‘isn’t the era-defining monumental work we’ve all been waiting for since Infinite Jest altered the landscape of American fiction.’ The Time has published one of the best reviews on the book.
What we see in this Google Document is a vision of what The Pale King might have looked like, if its editors had chosen to leave it in the disarrayed state it was discovered in. Surely this would have been a book with less mass appeal than the Pale King that was published on April 15, but would it have been truer to Wallace the writer? After the writer David Foster Wallace killed himself, on Wallace’s desk was found a heap of around 200 pages containing numerous chapters of a novel called The Pale King which is about the lives of a group of IRS agents/accountants in Peoria, Ill. The heap of paper turned out a lot more than just that hoard. “They brought me literally bins and drawers and wire baskets,” Michael Pietsch, publisher of Little, Brown & Co. and Wallace’s long-time editor says. “Just heaps of pages. There was no order to them.” Pietsch went back to New York City with a duffel bag full of them. Nearly after two years assembling and editing the contents of that duffel bag results are ‘The Pale King.’
The Pale King is a classic set in 1985. Wallace looking at the world calmly, ‘without pointing and shouting describing the contents of a field by a highway:’
“…An arrow of starlings fired from the windbreak’s thatch. The glitter of dew that stays where it is and steams all day. A sunflower, four more, one bowed, and horses in the distance standing rigid and still as toys. All nodding. Electric sounds of insects at their business. Ale-colored sunshine and pale sky and whorls of cirrus so high they cast no shadow. Insects all business all the time. Quartz and chert and schist and chondrite iron scabs in granite…”
The Pale King is an account of monotony, boredom, dullness, bleakness and gloom of accountants. It is about a group of IRS agents/accountants with jobs, the crushing dullness of which “ultimately sets them free.” Some ask if ‘The Pale King’ is the most boring book ever? Wallace “posed himself the task that is almost the opposite of how fiction works,” which is “leaving out the things that are not of much interest.” So who the heck wants to read about a bunch of tax-processing accountants filling out forms? Though they epitomise ‘what is not life’ but they are more ‘real;’ he makes us see the truth in the everyday world:
“Routine, repetition, tedium, monotony, ephemeracy, inconsequence, abstraction, disorder, boredom, angst, ennui – these are the true hero’s enemies, and make no mistake, they are fearsome indeed. For they are real.”
Wallace took accounting classes by way of research. He describe the work of the personification of tedium of the accountants, sitting in rows at worktables, with rubber thimbles on their pinkie fingers to make turning pages easier, they are engaged in a silent war against the raging, soul-flattening boredom of their job. It’s an account of accounting:
Howard Cardwell turns a page. Ken Wax turns a page. “Groovy” Bruce Channing attaches a form to a file. Ann Williams turns a page. Anand Singh turns two pages at once by mistake and turns one back which makes a slightly different sound. David Cusk turns a page. Sandra Pounder turns a page. Robert Atkins turns two separate pages of two separate files at the same time.
‘The second chapter of The Pale King gives us 13 pages (with exactly one paragraph break) of one Claude Sylvanshine sitting in an eighth-row seat of a small airplane on his way to take the CPA exam in Peoria. Wallace needs no external action to sustain his flow: we simply ride along inside Claude’s head as he casts his mind forward to the impending test and back over the life that had led him here and sideways into the clouds around him.’
The New York Times summed up his style when it billed Wallace as the writer “whose prodigiously observant, exuberantly plotted, grammatically and etymologically challenging, philosophically probing and culturally hyper-contemporary novels, stories and essays made him an heir to modern virtuosos like Thomas Pynchon and Don DeLillo”. For all his intermittent intensity, Wallace never lived up to the breadth of his talent, or the evocative heights of his potentials. He produced only two novels in his 21-year career. Mr. Wallace hung himself, he was found dead at home in Claremont, a university town in eastern Los Angeles. The novelist’s father, James Donald Wallace, said he was heavily depressed and “just couldn’t stand it anymore”. He was 46. The routine of his life killed him.
Let us go back to his commencement address in 2005 @ Kenyon College and earlier books and then come back to highlight ‘The Pale King.’
‘There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”
The immediate point of the fish story is that the most obvious, ubiquitous, important realities are often the ones that are the hardest to see and talk about. Stated as an English sentence, of course, this is just a banal platitude — but the fact is that, in the day-to-day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have life-or-death importance.’ (Adapted from a commencement speech to the 2005 graduating class at Kenyon College. )
‘This is Water’ was a remarkable speech from someone born with a inspired intellect. “We are the center of the universe as our default setting.” He suggests that education is the opportunity to not be arrogantly certain. Thinking can help us decide to choose to look at situations with greater complexity.”
Sadly, he struggled with depression and killed himself. Undoubtedly, all inspired people question their banal presence here, far too often withdrawal is a general indication; that ‘withdrawal’ sadly enough broke the bondages and confines of sanity. Once that self retreat gets devoid of sanity, tragedy leads to self annihilation. ‘So many people feel sad, empty and lonely. It’s not enough to “Want, Achieve and Display.’ A ‘self retreat’ sans champagne and exquisiteness will lead to tragedy. He became a victim of “There is no audience. No one to applaud, to admire. No one to see you. Do you understand? Here is the truth — actual heroism receives no ovation, entertains no one. No one queues up to see it. No one is interested.”
Every man needs an appreciative audience, most of us are denied that for the right reasons, i.e., ego and self esteem; people hate to deliver words of good. It is not within us when we compare our decadence with the richness of the likes of DFW; silence like a lamb is more apt. Look at the story of his 67-page breakup that presents his pain, Claire had not even opened it, whereas he wanted her reaction, he forgot that ‘there is no audience:’
Claire Thompson, author David Foster Wallace’s girlfriend of two years, stopped reading his 67-page breakup letter at page 20, Thompson said she believes Wallace penned the breakup opus during a January lecture trip to the University of New England in Biddeford, ME.
“When he came back, he handed me a big manila envelope,” Thompson said. “He said that during the trip, he confronted himself about some things he’d been avoiding, and that he needed to start living his life in a whole different way. He said the contents of the envelope would explain everything. I was just like, ‘Okay, whatever, David.'”
Thompson said she did not immediately open the envelope. On Feb. 5, two days after receiving the letter, Thompson received a voicemail message from Wallace asking her what she thought of it. The message prompted her finally to open the envelope and “crack” the letter. That evening, Thompson slogged through the first 20 pages of the dense, complex Breakup Letter For Claire–Rough Draft, eventually putting it down to begin making dinner. The next morning, she moved the letter from her coffee table to a desk drawer, where it still remains, unfinished.
“Maybe I’ll pick it up again,” Thompson said. “I’d sort of like to see how it ends. Then again, knowing David, it probably just leaves a whole bunch of loose ends untied.”
We keep quiet, posthumous embellishment bordering exaggeration are a standard, no one really understood Wallace’s pain. DFW wanted people to understand his emptiness, his pain. Intellect breeds pain and it is nurtured by that extra eye that an author sees with; that nano second of stupendous concentration he is ahead of everybody else. It is that war that he had to overcome, the war of self attrition, where he questioned his own intellect and disregard associated by others. The Pale King is about a lesson that ‘real life happens in private, alone, before an empty house, without the gaze of an audience to ennoble or redeem it.
He describes the sunlight just before a storm as “the approximate color of a spent flashbulb.”
“Bliss — a-second-by-second joy and gratitude at the gift of being alive, conscious — lies on the other side of crushing, crushing boredom. Pay close attention to the most tedious thing you can find (Tax Returns, Televised Golf) and, in waves, a boredom like you’ve never known will wash over you and just about kill you. Ride these out, and it’s like stepping from black and white into color. Like water after days in the desert. Instant bliss in every atom.”
The Bus ride has memorable and funny reference:
“There was a horrific piece of graffiti incised with a knife or leather punch in the plastic of the seatback in front of me, which I looked at twice and then made a point of never looking directly at again. The bus had a lavatory in the wayback rear, which no one ever made any attempt to use, and I remember consciously deciding to trust that the passengers had good reason for not using it instead of venturing in a discovering that reason for myself”