Short and Smart

The Craparet opens on Sunday, I’m in a Fringe show all weekend, and we just started Rocky rehearsals, so I don’t have a lot of time for typing, but I’ll throw out some thoughts anyway.

I just finished reading David Foster Wallace’s “Consider the Lobster,” a collection of non-fiction essays by one of the smartest writers I’ve read (and I’ve read Infinite Jest and The Pale King, his two celebrated although, in the case of the latter, fragmentary, novels). DFW isn’t easy reading, but by gum, is he worth it. He has a way of seeing what is interesting in topics ranging from lobster festivals to conservative politics to schools of grammar and English usage. More than half of the essays in the book I started thinking, “Well, this isn’t going to hold my attention.” And then, invariably, they all did.

Something I appreciate about DFW–he’s unarguably a brilliant mind himself, but he’s able to see and acknowledge the intelligence of the people he encounters, even when their intelligence has led them into very different directions of thought than his has for him. Somehow you never feel that he’s speaking down to you, the reader, either; he calls out when he’s editorializing or inserting opinion rather than facts, he guides you to the subjects he wants you to think about and he gives you his ideas, but you always have the feeling that he’s cocking his head to the side, looking at you with a face that says, “What do you think about this?” You get the sense he would really listen to your response.

He also doesn’t shy away from ever coming to a conclusion, although many of his articles do allow you to form an opinion for yourself (note: you almost always want to come to the conclusion he’s come to, because he’s so darn smart and so meticulous in laying out all of his information). He’s not afraid to say that something is “the truth;” while an academic by profession, he doesn’t allow himself to get buried in the gray areas of whether or not objective truth is possible. He obviously believes in something–some morality, a generosity toward the human spirit but also a disgust for those who waste that spirit. And he can make you feel lazy and stupid for not picking your way through the beliefs of people who disagree with you to see if your own ideas hold the merit that you think them to. Not that he is trying to make you feel lazy and stupid. He just always examines both sides so minutely that you feel guilty for not also doing so.

This is the kind of literature that you read and it makes you want to go back to school, or better, get paid to go follow people who DO things and then think about what they do and write something brilliantly incisive about it.

That’s what I’ve got this Thursday–I want to think about something new, to probe it and use my mind as a scalpel, instead of as a hammer. And I want to dissect it slowly and carefully and lay it out so that someone who knew nothing about it would understand something they didn’t understand before after they see it.

Does that make me sound like a serial killer? Yeah, I think it might.

I’m almost 90% sure that that’s not where I’m headed with this.

Then again…never say never.


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