April 12, 2011

Not Another Dave Eggers

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Sometime last year, I wrote the following sentences: “David Foster Wallace is the poor man’s Thomas Pynchon. Pynchon is the pretentious man’s Vonnegut.”  Why am I repeating myself? Well, for two reasons. The first is that I’m pretty proud of that comparison. I mean, it’s pretty clever (humility is another one of my great and attractive qualities, in case you’re keeping a list), so I’d like to repeat it as often as possible. It ranks right up there with “Wiz Khalifa is a better version of Kid Cudi like Pittsburgh is a better version of Cleveland” on my list of inane pop-cultural things I’ve said or written over which I am inordinately pleased with myself. But also, did you know that DFW (not Dallas Fort Worth) has a new book coming out? An unfinished, posthumous masterpiece? If you don’t know about it, then we are definitely not hanging out in the same Internet spots, because lately it seems I can’t escape the dude. People are writing cloying, overly sentimental essays all over the damn place about how Life Changing ™ and capital A-mazing I should be finding this guy and how stupid excited I should be about The Pale King.So here’s the thing, right: I read DFW’s Infinite Jest. And I even kind of liked it. I’ve also read The Girl With Curious Hair, Brief Interviews With Hideous Men and Consider the Lobster. I saw that horrible, pretentious movie that Jim from The Office made (on Hulu, late at night, when I couldn’t sleep). There is no denying that David Foster Wallace was a good writer. The man could string some sentences together, for sure. But I just don’t get his posthumous appeal. I feel the same way about Leonard Cohen (not the posthumous part), if you’d like to judge me some more. I know I should like him, and people who are professional good opinion-havers make extremely valid and compelling arguments on his behalf, but I just can’t get into his writing.David Foster Wallace is like David Lynch to me. I sort of enjoy him. I definitely think he’s talented. But the people who are really into these Davids bug the shit out of me. If I never heard another word about Twin Peaks for the rest of my life, I would be so happy.Part of the problem may be that I am not a male person. There is this type of writer, whom I sort of facetiously (and definitely annoyingly) refer to as a Dave Eggers — because Dave Eggers is responsible for McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and  A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius was probably my first encounter with this species of writer. Jonathan Franzen is a Dave Eggers. Jonathan Lethem is a Dave Eggers. Jonathan Safran Foer is a (shitty) Dave Eggers. People named Jonathan are Dave Eggerses, basically. Also, people named Dave. Like DFW.What am I getting at? These guys all write very dude-centric, super educated, nauseatingly clever, self-referential stuff. Which is, like, objectively well done (with the exception of Safran Foer’s.  I just really hate vegans. Also, precocious children).  But their work is also dense and hard to get into if you are not an over-educated 25-50 year old white male. I mean, the footnotes! Dear god, the footnotes.Which is not to say that I think all fiction should speak to the universal, or anything.  I’m not quite sure what I’m saying, really. There was a big (and justified) kerfuffle when Jennifer Egan won the National Book Critics Circle fiction prize, and The L.A. Times ran a story about it in which the main focus was how Jonathan Franzen didn’t win. That’s part of what I’m saying, I think. It just bothers me that so many of the New Yorker-approved People We Should Be Reading all kind of sound the same.I sort of understand the cultish DFW thing. He died young. Beyond that, he killed himself. And there is really nothing more romantic than a tortured artist committing suicide. Would we all still be listening to Elliott Smith if he hadn’t stabbed himself in the heart? I know I wouldn’t. That’s like 75 percent of the appeal!I’m not saying that more women or people of color should be killing themselves at the height of their careers. And my point is not that I hate privileged white men. I’d just like to see more excitement about writers who don’t represent that particular demographic. And, you know, I’m just jealous. It is highly unlikely that I will ever win a MacArthur genius grant. But a pre-posthumous girl can dream.Elana Dahlager is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She may be reached at edahlager@cornellsun.com. Nutshell Library appears alternate Wednesdays this semester.

Original Author: Elana Dahlager