Wednesday, January 28, 2009


#28, Eden Quay, Dublin

Sometimes a number is so perfect, so utterly suited to my purposes that I suspect it has been planted there by a benevolent deity, albeit one who has too much time on his/her hands. When you collect things, whether it be objects or images, there are two basic states: the one of suspended animation (Will I find something around the next corner?) and the supreme satisfaction of having found that thing you didn't quite know you were looking for. In that elated state, you think ridiculous things like: I know this is a building that has been in existence for many, many years. I know this is a logical fallacy. And yet, I am certain this 28 was put here on Eden Quay in Dublin for me.

Like many other readers and writers, I was greatly saddened at the news last September of the untimely death of David Foster Wallace. There has not been, and will not be, another like him. Infinite Jest, aka the Immovable Object on my shelf, notwithstanding, I tore through his essays like they were popcorn. I loved his unorthodox approach to journalism. I loved his keen observations and the empathy he brought to even the most intellectual dissections of our weird, hysterical culture. And I loved how he made me laugh in recognition of myself in the essay "Getting Away from Already Pretty Much Being Away from It All". This is the one where Harper's sends Wallace, a native Illinoisan (yes, that is the word) like myself, to the Illinois State Fair to write down his observations and give it his wacky, post-modern spin. Wallace goes. He puzzles over his press pass. He visits the Cattle Complex and the Swine Barn. He recoils in fear at poultry and roller coasters. And he describes to perfection that childish, solipsistic, elation that a special event (or fair, or number) exists purely For Me.
One of the few things I still miss from my Midwest childhood was this weird, deluded but unshakeable conviction that everything around me existed all and only For Me. Am I the only one who had this queer deep sense as a kid? -- that everything exterior to me existed only insofar as it affected me somehow? -- that all things were somehow, via some occult adult activity, specially arranged for my benefit? Does anybody else identify with this memory? . . . Holidays, parades, summer trips, sporting events. Fairs. Here the child's manic excitement is really exultation at his own power: the world will now not only exist For-Him but will present itself as Special-For-Him.
Of course, trying to excerpt the beautifully manic discursive prose of Wallace leaves me feeling like I just chopped up my family, but let this be the crumb that drives you over to revisit the Harper's essay in all its full-blown glory. This one's for DFW. You are greatly missed.


Bama said...

what's your favorite number?

Therese Cox said...

In the Ampersand Seven Winter 2009 collection? Or just in general?

Anything ending in a 3, 7, or 9 makes me very happy. I have unresolved issues with 8. But I have mental associations with nearly every number. Colors, personalities, you name it.

What's yours?

Ray Gunn said...

Over the years I thought Wallace himself and everything the man wrote existed for me.

He still exists for me, although no longer in the way I would have hoped.

Thank you for this, Tea. It was beautiful.

coessa (A poetic promise, perhaps)

Therese Cox said...

Ray, I know. Odd how the For Me, in mourning, becomes a kind of For Us. I still think of that night we all went to see DFW in conversation with George Saunders. How genuine, how curious, how open the two of them were, and how interested they were in getting to writing that was (to quote DFW) "true in that way south of the neck." And then that guy in the audience stands up during the Q & A and begins his sentence, "The majority of my ten closest friends all have MFAs. . ." I have a gold mine of quotes from that night. Bless 'em.


Julie said...

"South of the neck" brings pleasure as does the symmetry in your photograph.