Saturday, July 14, 2007

DFW again

I'd just been reading Eagleton's piece on Bakhtin in the LRB (which I came to courtesy of Language Hat who came to it courtesy of wood's lot, so we are back in the echo chamber) and so was especially interested by these comments from an Israeli reader on the DFW interview:

In the interview with DFW there is this part where, the interviewer asks the dfw about the footnotes, and then when dfw says that is a way to fragment reality, the interviewer, full heartily suggests that the readers could just read the book and then read the footnotes afterwards, (or the other way around, that the readers could just read every footnote when it appears, I didn't quite get which one it was and it doesn't matter) well, what matters is the SUPER CONFIDENT way in which dfw cuts the interviewer off and says (it's really in the tone) "Well I DON'T think readers would read it THAT way...and the interviewer is quick to assert him "yes yes of course"

I read that book (started during the pull out plan of gaza, finished in a
bunker of the separation fence of hebron) and I read half of it one way and
the other half in another way. I didn't even know I was doing it, I was just
trying to BEST survive the English, and best survive the way that the only
light I had was from my watch in hebron, and the letters in the footnotes
are too small for that light and my eyes.

My point is, what is the point of communications? You can talk and talk and
talk write sing dance paint shoot and the other person can hear and
understand what they want, there are hardly any ways for one to communicate.
I was once trying to communicate to a woman I used to respect how much
thought is invested everyday in my zionism, and all she was trying to do was
think of ways one can turn into an american citizen. Josh doesn't understand
me, I don't understand what you write on your website, even if I spend a
life time explaining to my unit members I am leaving behind what their
existence meant to me, they will never understand. I used to think if we are
Lucky, we get little fragments but now I am not sure of that anymore. The
last thing I was trying to do with wanting to stay in the army is be
dramatic, but if I would have told anyone in america except for you, (who is
a a half real person) that would have been the result. instead one has to go
through everything alone, making decisions out of necessity, rather than
choice and knowledge. people may know all kinds of things i don't, but i
don't know how the heck they could communicate them to me.

you think if one is an english speaker and a published author like dfw, and
went to college they would know all kinds of things you don't . But the fact
he REALLY thought he had control on how one would read his work (it was in
the tone) really depressed me. This is one thing you can learn as a sniper
commander. Teach a boy to shoot. And watch his interpretation on the

hmm...that's what I wanted to say


I wrote back saying

Well, I think one of the things DFW was trying to convey in the interview was that it was very hard for him to say what he wanted to say, on TV, in an interview. In other words, he did SAY things, because if you are on TV you HAVE to say things -- and it's all very linear. But maybe for everything he said he would have wanted to have a long footnote qualifying what he said, but in an interview it all has to be linear, and once you have said something you can't take it back.

I also think, though, that what I was trying to do in Your Name Here was SHOW how every reader takes a book in a completely different way, and you can't control that, but that affects what the book actually is -- except that then people didn't like it because they wanted the book to be totally controlled.

and begging to be allowed to post the e-mail on the blog and then got a reply which struck me as the ne plus ultra of dfwism

I am aware that I just wrote on how one doesn't actually react to what
someone else said, that one cannot understand what somebody else said, that
so...(well,) there is no point in anything we view as communications as one
cannot communicate, and yet I said all of that as a response (? or was it
all my head's doing..) to what someone else has SAID. on television. Now
if the dfw were to read my response to the interview's little sentence dfw
might say OH NO that is not what I was saying, you did not understand at
all, I do not see how this is related. (This is why I think television IS
sometimes great, you get to see the person, and pretend that even if they
tell you you completely don't understand, it's in the TONE, or something,
and they are denying it for this or that (money probably, or pride, or
craziness) and you don't feel so alone.)

I would like to say I do not understand at all how your first sentence in
the email was related to what I said. I do not understand at all, I do not
see how this is related. (I of course understood what dfw was trying to say
about literature, and also talking being linear and how he would have loved
for it to be a footnote, how you can't just say something once and be done
with it in his head... what I was commenting on was on how in his tone a
second later he sounded SO confident that the book would be read a certain
way the way he intended, and I was commenting on that confidence...what I
thought of it etc etc...If I did not understand what he was saying about
what he wanted why would I comment on his confidence that some of what he
wanted was achieved? why would you write the first sentence? you must have
not understood at all, this was totally unrelated, I must have failed at

Except for the second sentence, which with your name here adds to exactly
what I was saying and then some. I DO think why people may not be able to
THINK they understand the book like they THINK they understand other books
(and by people i mean me, i don't really know any people who read books) is
because it is not controlled, a PART of it is that one could get different
messages, people can't find the RIGHT way (which they don't know is THEIR
way) to get the book, people then say i don't get the book, you keep on
messing with the plans they have for themselves as they are reading it, I
think that can be rather unpleasant and tiring for some, people may not like
to be messed THAT way.

I am sort of inconclusive as you can or (cannot see) about whether or not
one can get fragments of communications across at times.

One way to see if that is true, to really not give up and try, would be to
keep on saying, at least once in every interaction when appropriate, I do
not understand at all, I do not see how this is related, and then explain.
This is what I was demonstrating right now. but of course, then people think
you talk too much about little things, that you do not know how to glide
things, that you are (I looked it up) high maintenance. They don't want to
talk to you anymore, at least not about that. If you keep on saying, I do
not understand at all, I do not see how this is related, what you become is

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