Tongue in Cheek Maybe by Ron Steinman

If you love literature and giants of writing, David Foster Wallace has to be close to the top. I wonder if the critics who revere him, bestow too much of his work with god-like status and go overboard by accepting almost everything he wrote with awe when they review his work.
Infinite Jest David Foster Wallace’s remarkable novel is just that, remarkable in more ways than I can explain no matter how many words I may use. Also, it is very long. There is a small battle among intellectuals on the back pages of The New York Times Magazine and at Harvard University’s Nieman Journalism Lab. It concerns the idea that Wallace invented, if not the whole shebang, at least he had a hand in creating the language used on the Internet. Contrary to folklore, Al Gore, as he says, or the Pentagon, as it would like to think, did not invent the Internet. I may be missing something in a number of recent columns and posting about the art of David Foster Wallace. Some of these musings are akin to parody, always difficult to write and not something that easily makes its desired effect. Posting my essay on The Digital Filmmaker about Infinite Jest though the subject is not specifically about filmmaking or any of its residual parts, and is not parody, makes sense to me.
I have been reading Infinite Jest for many months. Despite this, I can only read a few pages at a time without my eyes glazing over. I cannot say Wallace has his fingerprints all over how people think and write for the Web. I can say, though, that I have never read so much about so many subjects, things, people, and events, all from an author who does not know when to stop. After a lifetime of reading, I wish that Wallace could somehow have put his foot on the brake pedal, at least occasionally. If his writing pioneers how people write for the Web, or even how they think while using the Web, somehow I am not getting those signals. I do not know if Wallace knew that so many critics were ascribing so much to his use of language regarding the Web. Imagine the pressure he would be under had he known how others saw his writing. In every sentence of his, there is more information than a literate person can easily parse. Wallace tells the reader everything he knows about all things and then some. And it never stops. He hems and haws. He pauses and lurches forward. He spews information out with impunity and he never looks back. Perhaps all this is a sign of genius. It takes him a long time to say what he wants. It is as if he cannot make up his mind about what he is describing. He piles on adjectives. He never runs out of nouns. I know there are readers who worship his every utterance. Until I finish reading Infinite Jest, as I said a remarkable work, I am not among them.
Writing for the Web as I do, I know through practice that long sentences do not work. Complicated ideas are worse. Patience is not a virtue for readers who exist in a world of self-indulgence, and if on Facebook, self-promotion. Readers have no time to reread, sometimes necessary with a difficult subject. In other words, if one wants to write successfully on the Web, David Foster Wallace, despite his genius, should not be your guide.


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Filed under Literature, New Media, Journalism, Film, TV

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