Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A Cheapskate and her ipod, or A Response to "Consider the Lobster"

In my ongoing search for free content for my iPod, I downloaded from last week a free essay called "Consider the Lobster" by David Foster Wallace. I had never heard of David Foster Wallace but Audible assured me that he was Someone Special and, as an essayist myself, (albeit not endorsed by or any other publisher other than, which is famously not very selective), I made a grab for it. Yesterday being Tuesday, I had my hour in the morning for a walk on the Stowe Rec Path (about which see previous posts). It was a rainy, cool-verging-on-cold November morning. The last few dead leaves were being shaken from the trees by a steady breeze, not quite a wind, and David Foster Wallace (hereinafter "DFW")was on my ipod and in my walking plans.

It's not like I am exactly sorry I listened to it, because it gave me food for thought resulting in this insomniac essay. But it's not like I actually liked it either. Friends, it was grim. Worse, it was irritating. DFW revealed himself within a paragraph (he read the essay himself) to be a classic pointy-headed intellectual. I was going to call him humorless, but unfunny is more accurate. Inside of the first five minutes, I started wishing that the writers of The Simpsons would get him. I remembered a Simpsons episode where Springfield was taken over by all the smart people, Professor Frink, Dr. Hibbard, Lisa, Martin, and things went to hell in a handbasket. Snob that I am, I am also impatient with the intellectual class and glad that most people aren't paying much attention to them. Mayor Quimby is preferable as a leader. God save the polity from DFW and his ilk.

I do have to hand it to DFW, however, for actually forcing the reader to consider the lobster in "Consider the Lobster." If this was his objective, he met it. Listening to this essay was the literary equivalent having a living lobster thrust to within about three inches of your face and twisting it there for a full 50 minutes with its little claws scrabbling at your cheeks and its larger claws, cruelly (it is suggested) banded or pinned, giving you a slap or two. The essay was, apparently written for Gourmet Magazine. I wonder what the editors thought when the product they commissioned arrived in their offices? They could not have found it a joy and rapture unforeseen, indictment of lobster eating and the Maine Lobster Festival that it is, at bottom. I expect it touched off an editorial argument, with the high-brows playing the "art" card and winning the day. Maybe the editors asked for a little rewrite. At the end DFW talks about how he's not intending to "bait" anyone who reads Gourmet and eats lobsters, cows, lambs, chickens etc. He just wants to ask if they have thought about the moral position they are in by eating these things. Yikes.

As noted, DFW is reporting, sort of, on the Maine Lobster Festival. Despite the image the words "Maine Lobster Festival" may conjure for you, images, of a happy sunny day near the ocean in summer, DFW found it, are you sitting down, a tacky and dislikable jumped-up county fair sort of affair. The MLF features a dull parade with home-made floats (presumably a contrast to the factory made floats of Macy's Parades and the Rose Bowl?) and a guy in a bad pirate costume saying "argh" to bystanders; people wearing hats with lobster claws on springs. Porta potties. Lines. Tourists. He includes himself in this last, loathsome category. In one memorable phrase says that he, like other tourists, ruins nice places by going there becoming an "insect on a dead thing." Here's a newsflash: crowds of people eating lobster, or anything else, as cheaply as possible accompanied by gimcrack entertainments and accommodated by poor sanitation facilities is not going to be pretty. They will be an easy target for someone with a large vocabulary. What mass event, other than church, or maybe some concerts, ever allows a crowd to come off well? Picking on the details is a way for DFW to show himself superior to it all. Yawn.

Come back soon. I have to get to bed now or I'll never be up in three hours to get the kids to school. In the meantime, "Annie, Get Your iPod!" here's a link to the audiobook under discussion.