A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments

A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments

by David Foster Wallace

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Overview

In this exuberantly praised book - a collection of seven pieces on subjects ranging from television to tennis, from the Illinois State Fair to the films of David Lynch, from postmodern literary theory to the supposed fun of traveling aboard a Caribbean luxury cruiseliner - David Foster Wallace brings to nonfiction the same curiosity, hilarity, and exhilarating verbal facility that has delighted readers of his fiction, including the bestselling Infinite Jest.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780316925280
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication date: 02/02/1998
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 62,846
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.25(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

David Foster Wallace was born in Ithaca, New York, in 1962 and raised in Illinois, where he was a regionally ranked junior tennis player. He received bachelor of arts degrees in philosophy and English from Amherst College and wrote what would become his first novel, The Broom of the System, as his senior English thesis. He received a masters of fine arts from University of Arizona in 1987 and briefly pursued graduate work in philosophy at Harvard University. His second novel, Infinite Jest, was published in 1996. Wallace taught creative writing at Emerson College, Illinois State University, and Pomona College, and published the story collections Girl with Curious Hair, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, Oblivion, the essay collections A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, and Consider the Lobster. He was awarded the MacArthur Fellowship, a Lannan Literary Award, and a Whiting Writers' Award, and was appointed to the Usage Panel for The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. He died in 2008. His last novel, The Pale King, was published in 2011.

Date of Birth:

February 21, 1962

Date of Death:

September 12, 2008

Place of Birth:

Ithaca, NY

Place of Death:

Claremont, CA

Education:

B.A. in English & Philosophy, Amherst College, 1985;MFA, University of Arizona, 1987

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE

derivative sport in tornado alley

When I left my boxed township of Illinois farmland to attend my dad's alma mater in the lurid jutting Berkshires of western Massachusetts, I all of a sudden developed a jones for mathematics. I'm starting to see why this was so. College math evokes and catharts a Midwesterner's sickness for home. I'd grown up inside vectors, lines and lines athwart lines, grids--and, on the scale of horizons, broad curving lines of geographic force, the weird topographical drain-swirl of a whole lot of ice-ironed land that sits and spins atop plates. The area behind and below these broad curves at the seam of land and sky I could plot by eye way before I came to know infinitesimals as easements, an integral as schema. Math at a hilly Eastern school was like waking up; it dismantled memory and put it in light. Calculus was, quite literally, child's play.

In late childhood I learned how to play tennis on the blacktop courts of a small public park carved from farmland that had been nitrogenized too often to farm anymore. This was in my home of Philo, Illinois, a tiny collection of corn silos and war-era Levittown homes whose native residents did little but sell crop insurance and nitrogen fertilizer and herbicide and collect property taxes from the young academics at nearby Champaign-Urbana's university, whose ranks swelled enough in the flush 1960s to make outlying non sequiturs like "farm and bedroom community" lucid.

Between the ages of twelve and fifteen I was a near-great junior tennis player. I made my competitive bones beating up on lawyers' and dentists' kids at little Champaign and Urbana Country Club events and was soon killing whole summers being driven through dawns to tournaments all over Illinois, Indiana, Iowa. At fourteen I was ranked seventeenth in the United States Tennis Association's Western Section ("Western" being the creakily ancient USTA's designation for the Midwest; farther west were the Southwest, Northwest, and Pacific Northwest sections). My flirtation with tennis excellence had way more to do with the township where I learned and trained and with a weird proclivity for intuitive math than it did with athletic talent. I was, even by the standards of junior competition in which everyone's a bud of pure potential, a pretty untalented tennis player. My hand-eye was OK, but I was neither large nor quick, had a near-concave chest and wrists so thin I could bracelet them with a thumb and pinkie, and could hit a tennis ball no harder or truer than most girls in my age bracket. What I could do was "Play the Whole Court." This was a piece of tennis truistics that could mean any number of things. In my case, it meant I knew my limitations and the limitations of what I stood inside, and adjusted thusly. I was at my very best in bad conditions.

Now, conditions in Central Illinois are from a mathematical perspective interesting and from a tennis perspective bad. The summer heat and wet-mitten humidity, the grotesquely fertile soil that sends grasses and broadleaves up through the courts' surface by main force, the midges that feed on sweat and the mosquitoes that spawn in the fields' furrows and in the conferva-choked ditches that box each field, night tennis next to impossible because the moths and crap-gnats drawn by the sodium lights form a little planet around each tall lamp and the whole lit court surface is aflutter with spastic little shadows.

But mostly wind. The biggest single factor in Central Illinois' quality of outdoor life is wind. There are more local jokes than I can summon about bent weather vanes and leaning barns, more downstate sobriquets for kinds of wind than there are in Malamut for snow. The wind had a personality, a (poor) temper, and, apparently, agendas. The wind blew autumn leaves into intercalated lines and arcs of force so regular you could photograph them for a textbook on Cramer's Rule and the cross-products of curves in 3-space. It molded winter snow into blinding truncheons that buried stalled cars and required citizens to shovel out not only driveways but the sides of homes; a Central Illinois "blizzard" starts only when the snowfall stops and the wind begins. Most people in Philo didn't comb their hair because why bother. Ladies wore those plastic flags tied down over their parlor-jobs so regularly I thought they were required for a real classy coiffure; girls on the East Coast outside with their hair hanging and tossing around looked wanton and nude to me. Wind wind etc. etc.

The people I know from outside it distill the Midwest into blank flatness, black land and fields of green fronds or five-o'clock stubble, gentle swells and declivities that make the topology a sadistic exercise in plotting quadrics, highway vistas so same and dead they drive motorists mad. Those from IN/WI/Northern IL think of their own Midwest as agronomics and commodity futures and corn-detasseling and bean-walking and seed-company caps, apple-checked Nordic types, cider and slaughter and football games with white fogbanks of breath exiting helmets. But in the odd central pocket that is Champaign-Urbana, Rantoul, Philo, Mahomet-Seymour, Mattoon, Farmer City, and Tolono, Midwestern life is informed and deformed by wind. Weatherwise, our township is on the eastern upcurrent of what I once heard an atmospherist in brown tweed call a Thermal Anomaly. Something about southward rotations of crisp air off the Great Lakes and muggy southern stuff from Arkansas and Kentucky miscegenating, plus an odd dose of weird zephyrs from the Mississippi valley three hours west. Chicago calls itself the Windy City, but Chicago, one big windbreak, does not know from a true religious-type wind. And meteorologists have nothing to tell people in Philo, who know perfectly well that the real story is that to the west, between us and the Rockies, there is basically nothing tall, and that weird zephyrs and stirs joined breezes and gusts and thermals and downdrafts and whatever out over Nebraska and Kansas and moved east like streams into rivers and jets and military fronts that gathered like avalanches and roared in reverse down pioneer oxtrails, toward our own personal unsheltered asses. The worst was spring, boys' high school tennis season, when the nets would stand out stiff as proud flags and an errant ball would blow clear to the easternmost fence, interrupting play on the next several courts. During a bad blow some of us would get rope out and tell Rob Lord, who was our fifth man in singles and spectrally thin, that we were going to have to tie him down to keep him from becoming a projectile. Autumn, usually about half as bad as spring, was a low constant roar and the massive clicking sound of continents of dry leaves being arranged into force-curves--I'd heard no sound remotely like this megaclicking until I heard, at nineteen, on New Brunswick's Fundy Bay, my first high-tide wave break and get sucked back out over a shore of polished pebbles. Summers were manic and gusty, then often around August deadly calm. The wind would just die some August days, and it was no relief at all; the cessation drove us nuts. Each August, we realized afresh how much the sound of wind had become part of the soundtrack to life in Philo. The sound of wind had become, for me, silence. When it went away, I was left with the squeak of the blood in my head and the aural glitter of all those little eardrum hairs quivering like a drunk in withdrawal. It was months after I moved to western MA before I could really sleep in the pussified whisper of New England's wind-sound.

To your average outsider, Central Illinois looks ideal for sports. The ground, seen from the air, strongly suggests a board game: anally precise squares of dun or khaki cropland all cut and divided by plumb-straight tar roads (in all farmland, roads still seem more like impediments than avenues). In winter, the terrain always looks like Mannington bathroom tile, white quadrangles where bare (snow), black where trees and scrub have shaken free in the wind. From planes, it always looks to me like Monopoly or Life, or a lab maze for rats; then, from ground level, the arrayed fields of feed corn or soybeans, fields furrowed into lines as straight as only an Allis Chalmers and sextant can cut them, look laned like sprint tracks or Olympic pools, hashmarked for serious ball, replete with the angles and alleys of serious tennis. My part of the Midwest always looks laid down special, as if planned.

The terrain's strengths are also its weaknesses. Because the land seems so even, designers of clubs and parks rarely bother to roll it flat before laying the asphalt for tennis courts. The result is usually a slight list that only a player who spends a lot of time on the courts will notice. Because tennis courts are for sun- and eye-reasons always laid lengthwise north-south, and because the land in Central Illinois rises very gently as one moves east toward Indiana and the subtle geologic summit that sends rivers doubled back against their own feeders somewhere in the east of that state, the court's forehand half, for a rightie facing north, always seems physically uphill from the backhand--at a tournament in Richmond IN, just over the Ohio line, I noticed the tilt was reversed. The same soil that's so full of humus farmers have to be bought off to keep markets unflooded keeps clay courts chocked with jimson and thistle and volunteer corn, and it splits asphalt courts open with the upward pressure of broadleaf weeds whose pioneer-stock seeds are unthwarted by a half-inch cover of sealant and stone. So that all but the very best maintained courts in the most affluent Illinois districts are their own little rural landscapes, with tufts and cracks and underground-seepage puddles being part of the lay that one plays. A court's cracks always seem to start off to the side of the service box and meander in and back toward the service line. Foliated in pockets, the black cracks, especially against the forest green that contrasts with the barn red of the space outside the lines to signify fair territory, give the courts the eerie look of well-rivered sections of Illinois, seen from back aloft.

A tennis court, 78'x27', looks, from above, with its slender rectangles of doubles alleys flanking its whole length, like a cardboard carton with flaps folded back. The net, 3.5 feet high at the posts, divides the court widthwise in half; the service lines divide each half again into backcourt and fore-. In the two forecourts, lines that run from the base of the net's center to the service lines divide them into 21'x13.5' service boxes. The sharply precise divisions and boundaries, together with the fact that--wind and your more exotic-type spins aside--balls can be made to travel in straight lines only, make textbook tennis plane geometry. It is billiards with balls that won't hold still. It is chess on the run. It is to artillery and airstrikes what football is to infantry and attrition.

Tennis-wise, I had two preternatural gifts to compensate for not much physical talent. Make that three. The first was that I always sweated so much that I stayed fairly ventilated in all weathers. Oversweating seems an ambivalent blessing, and it didn't exactly do wonders for my social life in high school, but it meant I could play for hours on a Turkish-bath July day and not flag a bit so long as I drank water and ate salty stuff between matches. I always looked like a drowned man by about game four, but I didn't cramp, vomit, or pass out, unlike the gleaming Peoria kids whose hair never even lost its part right up until their eyes rolled up in their heads and they pitched forward onto the shimmering concrete. A bigger asset still was that I was extremely comfortable inside straight lines. None of the odd geometric claustrophobia that turns some gifted juniors into skittish zoo animals after a while. I found I felt best physically enwebbed in sharp angles, acute bisections, shaved corners. This was environmental. Philo, Illinois, is a cockeyed grid: nine north-south streets against six northeast-southwest, fifty-one gorgeous slanted-cruciform corners (the east and west intersection-angles' tangents could be evaluated integrally in terms of their secants!) around a three-intersection central town common with a tank whose nozzle pointed northwest at Urbana, plus a frozen native son, felled on the Salerno beachhead, whose bronze hand pointed true north. In the late morning, the Salerno guy's statue had a squat black shadow-arm against grass dense enough to putt on; in the evening the sun galvanized his left profile and cast his arm's accusing shadow out to the right, bent at the angle of a stick in a pond. At college it suddenly occurred to me during a quiz that the differential between the direction the statue's hand pointed and the arc of its shadow's rotation was first-order. Anyway, most of my memories of childhood--whether of furrowed acreage, or of a harvester's sentry duty along RR104W, or of the play of sharp shadows against the Legion Hall softball field's dusk--I could now reconstruct on demand with an edge and protractor.

I liked the sharp intercourse of straight lines more than the other kids I grew up with. I think this is because they were natives, whereas I was an infantile transplant from Ithaca, where my dad had Ph.D.'d. So I'd known, even horizontally and semiconsciously as a baby, something different, the tall hills and serpentine one-ways of upstate NY. I'm pretty sure I kept the amorphous mush of curves and swells as a contrasting backlight somewhere down in the lizardy part of my brain, because the Philo children I fought and played with, kids who knew and had known nothing else, saw nothing stark or new-worldish in the township's planar layout, prized nothing crisp. (Except why do I think it significant that so many of them wound up in the military, performing smart right-faces in razor-creased dress blues?)

Unless you're one of those rare mutant virtuosos of raw force, you'll find that competitive tennis, like money pool, requires geometric thinking, the ability to calculate not merely your own angles but the angles of response to your angles. Because the expansion of response-possibilities is quadratic, you are required to think n shots ahead, where n is a hyperbolic function limited by the sinh of opponent's talent and the cosh of the number of shots in the rally so far (roughly). I was good at this. What made me for a while near-great was that I could also admit the differential complication of wind into my calculations; I could think and play octacally. For the wind put curves in the lines and transformed the game into 3-space. Wind did massive damage to many Central Illinois junior players, particularly in the period from April to July when it needed lithium badly, tending to gust without pattern, swirl and backtrack and die and rise, sometimes blowing in one direction at court level and in another altogether ten feet overhead. The precision in thinking required one to induct trends in percentage, thrust, and retaliatory angle--precision our guy and the other townships' volunteer coaches were good at abstracting about with chalk and board, attaching a pupil's leg to the fence with clothesline to restrict his arc of movement in practice, placing laundry baskets in different corners and making us sink ball after ball, taking masking tape and laying down Chinese boxes within the court's own boxes for drills and wind sprints--all this theoretical prep went out the window when sneakers hit actual court in a tournament. The best-planned, best-hit ball often just blew out of bounds, was the basic unlyrical problem. It drove some kids near-mad with the caprice and unfairness of it all, and on real windy days these kids, usually with talent out the bazoo, would have their first apoplectic racket-throwing tantrum in about the match's third game and lapse into a kind of sullen coma by the end of the first set, now bitterly expecting to get screwed over by wind, net, tape, sun. I, who was affectionately known as Slug because I was such a lazy turd in practice, located my biggest tennis asset in a weird robotic detachment from whatever unfairnesses of wind and weather I couldn't plan for. I couldn't begin to tell you how many tournament matches I won between the ages of twelve and fifteen against bigger, faster, more coordinated, and better-coached opponents simply by hitting balls unimaginatively back down the middle of the court in schizophrenic gales, letting the other kid play with more verve and panache, waiting for enough of his ambitious balls aimed near the lines to curve or slide via wind outside the green court and white stripe into the raw red territory that won me yet another ugly point. It wasn't pretty or fun to watch, and even with the Illinois wind I never could have won whole matches this way had the opponent not eventually had his small nervous breakdown, buckling under the obvious injustice of losing to a shallow-cheated "pusher" because of the shitty rural courts and rotten wind that rewarded cautious automatism instead of verve and panache. I was an unpopular player, with good reason. But to say that I did not use verve or imagination was untrue. Acceptance is its own verve, and it takes imagination for a player to like wind, and I liked wind; or rather I at least felt the wind had some basic right to be there, and found it sort of interesting, and was willing to expand my logistical territory to countenace the devastating effect a 15- to 30-mph stutter-breeze swirling southwest to east would have on my best calculations as to how ambitiously to respond to Joe Perfecthair's topspin drive into my backhand corner.

The Illinois combination of pocked courts, sickening damp, and wind required and rewarded an almost Zen-like acceptance of things as they actually were, on-court. I won a lot. At twelve, I began getting entry to tournaments beyond Philo and Champaign and Danville. I was driven by my parents or by the folks of Gil Antitoi, son of a Canadian-history professor from Urbana, to events like the Central Illinois Open in Decatur, a town built and owned by the A. E. Staley processing concern and so awash in the stink of roasting corn that kids would play with bandannas tied over their mouths and noses; like the Western Closed Qualifier on the ISU campus in Normal; like the McDonald's Junior Open in the serious corn town of Galesburg, way out west by the River; like the Prairie State Open in Pekin, insurance hub and home of Caterpillar Tractor; like the Midwest Junior Clay Courts at a chichi private club in Peoria's pale version of Scarsdale.

Over the next four summers I got to see way more of the state than is normal or healthy, albeit most of this seeing was a blur of travel and crops, looking between nod-outs at sunrises abrupt and terribly candent over the crease between fields and sky (plus you could see any town you were aimed at the very moment it came around the earth's curve, and the only part of Proust that really moved me in college was the early description of the kid's geometric relation to the distant church spire at Combray), riding in station wagons' backseats through Saturday dawns and Sunday sunsets. I got steadily better; Antitoi, unfairly assisted by an early puberty, got radically better.

By the time we were fourteen, Gil Antitoi and I were the Central Illinois cream of our age bracket, usually seeded one and two at area tournaments, able to beat all but a couple of even the kids from the Chicago suburbs who, together with a contingent from Grosse Pointe MI, usually dominated the Western regional rankings. That summer the best fourteen-year-old in the nation was a Chicago kid, Bruce Brescia (whose penchant for floppy white tennis hats, low socks with bunnytails at the heel, and lurid pastel sweater vests testified to proclivities that wouldn't dawn on me for several more years), but Brescia and his henchman, Mark Mees of Zanesville OH, never bothered to play anything but the Midwestern Clays and some indoor events in Cook County, being too busy jetting off to like the Pacific Hardcourts in Ventura and Junior Wimbledon and all that. I played Brescia just once, in the quarters of an indoor thing at the Rosemont Horizon in 1977, and the results were not pretty. Antitoi actually got a set off Mees in the national Qualifiers one year. Neither Brescia nor Mees ever turned pro; I don't know what happened to either of them after eighteen.

Antitoi and I ranged over the exact same competitive territory; he was my friend and foe and bane. Though I'd started playing two years before he, he was bigger, quicker, and basically better than I by about age thirteen, and I was soon losing to him in the finals of just about every tournament I played. So different were our appearances and approaches and general gestalts that we had something of an epic rivalry from '74 through '77. I had gotten so prescient at using stats, surface, sun, gusts, and a kind of Stoic cheer that I was regarded as a kind of physical savant, a medicine boy of wind and heat, and could play just forever, sending back moonballs baroque with spin. Antitoi, uncomplicated from the get-go, hit the everliving shit out of every round object that came within his ambit, aiming always for one of two backcourt corners. He was a Slugger; I was a Slug. When he was "on," i.e. having a good day, he varnished the court with me. When he wasn't at his best (and the countless hours I and David Saboe from Bloomington and Kirk Riehagen and Steve Cassil of Danville spent in meditation and seminar on just what variables of diet, sleep, romance, car ride, and even sock-color factored into the equation of Antitoi's mood and level day to day), he and I had great matches, real marathon wind-suckers. Of eleven finals we played in 1974, I won two.

Midwest junior tennis was also my initiation into true adult sadness. I had developed a sort of hubris about my Taoistic ability to control via noncontrol. I'd established a private religion of wind. I even liked to bike. Awfully few people in Philo bike, for obvious wind reasons, but I'd found a way to sort of tack back and forth against a stiff current, holding some wide book out at my side at about 120 [degrees] to my angle of thrust--Bayne and Pugh's The Art of the Engineer and Cheiro's Language of the Hand proved to be the best airfoils--so that through imagination and verve and stoic cheer I could not just neutralize but use an in-your-face gale for biking. Similarly, by thirteen I'd found a way not just to accommodate but to employ the heavy summer winds in matches. No longer just mooning the ball down the center to allow plenty of margin for error and swerve, I was now able to use the currents kind of the way a pitcher uses spit. I could hit curves way out into cross-breezes that'd drop the ball just fair; I had a special wind-serve that had so much spin the ball turned oval in the air and curved left to right like a smart slider and then reversed its arc on the bounce. I'd developed the same sort of autonomic feel for what the wind would do to the ball that a standard-trans driver has for how to shift. As a junior tennis player, I was for a time a citizen of the concrete physical world in a way the other boys weren't, I felt. And I felt betrayed at around fourteen when so many of these single-minded flailing boys became abruptly mannish and tall, with sudden sprays of hair on their thighs and wisps on their lips and ropy arteries on their forearms. My fifteenth summer, kids I'd been beating easily the year before all of a sudden seemed overpowering. I lost in two semifinals, at Pekin and Springfield in '77, of events I'd beaten Antitoi in the finals of in '76. My dad just about brought me to my knees after the Springfield loss to some kid from the Quad Cities when he said, trying to console me, that it had looked like a boy playing a man out there. And the other boys sensed something up with me, too, smelled some breakdown in the odd detente I'd had with the elements: my ability to accommodate and fashion the exterior was being undercut by the malfunction of some internal alarm clock I didn't understand.

I mention this mostly because so much of my Midwest's communal psychic energy was informed by growth and fertility. The agronomic angle was obvious, what with my whole township dependent for tax base on seed, dispersion, height, and yield. Something about the adults' obsessive weighing and measuring and projecting, this special calculus of thrust and growth, leaked inside us children's capped and bandanna'd little heads out on the fields, diamonds, and courts of our special interests. By 1977 I was the only one of my group of jock friends with virginity intact. (I know this for a fact, and only because these guys are now schoolteachers and commoditists and insurers with families and standings to protect will I not share with you just how I know it.) I felt, as I became a later and later bloomer, alienated not just from my own recalcitrant glabrous little body, but in a way from the whole elemental exterior I'd come to see as my coconspirator. I knew, somehow, that the call to height and hair came from outside, from whatever apart from Monsanto and Dow made the corn grow, the hogs rut, the wind soften every spring and hang with the scent of manure from the plain of beanfields north between us and Champaign. My vocation ebbed. I felt uncalled. I began to experience the same resentment toward whatever children abstract as nature that I knew Steve Cassil felt when a soundly considered approach shot down the forehand line was blown out by a gust, that I knew Gil Antitoi suffered when his pretty kick-serve (he was the only top-flight kid from the slow weedy township courts to play serve-and-volley from the start, which is why he had such success on the slick cement of the West Coast when he went on to play for Cal-Fullerton) was compromised by the sun: he was so tall, and so stubborn about adjusting his high textbook service toss for solar conditions, that serving from the court's north end in early afternoon matches always filled his eyes with violet blobs, and he'd lumber around for the rest of the point, flailing and pissed. This was back when sunglasses were unheard of, on-court.

But so the point is I began to feel what they'd felt. I began, very quietly, to resent my physical place in the great schema, and this resentment and bitterness, a kind of slow root-rot, is a big reason why I never qualified for the sectional championships again after 1977, and why I ended up in 1980 barely making the team at a college smaller than Urbana High while kids I had beaten and then envied played scholarship tennis for Purdue, Fullerton, Michigan, Pepperdine, and even--in the case of Pete Bouton, who grew half a foot and forty IQ points in 1977--for the hallowed U of I at Urbana-Champaign.

Alienation-from-Midwest-as-fertility-grid might be a little on the overmetaphysical side, not to mention self-pitying. This was the time, after all, when I discovered definite integrals and antiderivatives and found my identity shifting from jock to math-wienie anyway. But it's also true that my whole Midwest tennis career matured and then degenerated under the aegis of the Peter Principle. In and around my township--where the courts were rural and budgets low and conditions so extreme that the mosquitoes sounded like trumpets and the bees like tubas and the wind like a five-alarm fire, that we had to change shirts between games and use our water jugs to wash blown field-chaff off our arms and necks and carry salt tablets in Pez containers--I was truly near-great: I could Play the Whole Court; I was In My Element. But all the more important tournaments, the events into which my rural excellence was an easement, were played in a different real world: the courts' surface was redone every spring at the Arlington Tennis Center, where the National Junior Qualifier for our region was held; the green of these courts' fair territory was so vivid as to distract, its surface so new and rough it wrecked your feet right through your shoes, and so bare of flaw, tilt, crack, or seam that it was totally disorienting. Playing on a perfect court was for me like treading water out of sight of land: I never knew where I was out there. The 1976 Chicago Junior Invitational was held at Lincolnshire's Bath and Tennis Club, whose huge warren of thirty-six courts was enclosed by all these troubling green plastic tarps attached to all the fences, with little archer-slits in them at eye level to afford some parody of spectation. These tarps were Wind-B-Gone windscreens, patented by the folks over at Cyclone Fence in 1971. They did cut down on the worst of the unfair gusts, but they also seemed to rob the court space of new air: competing at Lincolnshire was like playing in the bottom of a well. And blue bug-zapper lights festooned the lightposts when really major Midwest tournaments played into the night: no clouds of midges around the head or jagged shadows of moths to distinguish from balls' flights, but a real unpleasant zotting and frying sound of bugs being decommissioned just overhead; I won't pause to mention the smell. The point is I just wasn't the same, somehow, without deformities to play around. I'm thinking now that the wind and bugs and chuckholes formed for me a kind of inner boundary, my own personal set of lines. Once I hit a certain level of tournament facilities, I was disabled because I was unable to accommodate the absence of disabilities to accommodate. If that makes sense. Puberty-angst and material alienation notwithstanding, my Midwest tennis career plateaued the moment I saw my first windscreen.

Table of Contents

1 Derivative Sport in Tornado Alley3
2 E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction21
3 Getting Away from Already Being Pretty Much Away from It All83
4 Greatly Exaggerated138
5 David Lynch Keeps His Head146
7 A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again256

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Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 58 reviews.
David Eppelsheimer More than 1 year ago
DFW is probably best known for his expansive yet deliberate literary schematics characterized by Oblivion and Infinite Jest. However, the fly-on-the-wall journalism that DFW regularly offered readers during the nineties and aughties was, to me,* his most compelling work. I wish that he was with us to see the technology of popular reading finally catch up to his work's idiosyncratic hypertextuality.** Throw away all those extra bits of paper for holding your place and pick up an e-reader.? This is how DFW's work is meant to be read.^??
Guest More than 1 year ago
This title once again shows that Mr. Wallace is one of the premier quthors of modern fiction. The great thing about this book is that it isn't fiction. It is about the human psyche and how perception is played out in many feilds of interaction and display. If you found Infinite Jest to be humorous than imigine if it were a true story of social distress. That is what this book is presenting. Don't let the word essay scare you, this is not dull reading.
snash on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The book is a series of essays, with the ones about TV, the Ill. state fair, and the Caribbean cruise being my favorites. They're full of insightful observations about the mundaneness of life, its pathetic, miserable attempts to entertain itself. They're extremely funny but as the essay about TV points out, criticism and irony alone is hallow and so with time one thinks, is that all there is (just as his essays wonder).
railarson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
While reading this collection of ¿essays and arguments¿ by the late David Foster Wallace, I made a list of twenty words I had been lamentably unaware of, as well as two that, apparently, he made up:ablated, anaclitic, appurtenance, belletristic, commissure, decoct, enfilade, erumpent, espial, exergue, frottage, hieratic, lalations, otiose, preterite, sedulous, threnody, titivation, ventricose, weltschmerzOf those 20 words, I have to say that the most amusing discovery for me was frottage, which some of you already know means, ¿the act of obtaining sexual stimulation by rubbing against a person or object.¿ I¿m not here to judge; I¿m just sayin¿. Erumpent is also pretty fun to say, and could actually be onomatopoetic if you were to listen very, very closely.As for the two Wallacisms that don¿t seem to exist in the English language, some DFW wiki-tweakers have pointed out that katexic could be derived from Freud¿s katexis referring to ¿the process by means of which libido energy is tied or placed into the mental representation of a personality, idea, or thing.¿ In this respect, Wallace¿s writing in toto could be viewed as katexic. The energy that must have gone into building such a vocabulary and the means to swing it around as effectively as he did could easily be imagined as a primal urge. Plumeocide is another matter. Wordnik member vbogard22 postulated about a year ago that ¿plumeo- could come from the Latin ¿pluma,¿ which means feather or pen ¿ added to -cide (Latin, kill) would come to mean something along the lines of `death of the pen.¿¿ Given Wallace¿s tragic end by his own hand, the fact that he may have coined a word for the silencing of a writer is prescient and a bit creepy.I was beguiled, beleaguered, and besotted by Wallace¿s use of language, often all at the same time. In much the same way that Wallace thought he was a decent tennis player until he got the opportunity to view the pros in action, I thought that I could, on occasion, craft a clever line. I see now that there are players out there operating on a whole different plane. I almost forgot to mention that the book is really funny.Cheers to you, Wallace, wherever you are.
shelley436 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Containing essays that are fantastically entertaining and ideas that are exceedingly difficult to wrap your brain around, reading this collection of works by David Foster Wallace is like eating a meal at a four-star restaurant: there are courses that please the senses, others that test the boundaries of one¿s palette, and yet others that do both, leaving one with a sense of satisfaction at the end. This book is well worth the effort it takes to read.
ckaminski on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Placeholder: One particular joy of owning these essays in book form (at least for me) is the awareness that you¿ve been able to peek at footnotes that may have received the editorial hacksaw at Harper¿s or Premiere. Prior to reading this collection, I thought my favorite essay of DFW's was either "Tense Present" or "Shipping Out." And while "Getting Away from Already Being Pretty Much Away From It All" is, in many ways, a direct ancestor of "Shipping Out," I discovered my true favorite in this collection: "Tennis Player Michael Joyce's Professional Artistry as a Paradigm of Certain Stuff about Choice, Freedom, Discipline, Joy, Grotesquerie, and Human Completeness," published in Esquire in 1996 under the title "String Theory."It is my new favorite for two reasons: (1)The utterly casual, sincere, unapologetic and somewhat stunning deployment of the adjective "faggy" in reference to Andre Agassi, and (2) the searing, brilliant etiology of dedication, tucked into a handful of sentences at the end of footnote 24.
boldray on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Hilarious and sad - especially in the light of the author's recent suicide. The title essay about the sanitised life on a luxury cruise is marvellous. Of the cleaner, he says "it's like having a mom - without the guilt!!
chuette7619 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Quite simply one of the best collections of recent nonfiction period. Each essay is packed with ideas.
missmel58 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
David Foster Wallace absolutely has a deep and abiding relationship with the language. Unfortunately, at least to me, he comes off as very masturbatory. Very. There are writers with just as much love for the language who leave the reader satisfied¿they are making love to me (the reader) with their words: Joan Didion comes to mind. Maxine Hong-Kingston is another example. It is clear to me that Wallace is in love with his ability to use the language in a self-gratifying sort of way. Once I came to this realization (on about pg 11) I began to struggle. He frustrated me, as he seems to have every reviewer I have read. Then it dawned on me that the author here didn¿t care about my reaction: except for my acknowledgment that he could write. That he was smarter, more articulate, intrinsically better, somehow. Ok, fine, Slug you can write. You have to wonder about a man who tells you his nickname is slug. The question of audience cannot be overlooked when one considers Foster-Walace¿s work. What I want from a writer is to invite me into a world they are creating ¿ I want to be there with them. It doesn¿t matter to me if it is creative nonfiction, fiction, sci-fi-fantasy¿even poetry. In my own writing that¿s my goal: to have the reader be there with me, whether I am writing about bar musicians in Ireland, drug addiction, family dysfunction, the importance of Eliza Haywood and Mary Hayes to the early feminist movement in eighteenth century Britain, the importance of Petrosky and Bartholomae to modern Composition programs, or even chickens chasing me around the yard; I want my reader there with me; seeing, feeling, tasting owning what I am saying. Without drawing the reader in, it really doesn¿t matter what my point is, the reader won¿t care. Foster-Wallace often writes about stuff I really don¿t care about, at least in A Supposedly Fun Thing. Minutia. The TV shows in ¿E Unibus Plurium¿ were a blur. I watch about six hours of TV a month¿and that¿s usually CNN, as opposed to the six hours Mr. Foster-Wallace insists that the average American watches. And I am not a David Lynch fan; Twin Peaks confused me, as do the mathematical qualities of tennis. I have been to my share of state fairs and in a very East-Coast-feminist sort of way feel obligated to remind carnies that most women do not like the attention received from greasy-stoned-ogling men.I enjoyed the short essay on deconstruction with reference to Derrida/Foucault/Barthes and Hix. I don¿t know who he is and didn¿t bother to Google him. I actually like Roland Barthes. Perhaps this essay appealed to me because it fell squarely into my comfort zone: academia, literary theory; edu-babble. I don¿t understand why it is included in the collection; it is clearly an academic piece and, for me at least, the most powerful statement in the essay could be directed at DFW himself, ¿Wish Hix¿s editor had helped him delete gestures that seem directed at thesis committees rather than paying customers.¿ (142) In the margin I have scrawled, like this entire essay? His prejudicial commentary begins early on and from the start (in State Fair essay) it made me uncomfortable. Us and them¿or more accurately me, David Wallace and them, the rest of humanity. White people in places black people simply would not go. There are Jews and WASPS. K-mart people. It made me uncomfortable. Not because I believe I don¿t have an us/them thing in my own reality, I do, we all do. This to me was an under-current throughout the text. There is us, the white folks, the MFA-ers, the always-better-than-you-socially-intellectually-politically-ethically-morally-in-every-way-possible and you, the other. David Foster Wallace writes, more than once, in this text about society¿s inside jokes and I think he would be pleased if people didn¿t get what he was saying that would reinforce his othering. We should congratulate ourselves when we get it. Well, I got it and his text left me feeling like I had been walking through the ¿Happy
mikegil on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
hilarious and brilliant.
detailmuse on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A collection of seven essays about the popular culture written and previously published in the early-to-mid-`90s in Harper¿s, Esquire, and scholarly journals. Some are entertainingly observational, some are densely erudite, all are brilliant. Most include DFW¿s signature styles of verbosity, footnotes and textual shorthand. There¿s analysis of rural life via people gathering at a state fair; of pampered life via guests on a luxury cruise ship; of athletic excellence, specifically tennis. And of film, television and literature, for example ¿Greatly Exaggerated,¿ which turned out to be literary criticism on authorial context, a topic on my to-pursue list. (I read the essay twice, at first nearly laughing at its over-the-top-ness in density and assuming it must be satire. But it¿s not, and I¿m drawn to explore it elsewhere to figure it out.) Though the essays are about pop culture, the setting is clearly DFW¿s mind. Maybe he manipulates the reader¿s attention toward it, but honestly, it feels gravitational. I have everything else of his still to read, yet I despair because eventually there will be no more.
DRFP on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The more I read David Foster-Wallace's output the more uncertain I become in my opinion of him. If The Broom of the System was a very funny debut then the short stories in Girl With The Curious Hair were mostly a self-indulgent bore. The Pale King was an unfinished husk of a book, but that didn't mean there weren't brilliant parts to it. This non-fiction collection is a similarly mixed bad. It's a grab all of DFW's early essays and articles and as a result it feels uneven throughout. The near-biographical Derivative Sport in Tornado Alley, a PhD thesis review and the titular article about Wallace's experience on a luxury cruise ship all sit alongside each other in an uncomfortable way. It makes for a slightly disjointed read.DFW's writing is good, of course, and unusually focused because of the constraints of the format and various different editors. For better or for worse Wallace allows a lot of his character to seep through in this pieces. Often it's funny and sometimes he pinpoints something that's quite startling but that you never actually considered before. However, occasionally you wish his neuroses took a back seat though because some of these articles end up becoming as much about Wallace as their intended subject. Perhaps this is just a side effect (on my part) since the study his character has undergone after his suicide or maybe it's just "new journalism" in general; but at times I did wish Wallace focused more on putting his intellect to work on probing what he saw instead of telling us about his slight agoraphobia or how he dislikes scary theme park rides.
nathanheins on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It is probably a petty thing to do to make a point of directly disagreeing with a clearly honest and thoughtful negative review, but it feels like the best place to start my own attempt to put some words down about this collection. What I want to respond to in particular is the argument made in the preceding post that Wallace's consideration of the question of audience is somehow lacking or incomplete, and that his writing is too self-directed to ever be concerned with what the reader is thinking or feeling or getting from his (Wallace's) prose. My interpretation of a lot of what happens in this and others of his books has to do with precisely this anxiety over how he is perceived. You can observe this anxiety and think that it comes from a kind of solipsistic obsessiveness, but if you are like me you probably also feel like we live in a pretty judgmental world, and that it is hard not to participate in judgmentality, and that every time you form an opinion about something (another person, a celebrity figure, an experience) you wonder about the degree to which people do the same for you. In other words, if the world Wallace is creating is a world in which many people are a) constantly judgmental and b) constantly in fear of how they are being judged, then that is a world that this collection brings me deeply into.And this is probably a root of the tone of Us/Them that works its way through this collection, but I think lots of Wallace critics make the mistake of assuming that his sensitivity to how he is different from the people around him is used by him as a justification for, as the previous reviewer says, "the always-better-than-you-socially-intellectually-politically-ethically-morally-in-every-way-possible" mentality. It might be worth considering that his anxieties about what makes him separate from other people are a weakness, that he understood them as making him socially and emotionally weak, and that he saw them in other people as well. (I think there is evidence for this in this book, like during the cruise ship essay when the author traps himself between his own decision not to get off of the docked boat, so as not to be seen by the locals as a typical "bovine" American, and the reality that his fear of being perceived as typical and American is not only preventing him from what could very well be an enjoyable experience, but also that it comes from an assumption that everyone around him will be looking at and thinking about him as if he were important, which, he admits to himself, he is relatively not). So much of his writing is pointed toward moments of compassion and interpersonal connection that never come; I object to the interpretation that they never come because no one can rise to his intellectual level.Please respond to me.
librarianbryan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
DISCLAIMER: I only read the essay about David Lynch.Really 3 essays in one: an on-the-set report about Lost Highway, satirical expose about the production of a Hollywood film, and a personal account of the significance of Lynch's work in Wallace's own life. The piece was not helped by is tripartite nature. The stench of Hollywood sleaze was nothing new, nor was the analysis of Lynch's oeuvre, myself being a long time Lynch fan. Wallace's perception of the particular production he was assigned to cover was interesting though. He seemed to have high hopes and foresee positive things about Lost Highway which went on to become one of Lynch's most maligned films.Was it entertaining? Yes, but I'm in love with the subject matter. Was it enthralling? Hardly. With an editor it could have been easily turned into a run of hill production report. Not that it was poorly written, but it was self-indulgent and didn't make me want to read any of Wallace's novels.
RoboSchro on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"Statisticians report that television is watched over six hours a day in the average American household. I don't know any fiction writers who live in average American households. ... Actually I have never seen an average American household. Except on TV."This is a collection of seven essays originally published between 1992 and 1996, combined into a volume that shows off a good range of Wallace's talents. The subjects covered include tennis, a Midwestern state fair, a Caribbean cruise, literary theory, the film director David Lynch, and the relationship between television and American fiction.Wallace is an extraordinarily clever writer; at times in the past I've thought he indulges himself a little too much in showing this off. Here, for the most part, he doesn't do so. (The essay on literary theory may be impenetrable, but that's true of pretty much all literary theory, to the untutored, and at least it has the virtue of brevity.)Half of the essays see him in the role of outsider observer, going back to the kinds of people and activities that he once left behind to join the east-coast intelligentsia. But he is seldom scornful; although he's clearly glad to have moved away, he still has connections with, and sympathy for, his subjects. His relationships with Trudy on the cruise, and tennis player Michael Joyce, seem as warm as circumstances allow.Wallace has a pleasant style, and uses his wit well. He's able to flit from observations of mundane surroundings, to challenging insights into modern society, and back again, without jarring. One highlight for me was the description of the childrens' baton-twirling contest at the state fair, which had me laughing out loud. Another was his terror of being seen, during the cruise, as part of a herd ("boviscopophobia") -- which I think is rather prevalent in some circles, and which I've never had described so clearly.Highly recommended.
billmcn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The part where DFW describes blow drying his hair in the bathroom of his cabin aboard a cruise ship is the single funniest sentence I have ever read.
piefuchs on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The title essay is a classic that humorously tells of Wallace's time on a cruise (count those Celestial Project sightings!). The remainder of the book is inconsistent.
wenestvedt on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I laughed very, very hard at the title essay, about the author's voyage on a cruise ship. Having been traumatized by the movie "Jaws" myself, I took great joy squirming along as he leans over the side, looking for fins. Some of the other essays were less enjoyable, but still it's a good read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Clever, hilarious and uncannily truthful. Another amazing read by DFW.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
ReadersFavorite More than 1 year ago
Reviewed by Janet J for Readers Favorite From a midwestern state fair, a Celebrity Caribbean Cruise, the effect of TV on the masses, pop culture, tennis, math, and pop culture, to an analysis of David Lynch films, this collection of essays by David Foster Wallace runs the gamut. The seven pieces in this 1998 collection, "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again," were originally commissioned for national publications including Harper’s Monthly. The essays including the more famous and hilarious 'A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again', penned aboard a luxury cruise ship, are thought-provoking and challenging, insightful, articulate, witty, ironic, and at times simply brilliant. This collection of essays by David Foster Wallace is also a reminder of American pre-recession, pre-911/ Home Security culture, before the heyday of reality television, smart phones and social networking. The footnotes compete with the text in value and are worthy of perusal on their own. With keen observations and a true genius for language, Wallace offers a most unique perspective on every subject he addresses, and does so with exhaustive determination. This collection is not a light read; each essay could also be approached within its cultural and historical context and appreciated from an academic point of view. In this audio version of "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again," the excellent narration by Paul Garcia complements the text, creating vivid visual images for the listener.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago