David Foster Wallace and the peer pressure against genuinely liking things

I didn’t know much about David Foster Wallace when he died. I’d read a few of his essays and his widely circulated commencement address at Kenyon College, but that was the extent of it.

The intensity of the reaction from well-read friends when Wallace committed suicide gave me a view into how admired he was.

Flash forward a few years, and my husband, John, recently got onto a DFW kick, both his writing and videos of interviews he gave.

One idea Wallace shared got me thinking about liking things. Wallace suggested that in modern society, it’s easier to be ironic or sarcastic. If we like things or want to make things better, that involves the risk of putting ourselves out there, maybe becoming the subject of that pervasive irony and criticism.

“And make no mistake: irony tyrannizes us. The reason why our pervasive cultural irony is at once so powerful and so unsatisfying is that an ironist is impossible to pin down. All U.S. irony is based on an implicit “I don’t really mean what I’m saying.” So what does irony as a cultural norm mean to say? That it’s impossible to mean what you say? That maybe it’s too bad it’s impossible, but wake up and smell the coffee already? Most likely, I think, today’s irony ends up saying: “How totally banal of you to ask what I really mean.”

… and separately …

Few artists dare to try to talk about ways of working toward redeeming what’s wrong, because they’ll look sentimental and naive to all the weary ironists. Irony’s gone from liberating to enslaving. There’s some great essay somewhere that has a line about irony being the song of the prisoner who’s come to love his cage.

I mentioned this to a friend recently and he responded, “Who spends that much time caring what other people think?” Sadly, I think many of us do.

John did a series of paintings a few years ago that he called “Simple Pleasures.” He painted such things as a cold beer, hot coffee, summer barbecues, the first snow of winter, vintage Cadillacs, a day at the beach, board games.

In the press release about that show, John channeled Andy Warhol who said, “Pop Art is about liking things.”

I’m with Wallace and Warhol and John on this – I like to like people, places and things.

I like getting a hand-written note in the mail, I like sleeping in on weekends, I like fluffy towels, I like a good hearty laugh, I like costume jewelry. Even if it’s considered pedestrian, I like giant California red wines, and even though most traditional jazz fans seem about twice my age, I like that music.

What do you like?


Categories: creativity, lifestyle

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

1 reply

  1. I like this post, that’s what I like.

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