Shilling for DFW, Special Babies, Ursula K. LeGuin, Sunshine, and (Moby)Dick Jokes

This month’s issue of Harper’s has some great stuff, including a selection called “The Compliance Branch” from David Foster Wallace’s current work in progress. In the short piece, an unidentified narrator is overcome by a “fierce” infant:

The infant’s face, as I experienced it, was mostly eyes and lower lip, its nose a mere pinch, its forehead milky and domed, its pale red hair wispy, no eyebrows or lashes or even eyelids I could see. I never saw it blink. Its features seemed suggestions only. It had roughly as much face as a whale does. I did not like it at all.

Doesn’t this guy know that all babies are special? Evidence of special babies:


You can read DFW’s last piece for Harper’s, “Tense Present,” an essay about grammar and usage and democracy, here. Or, alternately, you could treat yourself to the entirety of Consider the Lobster, where said essay is collected. Or, if you’re spectacularly lazy, hear DFW read unpublished work here and here.

Harper’s also has a great essay by ‘klept fave Ursula K. LeGuin. In “Staying Awake,” LeGuin takes on the relationship between reading, capitalism, literature in art. Good stuff. Bibliophile’s will appreciate LeGuin on the physiognomy of books:

The book itself is a curious artifact, not showy in its technology but complex and extremely efficient: a really neat little device, compact, often very pleasant to look at and handle, that can last decades, even centuries. It doesn’t have to be plugged in, activated, or performed by a machine; all it needs is light, a human eye, and a human mind. It is not one of a kind, and it is not ephemeral. It lasts. It is reliable. If a book told you something when you were fifteen, it will tell it to you again when you are fifty, though you may understand it so differently that it seems you’re reading a whole new book.

If you haven’t read LeGuin, I highly recommend The Left Hand of Darkness, a book that scrutinizes gender roles with more interesting results than, say, Eugenides’s Middlesex or Woolf’s Orlando.

Abrupt transition: Sunshine, the latest movie from director Danny Boyle, the mastermind behind Trainspotting, Millions, and 28 Days Later, is out on DVD. Sunshine, scripted by long-time Boyle collaborator Alex Garland (The Beach, 28 Days Later, 28 Weeks Later), was eaten alive last summer by a host of tertiary blockbuster sequels. I liked Sunshine; in addition to being a shiny, beautiful movie, it also raised some interesting questions about the cost of existence, individual worth, and the merits of self-sacrifice. Although the end unravels a bit, the movie is well worth seeing. Recommended.

Finally, lit nerds and Melville fans such as myself might have a laugh at Teddy Wayne’s take on Ishmael as comedian. Sample joke:

What’s the deal with the biscuits? Do they really expect this to suffice for a six months’ imperialistic voyage for exotic spices? And the servings they give you—is this for, like, a baby sailor? Did I accidentally request the infant meal?

Ishmael’s a hack–get it? Is there anything funnier than whaling humor?


3 thoughts on “Shilling for DFW, Special Babies, Ursula K. LeGuin, Sunshine, and (Moby)Dick Jokes”

  1. Great review of Sunshine. It could have been the one line: “Although the end unravels a bit, the movie is well worth seeing.

    Visually it was well done, but the Event Horizon-ishness is its undoing from a staying power perspective. I definitely won’t forget it, but I’m not going to demand that everyone I know see it.

    Who knew the Sun would be such a great character?


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