“I bristle at the idea that the only thing Susan Sontag or David Foster Wallace had to offer is advice for me.”

If I had first encountered Anaïs Nin by reading a quote of hers about love or dreams or fulfilling your potential or massaging your inner child superimposed on an insufferably twee image, I would never have picked up her wonderful remarkably-transgressive books. Perhaps this shows the shortsightedness of my own prejudices but it’s still not a fair or substantial representation of her work. What I want when I encounter Anaïs Nin is Anaïs Nin, not a therapist or a motivational speaker. The same goes for Susan Sontag or Henry Miller or David Foster Wallace or any of the other incandescently brilliant writers whose writing has recently been cherry-picked and repackaged as glorified self-help tracts. The quotes are certainly theirs, being culled from diaries, journals, speeches and interviews (with the double meaning of culled being entirely apt). The sentiments may well be true. Yet it seems to me duplicitous because the quotes have been carefully selected to fit a pre-existing agenda – us. I am a ludicrously solipsistic and selfish person but even I bristle at the idea that the only thing Susan Sontag or David Foster Wallace had to offer is advice for me. At the risk of impertinence, if I chance upon someone using the currently virulent “there is actually no such thing as atheism” quote by Foster Wallace out of context to bash atheists (ignoring its implicit ‘worship God precisely because He is so ineffectual He can’t harm you’ angle) with no further interest in his writing or life, I’m going to nail a copy of Infinite Jest to their collective forehead.

—From an essay that had me enthusiastically mumbling yes the whole way, “Albert Camus and the ventriloquists” by Darran Anderson. Read it.

7 thoughts on ““I bristle at the idea that the only thing Susan Sontag or David Foster Wallace had to offer is advice for me.””

  1. Feel the same way. The next time I hear someone another writer, filmmaker, pundit, etc. say that “[art’s] job is to remind us what it is to be a fucking human being” I’m going to puke on my shoes. Same with “so and so and so helps us feel less alone.” They’ve taken the most inconsequential and trite thing that DFW ever wrote – that Kenyon College speech – and turned it into bites for a Hallmark Card. Figures that’s the thing that would stick in the public’s conscience the most.


  2. it’s problematic, i guess, to select and isolate a quote from an essay like this, but the following line from Darran Anderson’s piece jumped out at me:

    “In a world which increasingly values speed, extroversion and convenience, being slow, introverted and awkward might well become radical activities.”

    to portray things in an overly simplistic, dualistic way, we have the choice of the extremes of “old-fashioned” bibliophilia, wherein one potentially forms a lifelong “relationship” with a book or a body of work (thinking about it, revisiting it, even cherishing it over time) or being shot around like a pinball in a flashy, hyperactive info-mall.

    where is Obi-Wan McLuhan when we need him?


  3. You are dead on about this Very few of the raconteurs in the rabble that lifts snippets from great works only to spout them as profundities in public have actually read them. The motive seems to be self-advancement in the “service” of others self-improvement. The clowns!


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