“There’s a purity of intent and a lack of self-consciousness that I wish I could achieve when I was experiencing pleasure” (David Foster Wallace)

Let’s put it this way. Say you’ve got really serious art, and it takes really hard work, whether it’s painting or music or literature. That stuff’s not fun in the way commercial entertainment is fun. I mean fun — like eating a Twinkie. It’s like slipping into a warm bath after a hard day. It’s an escape. It’s a relaxation. And that’s fine, and that’s entirely appropriate. The danger comes when the escape becomes the overriding purpose. And one of the ways it seems that television has affected me is that my expectation for the amount of fun and pleasure to work — that ratio is very different than they are for my parents. I think my pain threshold is lower. My expectations are higher. My level of resentment at having to do anything I don’t particularly want to do that isn’t pleasurable is higher. I think a certain amount of that comes from the fact that for six hours a day I receive certain messages — you know, ‘relax, we’re going to give to you, you don’t have to give anything back, all you need to do is every so often go and buy this product.’ But animals have fun. My dogs play. And watching them play — there’s a purity of intent and a lack of self-consciousness that I wish I could achieve when I was experiencing pleasure. But Plato and John Stuart Mill both take books to talk about different types of pleasure. In my own personal life, I like really arty stuff a lot of the time. But there’s also times I watch an enormous amount of TV, and I’ve read probably 70 percent of Stephen King’s books. And I’ve read them basically because for a little while I want to forget that my name is David Wallace, you know, and that I have limitations, and that I’m sad that my girlfriend yelled at me. I think serious art is supposed to make us confront things that are difficult in ourselves and in the world. And one of the dangers is if we get conditioned to confront less and less and experience more and more pleasure, the commercial stuff’s gonna win out.

From a 1997 interview with David Foster Wallace by David Wiley, originally published in The Minnesota Daily, and archived here.

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2 thoughts on ““There’s a purity of intent and a lack of self-consciousness that I wish I could achieve when I was experiencing pleasure” (David Foster Wallace)”

  1. i always resented this distinction that DFW makes, in a lot of places, between “fun” commercial art, and “unfun, hard work” “serious” art. if its not fun don’t do it. don’t guilt yourself into thinking you’re doing something more valuable because you’re re-reading a particularly dense passage in Derrida or Joyce or something. i guess fun for DFW is a shallow thing, whereas fun for me is this permeating sense of enjoyment and wonderment experienced while being receptive to ‘being in the world’ or whatever, and i think that can be easily derived from a multitude of sources. conversely, to suggest that one can’t ‘escape’ (in the DFW sense) while reading some really “hard” “serious” stuff is delusional.

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