I Try to Riff on Both Flesh and Not, DFW’s New Essay Collection, Which I Haven’t Read, as I Drink Red Wine to Numb the Election Coverage (Book Acquired, 11.06.2012)


1. Today, I picked up Both Flesh and Not, a collection of David Foster Wallace essays and short pieces. I specifically ordered this book from my local bookstore (I didn’t get a review copy), and I bought it in hardback (I generally dislike hardbacks).

2. I should be reading it now—I’d like to be reading it—but I’m flicking between the five or six channels I have, usually stopping on PBS, and then scanning Twitter and other online media, because, hey, it’s Election Day in America.

3. I’ve already read several of the pieces in Both Flesh. You might have too. Here’s the table of contents:



4. But a lot of it I haven’t read. I’m eager to dig into the piece on David Markson, and the piece on Brat Pack writers, “Fictional Futures,” which was later repurposed in “E Unibus Pluram.”

5. I spent most of the afternoon riffling through it, trying not to think about the election results that would be coming in the next few years. I played outside with my kids, building a strange hut out of giant elephant leaves and then a small nest out of pine straw. I photographed the planes that daily fly over our neighborhood, slow, heavy supply planes that drift in lazy routine arcs from the nearby naval base, not loud as jets, but bulky. Elephant mothers, pregnant.


6. I remembered that Wallace killed himself in an election year, in September. I remember how I felt.

7. (Please don’t think this riff is really about anything. I’m distracted. I’ve imbibed some wine. Some Xanax might be involved).

8. Speaking of posts in 2008—

I went back just now, and riffled through the site’s archives from November of 2008. (Back when I’d post like three, maybe four times a week. Once a day at most).

A lot of vitriol there. A lot of vitriol for Palin, and a lot of vitriol for the emerging sentiment that would galvanize in what would become the Tea Party movement.

I wrote about the Election Night too. About Jesse Jackson’s tears. I even wrote about finding some respite from cynicism in Obama’s election. (Don’t worry, I’m as cynical as ever. Moreso—

9. —but

I remember watching the inauguration in 2009. I was still teaching high school. I had third period planning and I watched the whole shebang in an empty lab on the school’s third floor with my friend Derek, a black Muslim who taught history in the classroom next to mine. It was cold up there and empty. I remember he asked me if the election poem was good and I asked him what he thought (I thought it was good). I remember we cried a little in spite of ourselves and clutched at each other. The world seemed so much more possible. I’m clutching to this memory now, which is deep and rich and I hope to keep forever. It presents through pinot and Xanax).

10. Is this a bait and switch? I apologize. Look, I love you reader. Really, I do. I do.

11. So, another detail from the Wallace collection:

The selections are intercut with definitions from his vocabulary list for The American Heritage Dictionary. Like so:


12. What was I doing here? I don’t know. Let me just wrap it up. I should be writing about DFW and the book but I can’t. Distracted. I’ll schedule the post. Let it stand. Let it roll at 11:11am tomorrow? (To clarify–it’s 9:55pm on 11/06/2012).

Okay, I’ll do that. Finish the rest in the comments? Sure. And some more, of course, about the book.

Jesse Jackson’s Tears

I was surprised by the emotional response I had to Obama’s sweeping win last night–or rather, I was surprised by the emotional response that I had to the emotional responses I saw on my television. But it was these images of Jesse Jackson crying that intrigued me–and continue to intrigue me–the most:

What are we seeing here? Jackson’s tears, his clenched jaw, his bared teeth–all stand out in strange relief against the cheering, joyous faces around him. What is he thinking? What is he feeling? What is the word for how he feels? Is this catharsis?

Raw and complex, Jackson’s response is not gleeful joy, but some kind of release–not elation, but deflation, it seems. Indeed, Jackson’s tears, his face, seem to reflect and signal the aspiration of a lifetime’s work–his work–achieved now in a different man, a new man, a man for a new and different time. In some sense–and perhaps I’m way overboard here–it seems that Jackson is working through some deep Oedipal anxieties. And yet such a cathartic response, such a purging also seems to indicate and symbolize a dramatic shift in America’s narrative.

In any case, in our heavily mediated age of instant news and “reality TV” (an age saturated with information and scant on wisdom or reflection), Jackson’s tears strike me viscerally. They are wholly real, the abject edges of turmoil and pain, but also the strange fruit of over fifty years of the Civil Rights movement. And while Obama’s ascendancy in no way changes the past, it changes the future, and delivers a promise to the rest of the world that America truly is a land of freedom, opportunity, and hope.