Monday, October 04, 2010

Post-Ironic? Again with DFW

I'm continuing to live with David Foster Wallace quite a bit. Following his reflections on the tyranny of irony, consider what he says later in the same essay:

"The next real literary 'rebels' in this country might well emerge as some weird bunch of anti-rebels, born oglers who dare somehow to back away from ironic watching, who have the childish gall actually to endorse and instantiate single-entendre principles. Who treat of plain old untrendy human troubles and emotions in U.S. life with reverence and conviction. Who eschew self-consciousness and hip fatigue. These anti-rebels would be outdated, of course, before they even started. Dead on the page. Too sincere. Clearly repressed. Backward, quaint, naive, anachronistic. Maybe that'll be the point. Maybe that's why they'll be the next real rebels. Real rebels, as far as I can see, risk disapproval. The old postmodern insurgents risked the gasp and squeal: shock, disgust, outrage, censorship, accusations of socialism, anarchism, nihilism. Today's risks are different. The new rebels might be artists willing to risk the yawn, the rolled eyes, the cool smile, the nudged ribs, the parody of gifted ironists, the 'Oh how banal.'" (p. 81).

One might wonder whether, already in 1990, DFW had foreseen the coming of David Eggers, Jonathan Safran Foer, Nicole Krauss, even Jonathan Franzen--whether Wallace had prophesied what Melvin Jules Bukiet would later pan as the "Brooklyn Books of Wonder." There is a certain "sincerity" to their work that can look almost naive and quaint alongside Pynchon and even Wallace himself. But perhaps that is their (relative) rebellion. (This reminds me of Zizek's aside about straight marriage as "the most dark and daring of all transgressions.")

I think Wallace "gets" how novelists could head in this direction. And yet, the prose of Franzen and Krauss does feel so flat and predictable and, well, "straight-forward" after the experimentalism of DFW. No doubt avant-garde form can become tiresome and self-conscious, but it also seems to me that we can't just return to the narrators and forms of Updike either. The omniscient narrator has died; any revivification of him (sic) is not a resurrection, but only a zombie.