Bookish Matters

The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.

—Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

(1) Curiosity killed the cat.
(2) The World's Largest Ball of Twine is a curiosity.
(3) Therefore the World's Largest Ball of Twine killed the cat.

—David Foster Wallace, from Everything and More

Sunday, October 2, 2011


Apropos the whole business of abstractness and nouns' denotations, there is a syndrome that's either a high-level abstraction or some type of strange nominal mutation. 'Horse can mean this one horse right here, or it can mean the abstract concept, as in 'Horse = hoofed mammal of family Equidae'. Same with the word 'horn'; same with 'forehead'. All these can be abstracted from particulars, but we still know they came from particulars. Except what about a unicorn, which seems to result from the combination of the concepts 'horse', 'horn', and 'forehead' and thus has its whole origin in the concatenation of abstractions? Meaning we can conjoin and manipulate abstractions to form entities whose nouns have no particular denotations at all. Here the big problem becomes: In what way can we say a unicorn exists that is fundamentally different, less real, than the way abstractions like humanity or horn or integer exist?

—David Foster Wallace, from Everything & More

Saturday, October 1, 2011

[David Foster Wallace] rejects criticism that his work is unnecessarily complicated: "I don't have any strong feelings about that, unless if somebody says, 'You know Dave, I read your book and it seems like it required all this hard work just basically for the sake of saying, "Hey fuck you reader, I can make you work hard."' Then I know with that reader I have failed. Then I really feel that they think I'm a putz. And I hate books where, you know, those books where you get halfway through and you get the sense that the author is so stupid that he thinks he can fool you into thinking that the book is really sophisticated and profound just because it's difficult. It's an epidemic in academic writing. And it happens about half the time in avant-garde writing. And it's the thing I most fear as a writer because it's the thing I most hate as a reader. And I'm sure I'm guilty of it sometimes."

—from an interview of DFW by Patrick Arden