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David Foster Wallace's Celluloid Seduction
yet another installment in the journal of the Year of Stalking David Foster
a two part essay by Melpomene Whitehead
The evening, sponsored by Harper's Magazine, Farrar, Straus and Giroux and
The New School for Social Research was billed as The Seductions of Celluloid:
Writing Fiction in the Age of Film, but what it turned out to be was meta-hunk David
Foster Wallace trying to convince people that an early James Cameron movie, Piranha
2: The Spawning was a good film.
Annette, cell-mate and my official Harper's connection, received the postcard in the
mail announcing the event a week before the scheduled discussion. I was psyched to say the
least. Why, it'd been way over a month since I'd seen Dave, and I was beginning to feel like
I'd missed a period. I wondered: was he letting his hair grow? has he lost or gained weight?
would be have a bottle of water or would he opt for a caffeinated beverage? There was only one
other panel participant I was vaguely interested in seeing: Todd Solondz, writer/director
of the biting and bitter Welcome to the Dollhouse. The rest, Susan Minot
(wrote the script for the ridiculous Stealing Beauty), Dale Peck (author of
Now It's Time to Say Goodbye), David O. Russell (writer/director of the
unshocking and abysmally boring Spanking the Monkey and the tiresome Flirting
With Disaster) and Stephen Schiff (who had the nerve to attempt to re-write
Nabokov in the new and allegedly horrible Lolita and didn't show up anyway), I either
actively disliked or had no knowledge of. But what did I care? I was going to see the man, my
mount Everest, the guy I either want to be or want to fuck (I can't decide which), Mr. David
I can't remember what I wore. I didn't pay much attention to my attire as I (rightly)
surmised that I'd be lost in the giant auditorium of the New School. Harper's people handed
out copies of the June issue (with my letter!) and I made sure to point out my name on page nine
to everyone I met. I had instant fame! And the auditorium was packed with slackers and seekers,
most of whom were probably there to see the film dudes. From where I sat I could see where
Dave's name-card was placed and I had a very clear view of the seat my hero would soon be
taking. I was hyper-excited and tried to calm myself by catching up with Ellen Louise's latest
farm animal reports. And we scanned the audience for prospective hair-dos. Soon, everyone got
paraded onto the stage and Ellen and I let out an audible gasp when Wallace strode out. God, he
looked good. Hair's gotten a little longer, either he's lost weight or got baggier clothes,
whatever, he looked faboo. I think Annette and Nina were laughing at us. Ellen grabbed my arm,
"He's cute!" she hissed. "I know..." I sighed. "And he's mine, so stay away..." I know Ellen
is definitely DFW's 'type': a slender, big-eyed classically beautiful tragic blonde artist chick.
Note to self: keep Dave away from Ellen... But before Lewis Lapham, Harper's editor,
began the moderating, some pompous idiot blathered incessantly in verse libre and
actually used 'indefatigably' in a sentence. Isn't that one of those words no one actually uses
Dave opted for caffeine in the form of Diet Coke for the evening, perhaps sensing the
boredom quotient. And he and Todd were the only ones unpretentious enough not to dress in
black. As Patricia Arquette keeps saying about Christian Slater in True Romance, "you
are so cool..."
Lapham, whose face was very red as if he'd spent the weekend on the beach, posed the
question to the panel: is it possible to watch novelistically and read cinematically? This seemed
to set up a huge division between the novelists (Dale Peck and David Foster
Wallace) and David O. Russell, who is apparently very insecure about what he
does. Russell begins to insist that the novelist can and does spell things out, like pinched looks,
accents, that can be easily conveyed visually and auditorily in films. At this point Wallace jumps
in, and introduces himself by saying "the only reason I'm on this panel is I both like to read and
watch movies." He's trying so hard to be everyman, when we all know he's uberman... poor
Dave. Then he starts to get himself into trouble with the rest of the panel by saying that "movies
give you everything... reading can be work... sometimes I'd rather slip a big budget Hollywood
film in the VCR than read..." And Dave, sometimes I'd rather slip your cock into my mouth...
Oh god, did I say that? I'm such a pig. Russell at this point begins to cross his arms in a
defensive position and he gets a rather pinched look on his formerly smug puss. He tries to
defend his chosen medium by stating, "You can read Jane Austen or see Gwenyth Paltrow..." to
which Lapham insightfully replies, "Why not look at a fashion layout?"
Dear Dave tries to save the evening and mend fences by pretending that there's a huge
difference between watching a big budget mainstream film and watching an independent film,
insinuating that the indie can be as difficult and rewarding as a book. "I'll shut the lights out
and won't be paying bills and watch it twice...," Dave says of the indie, "while Jurassic
Park I'll put on and talk on the phone and make dinner. It's like porn. I'm waiting for
the dinosaur. Which is offensive on a number of levels..." This gets a big laugh from the
audience. It's become David Foster Wallace night once more. I'm thinking about Dave, dinner
and porn. It becomes increasingly difficult for me to concentrate on what he's saying. He
continues (you know, this guy can go on... he's like a stick of Big Red), "With the VCR, I'm
in TV mode..." You can see David Russell getting defensive again, crossing his arms, straining
to understand. Our Dave continues, "My jaw is slack, I'm operating on about 30% brain
power..." Dave, that's not bad! Considering apocryphally the rest of us operate on 10% all the
time... "You show me the characters, set the pace... that's not to say watching movies is a
stupefying passive process." The film people look a little peeved. "I'm gonna be quiet now..."
And he was, for about three minutes, while he whispered conspiratorially to Todd
Solondz, who has been unnaturally quiet during this discussion.
David Russell tries to claim that the golden age of cinema is over, that after the 70s no
one cared about seeing quality films in the theatre... he sounds like some people I know who
think that the only good music was whatever they listened to in high school. He talks about
Klute like it was some sort of major breakthrough in filmmaking and neglects
Clockwork Orange, Midnight Cowboy, Deep Throat (sorry, DFW always makes me
think of oral sex...). Susan Minot says some things but she comes off as dumb as
Annette's cat, Georgette, who's not the smartest cat we know. But at least she didn't claim
that Africa was a country, like David Russell did at one point. Wallace tries to bolster Russell's
confidence by stating that "Spanking the Monkey didn't play where I live, but you can
rent it at three video stores..." Russell disses this. To him, the only real success is box office
numbers. Dave queries, "You don't feel that people are really watching it on tape?"
Finally, Todd speaks! And he compares the solitary VCR experience vs the theatre
experience as being like the difference between an orgy and masturbation, which gets a big laugh
from everyone. Todd goes on to say that "writing is a much more intellectual exercise than
filmmaking..." which gets Wallace to make a sort of self-deprecating goofy face. Todd continues
by saying that watching "Lethal Weapon ... for me it would be an active experience...
I'd have to find something to concentrate on..."
At this point we begin to get to the crux of the evening with the first mention of the
ubiquitous and mythical "Joe Six-Pack." Dave begins by stating that "I don't think Joe
Six-Pack has ever given a shit about literary fiction or indie films..." A very long discussion
about Titanic ensues, with everyone on the panel, Wallace included, pretending to know
what was going through James Cameron's head when he made that movie. Only Solondz had
the guts to say that maybe Titanic was the movie Cameron set out to make; maybe he
does believe in romance and sentimentality. The rest of the panel calls bullshit on that one,
insisting that his earlier films were groundbreaking and revolutionary, with Wallace goading
everyone by stating that Piranha 2: The Spawning was underrated. Dave, I saw
this movie, and lemme tell ya, anything good anyone says about it is pure charity. But the bottom
line is, they're all jealous of what Cameron was able to do, which is tap into the American late
90s zeitgeist. The discussion breaks off into a diatribe of what writers want, with Wallace,
who's completely lost all traces of being stupid and common, saying that "the machine that
creates that [desire for more readers]... is for the most part pernicious... it eats us and excretes
us." Poor Dave. He only wanted to be loved. "The stuff we all [the
intelligensia and Joe Six-Pack] really have in common is not the good stuff... so much of tv is
insipid, [but] there's just enough good stuff to make my butt pucker..." Like what Dave, Ally
Mcbeal? BTW, the audience adores the butt-puckering reference, they love the fact that he can
stroke their intellectual egos while throwing in a term like butt-pucker. Didn't he go into this
pop-culture metaphor-mixing in depth in Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, #6? From
page 43, "note the rhetorically specific blend of childish diction like hi and fib
with flaccid abstractions like nurture and energy. This is the lingua franca
of the inward bound." I guess in Dave's case, this is the lingua franca of Joe Post-grad.
Dave digs himself into a deeper hole (this is the problem with these panels! People just go off!
Like you're in a loud bar with your friends and no one else is listening, but here, crazy lit chix
are taking copious notes!) when he says "I don't want everyone to read my book... it doesn't
matter to me that I'm not making millions of dollars..."
Dave later concedes defeat as Lapham makes fun of him. "There's a requisite amount of fun
that has to be had at my expense."
At one point when Dale Peck refers to an unpublished story of his as being 'horribly
misogynistic,' I notice ol' Dave looking out into the audience to see if everyone is turning to
look at him.
When questions are taken from the audience, almost all of them are for Dave, and if they
aren't he answers anyway. Susan Minot tried to answer several. She stated as an answer for one,
"When I first started to read, and I was reading Faulkner..." I was like, whoa, hold on a second,
chica. When I first started to read I was reading packages of detergent and Dr. Seuss. I guess
she's smarter than I thought. When Dave is asked about marketing books and films and the
promotion for Infinite Jest--those glam shots, and being the NY Times Magazine It boy
and all--he says "Little Brown came up with a marketing idea on how to sell a 1,000 page book...
it didn't have that much to do with me.. Am I standing here as a paragon? No..." Later he tells
us he'd rather write than be a filmmaker because "I never got good 'works with others'
grades..." And finally when Susan Minot is asked to name some movies that were better than the
books, and she says A Clockwork Orange, Dave saves her by reminding everyone that
the novel The Godfather sucked, "but the movie is so filmic... and now I don't have
anything smart to wrap this up with..." Poor Dave, trying so hard to be witty, erudite...and
succeeding! And it doesn't even matter to him. Look darling, just leMWe crawl under that table
and I'll shut you up.
para 1. P2: the Spawning possibly incites MW to consider spawning with
DFW. Upstream/ golden showers/ onan vs ondine...
para 2. MW has dildo called dildo foster wallace -- too easy?
para 4. True Romance is a fem masturb. fantasy. CS rescues PA and kills for
her. Who does MW
want DFW to kill for her? Boss, Mary Karr, her landlord? Perhaps she
requests he hacks into TRW and fixes her credit.
para 5. MW would like to try going down on DFW while he reads aloud passages
from Infinite Jest or Westward the Course of the Empire... MW imagines he'd
try very hard not to get overly excited
and too involved in the oral sex and concentrate on the narr. She can hear
him trying to regulate his breathing as she attempts to get him to lose his
place on the page.
para 6. Todd Solondz hereafter referred to by MW as Dawn Weiner and DFW as
Dave or Ol' Dave.
para 7. MW pictures DFW at the video store, one of the three video stores in town,
pretending to pick up some high class films (Citizen Kane? Dr.
Strangelove?) and one porn film, Mistress Kimbra's Studio Apt of
Domination. MW is the video clerk. MW eyes the first two suspiciously. "Oh! Miss.
Kim.! She's one of my favorites..." MW invites DFW to her dungeon and
engages him in exquisite torture involving hot wax, scrabble and re-runs of The
para 8. What MW is concentrating on is this: how dfw purses his lips. how he wraps
those lips around the soda bottle. the muscles in his forearms. how often he
plays with his hair and fiddles with his glasses. MW wonders if the glasses
come off during sex or if he'd leave them on for her.
para 9. MW considers fun to be had at DFW's expense-- tying him down and
him to play scrabble. making him drive her around town and buy her
lingerie and fetish wear. and etc.
para 10. MW considers that while not the fem equiv., she's certainly treating DFW
like a sex object.
para 11.Narr avoids easy gag w/r/t piranha 2 and oral sex.
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