The Clenched Fist of DFW's Patriarchal Oppression
A Goth Non-Readersplains
(like 'Mansplaining', but literary)
by Jeremy Kitchen
Electric Literature, a "literary" blog that spends much more time whining about faux-oppression than publishing actual literary coverage, has a monthly feature called "Late to the Party" where writers write about books they have for some reason not yet read. At Eye 94 we only talk about books we have read cover to cover. We do this so we can functionally be critics. We can have thoughtful, engaging, and sometimes goofy dialogue, where we can interact with other humans to discuss a wonderful art form.
We love the literary art form, and we read every book we review cover to cover, all three of us. Many writers say to us, "oh, you read my book." We thought this was something you were supposed to do. Mike, Jamie, and I started this show so we could provide a literary outlet that was for everyone, not just snooty academics or "book people"; a show that introduces authors and books that most likely are not going to be covered in Entertainment Weekly. And while we try to make that introduction without the skew of our own biases, we try to be accountable for them where they exist. our primary aim is to hold an interesting, meaningful conversation with authors and publishers about their books. Reading their work tends to help. Sometimes we'll share personal anecdotes as they relate to our subjects, but the show is first and foremost about literature.
Clickbait journalism appeals to those who do not read. This is the kind of implicit reasoning that tends to accompany it: I dated a Goth girl in college and she liked TSOL. TSOL has a song about fucking the dead. Therefore, all Goths fuck the dead. Or how about a newspaper headline? "Liberal Media OK with Normalizing Iran and Pedophiles; Trump is a Step Too Far." Or this one, "The Great Global Warming Scam Began with the Nazis." Do those who believe in global warming also subscribe to the puke worthy politics of the Nazi party? That all who support diplomacy with Iran want to fuck children? I think of an old girlfriend who loved And the Ass Saw the Angel by Nick Cave and was later arrested for opioid possession. Do all people who like Nick Cave's work shoot dope? So, people who believe in global warming subscribe to the Nazi ethos, liberals who read newspapers approve of pedos, Iran, etc. All of these scenarios imply guilt in the opening salvo. This is baiting the reader in the same way Deirdre Coyle does.
Deirdre Coyle, a self-described Goth (although she has since changed that descriptor to "Haute Goth" whatever the fuck that means...), opens her essay, "Men Recommend David Foster Wallace to Me," by stating, "...I was seeing a guy who really liked David Foster Wallace. He once forced me to do cocaine by shoving it into me during sex." She ends the paragraph with, "So while I have never READ (emphasis mine) a book by Wallace, I'm preemptively uninterested in your opinion about it." This is confusing in itself. Is she implying that all men who love DFW shove cocaine into their partners during sex? This is not clear, nor is it clear why she mentions this in the first place. But it is first rate clickbait journalism. Perhaps the trauma of having cocaine forced inside you has led to a revulsion of all things DFW? Why does The Goth mention this at all? It is obvious she wants the reader to be repulsed by the mere mention of Wallace. Which brings us to the point of why a casual reader of Electric Literature would care that The Goth had cocaine placed in her body by an obviously troubled, fucked-up boyfriend.
DFW is often a subject of ridicule among those who read (and I will again add, The Goth had never finished one of DFW's books), although I have discovered in my limited world view that most who do rip on him have never read him. I have read everything he published besides Everything and More, a boring book about the concept of infinity, and Signifying Rappers, a boring look at rappers. The hyperbolic statement that The Goth makes, "Wallace is on a list of books that literally all white men own," is as elitist as Donald Trump's country club.
My dad went to high school in East Detroit and was a union electrician in Detroit for forty years, and I can assure you that he does not have any DFW titles on his shelves. He likes non-fiction about spies during WWII and genre fiction. My nephew, an avid reader and deer hunter, has a lot of graphic novels and really likes Cormac McCarthy and his pickup truck. I have never recommended Infinite Jest to him. I did recommend Flannery O'Connor. He loves her. I am a librarian and rarely ever recommend DFW to anyone. Perhaps The Goth has such an elite group of friends (highly educated and urbane; urbane, not urban) that they have nothing better to do than snort cocaine and recommend DFW books to her.
The Goth goes on to state that she also ignores Don DeLillo because, you know, dudes like him. Ignoring DeLillo because he is a man is really a loss for The Goth. White Noise and Underworld are two modern classics that any lover of great books should not miss out on. I am glad that as a white male I do not ignore books by women, people of color, LGBTIA+ writers, etc., because I would miss out on a lot of great writing if I only read books by white males. I am happy that literature is becoming more diverse. Perhaps everyone should just read more, then they could cram in books by all types of people. But of course that would take work and diligence, something The Goth seems opposed to. Why read something when you can dismiss it?
At Eye 94 we read all our books prior to interviewing the authors or publishers. Cover to cover, every time. Why do we do this? Because you cannot propose to be a critic of something you do not know anything about. I probably would not like Anne Rice: I do not like vampire books, nor Gothic romance, so I have never read one of her books, but I will not openly criticize her works. However, if I was dating someone who loved Anne Rice, who shoved a crucifix up my ass and called me Lestat, I would probably seek out therapy, instead of writing over and over how much I hate Anne Rice.
I was introduced to DFW by a colleague and friend who is also a woman. She introduced me to Dalkey Archive Press, Robert Musil, Thomas Bernhard, and many others. The reason she introduced me to DFW was that I love to read literary authors. So my friend (her name is Catherine) suggested DFW to me. This is why I can talk about these books and have opinions on them. I have read them. Catherine had a huge effect on what and how I read, and I am forever grateful to her.
Send us your books, we will read them. Cover to cover. If we do not like them, we will not have you on the show. We have had many feminist writers on our show, including Donna Seaman, Anne Elizabeth Moore, Achy Obejas, Mairead Case, and others. We will continue to do so if they write great books. Feminism is in the eye of the beholder, and no one is beholden to a misinformed hipster transplant in Brooklyn.
Jeremy Kitchen is a librarian and has the most excellent book collection. He lives on the South Side of Chicago with his wife and four dogs. He is a huge fan of the White Sox, Chicago history, and literary fiction.
This article was originally published on January 29, 2018
It seems inconsistent that you call out others for passing judgement on books you haven't read, but you call Everything and More boring while admittedly not having read it. For those of us interested in math (ahem, say what you will about nerds), its a great literary approach to a sometimes confusing part of mathematics... one that's done surprisingly well even for those without a background in advance mathematics.
I tried to read it, was bored and did not finish.
So I at least picked up the book, and read part of it, I gave it a chance.
I also attempted to read Signifying Rappers, another boring one. Could not finish...