“Consider the Lobster” by David Foster Wallace

I must say that my initial reaction to David Foster Wallace (this is my first time reading him) was most intrigued by his use of foot notes and his depth of research. I think that this is the major (the major) component that I have missed out on in my own personal writing. I imagined Wallace stuck to his computer reading wikipedia article after wikipedia article (although it probably didn’t happen like that, seeing that wikipedia probably wasn’t around during his day). But I did see an enthusiastic learner. I saw a student, and I mean student by the original meaning of the word, a Latin word which meant zeal; I saw that kind of person. And there was no doubt an added measure of depth to his thinking and writing that I have often (no, always) missed in my writing. After reading his essays, I wanted to pick a subject and dive into it. Not only was this essay on lobsters in depth in and of itself, but I saw that his education was accumulative. I saw in his writing not only the research that he performed for this essay in particular, but the research that he had done in other essays as well. I saw a wisdom that was leaking out in so many different directions that (of course) explained why he would use so many footnotes. And, as an aside, I have always wondered how I am supposed to approach footnotes as a reader. I never know if I should read them after the essay or during the essay (I actually read two essays by Wallace and tried both methods, and found that reading it after was confusing, and reading it during interrupted the flow of the experience, and I still haven’t, and may never, come to a conclusion on exactly how I should use the footnotes. Here I am tempted to write a whole essay about footnotes). In the end I was inspired not by his poetry (which was sparse) not by his narratives (which was sufficient) and not even by his essaying (which was the best developed portion of his writing) but it was his ability to write deeply and still intrigue and captivate me. I can’t tell you how many texts I have been asked to read that lacked any compelling reason to understand it, that asked me the reader to be interested, that gave me reason to feel invested; but Wallace somehow managed to spin a tale that was beyond my understanding and somehow keep me not only informed, but also engaged. That is a skill that I think Wallace will be remembered by, one that he brings to the table, one that I appreciate and will always imitate as long as I write. Now as for beautiful sentences I picked one out that managed to take something that before was beyond my comprehension and suddenly make it so simple that I could understand it completely. It makes me think of what B.H. Roberts said: It is true intelligence to take something complex in and of itself and explain it in such a way that even a child could understand it (perhaps not a direct quote, but you get the gist). This happened a couple times while I read Wallace, but here is one of those moments: “I for one can detect a marked upswing in mood as I contemplate this latter possibility: It could be that their lack of endorphin/enkephalin hardware means that lobsters’ raw subjective experience of pain is so radically different from mammals’ that it may not even deserve the term pain.” Here was intelligence. Here was a time that he took something grand and complex and related it in such a simple way that even I could understand it (and I do see myself as a child in questions of metaphysical thinking [and I wonder if I am even using the word metaphysical accurately, which would only go on to prove how little I understand much of anything]). Overall, I have much to thank Wallace for, but I will stop there at the time being, and I will continue to let his essay and my experience reading it, I’ll let that, linger in my mind for the next few weeks and marinate my understanding and thoughts on the essay.