Monday, August 17, 2015

If it's true Marx said "God save me from the Marxists" I can imagine DFW muttering "give me patience to withstand the bros," sure. I think the same kind of thing happened with Kurt Cobain, who was often frustrated when fans didn't share his political views (that whole "Polly" thing).

I did know a lot of BRO-type DFW fans (they dominate the discourse over on Goodreads AKA Badreads, sadly) but I first read Infinite Jest because it was about addiction, and I know a lot of other people who've done the same. Did he often act like a dirtbrag bro, even write like one? (I have never read Hideous Men and don't fucking plan to.) Sure, it was a macho pose; a pose a lot of other male intellectuals assume because GOD FORBID someone with a DICK value something other than fighting and fucking (the girly version of this is GOD FORBID someone WITHOUT a DICK values something other than makeup and babies. One of the worst things about sexism is how anti-intellectual it is, on both sides). If you want the epitome of smart-sensitive-guy-crushing-himself-beneath-macho-armour, look no further than Hemingway.

I don't think DFW was quite that far gone, but any time a guy announces his intention to go off antidepressants because he wants to be more creative, or he wants to be free, or he wants to be calm, or perfect, I hear the same old bullshit: men are supposed to need nothing. (Women get the opposite treatment, our daily lives and thoughts are pathologized into male-centered illness. You don't want a career, you're hysterical because you don't have a dick and want Daddy to fuck you! and so on.) Add in an unhealthy slug or two of perfectionism bred of child-prodigy status and you should be good enough to do this all by yourself turns into not just a mindfuck but a twisted moral imperative.

So yeah, it's not surprising young male intellectuals In Pain because they're Nice Guys flock to the shrine of the bandana. But that was armour too, that's not where his heart was. (It never fails to amuse me the media absolutely does not pick up on how the bandana was a STYLE for young rappers and bangers back in the day. I dunno how popular it is anymore, but when I see a guy wearing it I instantly flash back to Santa Fe in the mid-eighties.) He suffered from that whacked-out Lockean ideal that you can peel back all the qualities (the bandana, the addiction, the pretension, the intelligence, on and on) to some kind of Pure True Self that would be able to transcend everything. But that's like someone with polio deciding to crawl out of the iron lung because they want to run a marathon.

His brain was sick -- not his self, but his brain -- and when it wasn't treated, the disease overwhelmed his mind, that big, beautiful, powerful engine of treasure, and killed him. That's it. That's what happened. That this happens over and over in literary history doesn't just tell us this is true, but also how powerful the myth is that we want to believe will overcome that truth.