I just finished a terrific interview with Marty Beller of They Might Be Giants, which will be out Monday morning...and you're aware of my day job, which is all about goofy fantasy football -- I am ensconced in writing a magazine all about goofy fantasy football that I'll be delivering August 1. So that's mostly what I'm up to right now.
But in the middle of all this, casting around for something good to read, I started re-reading David Foster Wallace's last novel, "The Pale King." And I got to page 85 of the hardback, and I saw this:
"To me, at least in retrospect, the really interesting question is why dullness proves to be such a powerful impediment to attention. Why we recoil from the dull. Maybe it's because dullness is intrinsically painful; maybe that's where phrases like 'deadly dull' or 'excruciatingly dull' come from. But there might be more to it. Maybe dullness is associated with psychic pain because something that's dull or opaque fails to provide enough stimulation to distract people from some other, deeper type of pain that is always there, if only in an ambient low-level way, and which most of us spend nearly all our time and energy trying to distract ourselves from feeling, or at least from feeling directly or with our full attention. Admittedly, the whole thing's pretty confusing, and hard to talk about abstractly...but surely something must lie behind not just Muzak in dull or tedious places anymore but now also actual TV in waiting rooms, supermarkets' checkouts, airports' gates, SUVs' backseats. Walkmen, iPods, BlackBerries, cell phones that attach to your head. This terror of silence with nothing diverting to do. I can't think anyone really believes that today's so-called 'information society' is just about information. Everyone knows it's about something else, way down."
Well, first of all: BlackBerries! How adorable!
And second of all: oof.
It's not surprising Wallace saw where we were going before many of the rest of us. That's one definition of genius. (The book was published posthumously in 2011...Wallace killed himself in 2008...so he clearly wrote that stuff in the early 2000s.)
Of course, whether or not it's a bad thing to distract ourselves from the real unpleasantness of existence...that's totally an open question. And listen, I just mentioned what I do for a living. Is there anything more distracting and objectively empty than obsessing over NFL players and using their statistics to wage numerical battles? I'd be a total hypocrite if I said I wasn't part of the Distraction Industrial Complex!
I guess maybe it's that...some distraction = good...too much distraction = bad? I dunno. (And Wallace, personally one of my literary heroes, wound up killing himself, so, y'know, grain of salt.) Last week I talked about how we "no longer have the luxury" of not thinking about unpleasant things, and maybe this is part of that. We probably shouldn't feel compelled to think about unpleasant things every second of every day, or at least, if we do that, we should be prepared not to be very happy very often. But a bit of balance in that regard, putting aside a *little* time to hear what's really going on in the world and empathize with it...that feels like something we should all be able to agree on.
Oh, and hey! How about those Oakland Raiders!