This last week I’ve had a steady diet of David Foster Wallace’s essays, which was brought on by buying his essay books on a complete whim while at Barnes and Noble last week. I just saw them there, realized I’d never read them and decided to pick them up. His concepts of sincerity is interesting, his idea that irony (which was the big thing at the time, for all those generation X’ers that his early work was riding a long side of, those gen X’ers who loved their irony and all things ironic, yet I was too young to ever be one, even though I came to my early teens thinking (like all early teens do of early twenty somethings) that they were awesome and rebellious) was a wall, was a big wall between the reader and the work. It was hard in his eyes to affect something inside the reader when they were looking at everything ironically, it was hard to see what was there, what was going on, when everything was behind a wall of distances.
One article I read first and had me most thinking about this was his article on David Lynch, who is perhaps one of my favorite filmmakers of all time, a filmmaker I fell in love with when I was 14 when I first watched Fire Walk With Me. I’d never seen the tv show Twin Peaks, but the movie I’d watched non-stop over and over again, just for it’s sheer weirdness and wonderfulness and empty spaces that I couldn’t quite piece together, but made me think, made me go over and over each part. I ended up watching most of his ouvre latter, but to me David Lynch will always be that insane surreal hole-filled movie that’s Fire Walk With Me. It had even more holes, since it was a few years before I’d ever see Twin Peaks and so I didn’t even understand the stuff that I’m supposed to understand.
Anyway, in the article DFW kept expressing how sincere David Lynch was, it was a running motive through the whole thing. David Lynch said Golly, and Gee, but not in a ironic way, in a sincere way. David Lynch, according to DFW, was an expressionist movie maker, and expressionists were a way of showing emotional sincerity through images. The word sincere here appears over and over and over again. And I like the idea of surrealistic imagery, when presented in such a way, is about emotional sincerity. That’s something I struggle towards in my writing every day- the idea of surrealism meant to be expressionistic, about emotional reality that is striking something, that makes it larger in the reader.
I was reading this article and was thinking about the new sincerity, which I’m hearing a lot of all over the place, as a sort of a generational reaction to irony. Which, of course, some people call this out and say that the new sincerity is trying to be ironically sincere, that it’s a fake sincerity, and part of me wonders about that. I’ve always been interested in movements and concepts, and groups of people influencing each other. I think there are a million small writing movements across the US happening every day. I knew when I was college aged me and my friends, our group of writers from a small town, kept thinking we were doing something like the beats and the lost generation, we wrote manifestos about hyper reality, about the writer being priest and shaman, all sorts of insane stuff.
And every generation is looking for something like this, and a defining voice comes a long, and some little group is raised up to a bigger group with all this critical attention poised on it. So, I like the idea of the new sincerity. It’s interesting to think of it as a reaction against the ironical irony of the gen X’ers. But then again, I read a place like vice magazine, and I see a lot of the people bandied about as new sincerity are there publishing, and a lot of the stuff at vice is straight up ironic humor. It’s also mean humor, and condescending humor, and I wonder about the new sincerity then…is it the irony disguised as new sincerity?
And yet and yet and yet….Tao Lin, I read one of his books, I think it was Eee Eee Eee, and there is a minor character, a fat waitress who gets run out on all the time by these main characters, never leaving a tip. And then I remember that Lin writes a short story (I think I saw it on Moby Lives…) that I swore was from her point of view, and it was insane and heartbreaking, and so interesting because he was empathetic enough to look in from the other side. Or even in Eee Eee Eee when a character mentions they like indie films more than Hollywood films because they are about the small things the life things and that’s just about sincerity, about feeling something real.
I can understand that impulse. I’m sick of being attacked by a million scifi/fantasy/epic extravaganzas. I’m sick of being bombarded by glossy hollywood films that are anything but about emotion, about real things, about the world itself. I feel like Mozart in the movie Amadeus when he said he was so sick of opera being about gods and immortals who were so important and inhuman that they shit concrete. I feel like that now. I feel sick of concrete shitting super heroes. I remember the time my tastes in comics changed, and I started reading all underground thanks to my friend Bernie Crowsheet showing me that stuff at the time, him showing me Eight Ball and all that stuff. And I felt like thinking, fuck, this is what comics are supposed to be like. Not about soap opera super heroes that fight new bad guys every day shitting concrete, it’s about the real of it all, about the reality of it all. So I read indie comics, and I watch indie movies, and I read books published by small presses (and some big presses, depending on the author involved) because I just am so sick of unreality and epicness and bigness and irony and all the unreality of it all.
Not that I don’t like strange and surreal and weird in my reading/viewing/etc habits, but I think that’s different than all this big noisy stuff. I think that when done right in a right way, the surrealness and unreality can affect a read in an emotional way, in a way that’s stronger and deeper and more real than actual reality, because those symbols can strike at the core of who we are. And to put reasons behind them, to add different explanations behind them, that robs them of power, it’s like the same affect of irony, it’s putting a wall there, a wall that the reader is pushed out of, and turns reading into only an act of escapism, of running, of not experiencing, when we should be experiencing. Books I think do this well are most of Murakami’s stranger works and How to Keep Your Volkswagon Alive. I think these books are emotional expressionism in the way DFW was talking about in his article on David Lynch.
I also wonder if sincerity also appeals to some midwestern thing. DFW grew up in the midwest, David Lynch did as well, and I do kind of sort since I was raised in Ohio and I guess some people see Ohio as the midwest though I don’t know. Maybe it’s something there, the sick of irony-ness. I don’t know. Do I consider myself a sincere writer? I’m not sure. All I know is something I’ve always said about myself- that I’m striving to reach humanity in my writing and I find myself failing all the time. That’s it too- I understand the frustration Wallace felt over the Pale King. I’ve got so many half written things I’ve given up because of nonono, that’s not what I want, that’s not what I need, that’s not right not right at all, fuckit fuck all of it I’ve got to start over again with something else.
I also remember what I say when people ask why I write. Personally, I don’t like this question, I don’t, it’s like a silly question. And I hate most writers answers, which usually I write because I have to. But do you? I quite writing for four years and I was fine. I didn’t feel the need or urge to write, even though I wrote and told stories back long back ago. And when I started again, I just picked it up again and it was like I never stopped. But my answer isn’t that answer I say-
I write for the same reason I read. Because without it, the world is shallow and empty and without light.