“It’s a great role. With Daisy I think her biggest problem is that she feels very two dimensional, she feels in herself that she doesn’t have very much to offer to the world but she is continuing this guise of being fascinating and interesting and it pains her that she doesn’t have anything to back that up. People talk about whom Fitzgerald drew from to write Daisy and there are elements of Zelda Sayre and of another woman he met called Ginevra King so that’s fascinating. I love reading about Zelda and her life and I think Daisy is just struggling with not finding herself interesting, and trying to fill the air, basically. I don’t think she is hard-hearted either. I could defend her for hours. I haven’t played anything like that before so it is exciting, something different.”—Carey Mulligan on her role in The Great Gatsby
No one ever applauds me when I make it through those days, when the sky is pressing upon my chest and the morning comes down like a knife missing me by inches…it is so hard to place meaning behind those small everyday actions, getting out of bed—not like with written actions—and it is so hard for me to do something simply because it is expected…I don’t mean that I’m unconventional, or above it all—it’s the opposite actually, I am beneath everyone, needing extra care and attention so I can dig myself out of my grave every day, where I lay among the dinosaur and hamster bones that criss cross as cavalierly as flower stems might.
I am boring, I am mean, I will continue to be boring and mean. If there was a way to make it through this life untouched, resolve as firm and unflinching as the rain, I would—well, I already do. I try, resolutely. But like the rain, my resolve is fleeting and too kind at times.
“A bundle of contradictions” was the end of my previous letter and is the beginning of this one. Can you please tell me exactly what “a bundle of contradictions” is? What does “contradiction” mean? Like so many words, it can be interpreted in two ways: a contradiction imposed from without and one imposed from within. The former means not accepting other people’s opinions, always knowing best, having the last word; in short, all those unpleasant traits for which I’m known. The latter, for which I’m not known, is my own secret.
As I’ve told you many times, I’m split in two. One side contains my exuberant cheerfulness, my flippancy, my joy in life and, above all, my ability to appreciate the lighter side of things. By that I mean not finding anything wrong with flirtations, a kiss, an embrace, a saucy joke. This side of me is usually lying in wait to ambush the other one, which is much purer, deeper, and finer.
No one knows Anne’s better side, and that’s why most people can’t stand me. Oh, I can be an amusing clown for an afternoon, but after that everyone’s had enough of me to last a month. Actually, I’m what a romantic film is to a profound thinker – a mere diversion, a comic interlude, something that is soon forgotten: not bad, but not particulary good either.
I hate having to tell you this, but why shouldn’t I admit it when I know it’s true? My lighter, more superficial side will always steal a march on the deeper side and therefore always win. You can’t imagine how often I’ve tried to push away this Anne, which is only half of what is known as Anne - to beat her down, hide her. But it doesn’t work, and I know why.
I’m afraid that people who know me as I usually am will discover I have another side, a better and finer side. I’m afraid they’ll mock me, think I’m ridiculous and sentimental and not take me seriously.
I’m used to not being taken seriously, but only the “lighthearted” Anne is used to it and can put up with it; the “deeper” Anne is too weak. If I force the good Anne into the spotlight for even fifteen minutes, she shuts up like a clam the moment she’s called upon to speak, and lets Anne number one do the talking. Before I realize it, she’s disappeared.
So the nice Anne is never seen in company. She’s never made a single appearance, though she almost always takes the stage whem I’m alone. I know exactly how I’d like to be, how I am…on the inside. But unfortunately I’m only like that with myself. And perhaps that’s why – no, I’m sure that’s the reason why – I think of myself as happy on the inside and other people think I’m happy on the outside. I’m guided by the pure Anne within, but on the outside I’m nothing but a frolicsome little goat tugging at its tether.
As I’ve told you, what I say is not what I feel, which is why I have a reputation for being a boy-chaser, a flirt, a smart aleck and a reader of romances. The happy-go-lucky Anne laughs, gives a flippant reply, shrugs her shoulders and pretends she couldn’t care less. The quiet Anne reacts in just the opposite way.
If I’m being completely honest, I’ll have to admit that it does matter to me, that I’m trying very hard to change myself, but that I’m always up against a more powerful enemy. A voice within me is sobbing, “You see, that’s what’s become of you. You’re surrounded by negative opinions, dismayed looks and mocking faces, people who dislike you, and all because you don’t listen to the advice of your own better half.”
Believe me, I’d like to listen, but it doesn’t work, because if I’m quiet and serious, everyone thinks I’m putting on a new act and I have to save myself with a joke, and then I’m not even talking about my own family, who assume I must be ill, stuff me with asprins and sedatives, feel my neck and forehead to see if I have a temperature, ask about my bowel movements and berate me for being in a bad mood, until I just can’t keep it up any more, beause when everybody starts hovering over me, I get cross, then sad, and finally end up turning my heart inside out, the bad part on the outside and the good part on the inside, and keep trying to find a way to become what I’d like to be and what I could be if…if only there were no other people in the world.
I need purpose. I need it really badly, can hardly exist without it. I don’t work hard unless I see the inherent value in it, the place where it could take me. I like to know the exact results my actions could have before I bother dealing with them, you know? I need to know I’m going somewhere, working for something. When that rug is pulled out from under me, I collapse and get all mixed up. Goals, goals, goals. I pretend I’m spontaneous, but I’m the furthest thing from it, really.
Pella nodded. She knew the Emerson riff by heart, but Mike clearly wanted to tell it, and if that would cheer him up she was willing to listen.
‘His first wife died young, of tuberculosis. Emerson was shattered. Months later, he went to the cemetery, alone, and dug up her grave. Opened the coffin and looked inside, at what was left of this woman he loved. Can you imagine? It must have been terrible. Just a terrible thing to do. But the thing is, Emerson had to do it. He needed to see for himself. To understand death. To make death real. Your dad said that the need to see for yourself, even in the most difficult circumstances, was what educa—’
‘Ellen was nineteen,’ Pella interrupted to say. She hated the namelessness of women in stories, as if they lived and died so that men could have metaphysical insights.
“For the moment, the jazz is playing; there is no melody, just notes, a myriad of tiny tremors. The notes know no rest, an inflexible order gives birth to them then destroys them, without ever leaving them the chance to recuperate and exist for themselves…. I would like to hold them back, but I know that, if I succeeded in stopping one, there would only remain in my hand a corrupt and languishing sound. I must accept their death; I must even want that death: I know of few more bitter or intense impressions.”—Jean-Paul Sartre, Nausea
I took the boy home with me because I liked his shoes.
I’d never seen them in real life before, only in pictures. They were ’50s boots, oddly feminine and heeled and an oily black color, boots the Beatles would wear when they liked alcohol more than marijuana.
I told him I liked his shoes and to sit on the bed if he wanted. He said thanks and okay. I was chewing gum, and it was making the air smell like watermelon. Not real watermelon—the synthetic watermelon-flavor smell.
What’s your favorite book, he asked me. He was watching my bookshelf intently, as if waiting for one of my paperbacks to leap off and land on my bed beside him. I pointed to it, told him it was a beautiful mess of a novel, and that I liked it because it made me feel what was lacking even if I could never see it or anything. I asked him what he liked, he said books of myths and things, because they didn’t try to be smart or sneaky, they just told you how to live and the consequences the gods would inflict if you didn’t.
I smiled. I bet I was doing that weird thing with my lip that I always do when I’m mostly smiling inside—quiet smiles, not funny but impressed or—not happy—content, I suppose.
He smiled back. I like this, he said. I like this a lot. I asked what. He said not knowing things. I like you not knowing me and me not knowing you. You like my shoes and my myths and I like your soft bed and that you like big books. It’s simple. I’m not strange and repellent to you.
Why would you be like that, I wondered.
He told me he was a narcissist. He was depressed, and that meant he had a brain cell excuse for being obsessed with himself. But he still obsessed over what people thought about him obsessing over himself, and he would apologize too much and that was annoying and nobody really wanted to talk to him but since it wasn’t his fault that he was annoying they kind of had to but he knew this and it made him feel awful and disgusting for talking to them. He sapped life out of people, he said.
I don’t know why he told me all that. Then he made a face that suggested that he thought that I found him repulsive and this was what made him repulsive, you know? That he thought this, that he anticipated my reaction to be a certain way when it wasn’t. But I did like his shoes, and I knew I would never see him again. So I turned off the light.
It was a car accident. Nothing particularly remarkable, but fatal nonetheless. You left behind a wife and two children. It was a painless death. The EMTs tried their best to save you, but to no avail. Your body was so utterly shattered you were better off, trust me.
And that’s when you met me.
“What… what happened?” You asked. “Where am I?”
“You died,” I said, matter-of-factly. No point in mincing words.
“There was a… a truck and it was skidding…”
“Yup,” I said.
“I… I died?”
“Yup. But don’t feel bad about it. Everyone dies,” I said.
You looked around. There was nothingness. Just you and me. “What is this place?” You asked. “Is this the afterlife?”
“More or less,” I said.
“Are you god?” You asked.
“Yup,” I replied. “I’m God.”
“My kids… my wife,” you said.
“What about them?”
“Will they be all right?”
“That’s what I like to see,” I said. “You just died and your main concern is for your family. That’s good stuff right there.”
You looked at me with fascination. To you, I didn’t look like God. I just looked like some man. Or possibly a woman. Some vague authority figure, maybe. More of a grammar school teacher than the almighty.
“Don’t worry,” I said. “They’ll be fine. Your kids will remember you as perfect in every way. They didn’t have time to grow contempt for you. Your wife will cry on the outside, but will be secretly relieved. To be fair, your marriage was falling apart. If it’s any consolation, she’ll feel very guilty for feeling relieved.”
“Oh,” you said. “So what happens now? Do I go to heaven or hell or something?”
“Neither,” I said. “You’ll be reincarnated.”
“Ah,” you said. “So the Hindus were right,”
“All religions are right in their own way,” I said. “Walk with me.”
You followed along as we strode through the void. “Where are we going?”
“Nowhere in particular,” I said. “It’s just nice to walk while we talk.”
“So what’s the point, then?” You asked. “When I get reborn, I’ll just be a blank slate, right? A baby. So all my experiences and everything I did in this life won’t matter.”
“Not so!” I said. “You have within you all the knowledge and experiences of all your past lives. You just don’t remember them right now.”
I stopped walking and took you by the shoulders. “Your soul is more magnificent, beautiful, and gigantic than you can possibly imagine. A human mind can only contain a tiny fraction of what you are. It’s like sticking your finger in a glass of water to see if it’s hot or cold. You put a tiny part of yourself into the vessel, and when you bring it back out, you’ve gained all the experiences it had.
“You’ve been in a human for the last 48 years, so you haven’t stretched out yet and felt the rest of your immense consciousness. If we hung out here for long enough, you’d start remembering everything. But there’s no point to doing that between each life.”
“How many times have I been reincarnated, then?”
“Oh lots. Lots and lots. An in to lots of different lives.” I said. “This time around, you’ll be a Chinese peasant girl in 540 AD.”
“Wait, what?” You stammered. “You’re sending me back in time?”
“Well, I guess technically. Time, as you know it, only exists in your universe. Things are different where I come from.”
“Where you come from?” You said.
“Oh sure,” I explained “I come from somewhere. Somewhere else. And there are others like me. I know you’ll want to know what it’s like there, but honestly you wouldn’t understand.”
“Oh,” you said, a little let down. “But wait. If I get reincarnated to other places in time, I could have interacted with myself at some point.”
“Sure. Happens all the time. And with both lives only aware of their own lifespan you don’t even know it’s happening.”
“So what’s the point of it all?”
“Seriously?” I asked. “Seriously? You’re asking me for the meaning of life? Isn’t that a little stereotypical?”
“Well it’s a reasonable question,” you persisted.
I looked you in the eye. “The meaning of life, the reason I made this whole universe, is for you to mature.”
“You mean mankind? You want us to mature?”
“No, just you. I made this whole universe for you. With each new life you grow and mature and become a larger and greater intellect.”
“Just me? What about everyone else?”
“There is no one else,” I said. “In this universe, there’s just you and me.”
You stared blankly at me. “But all the people on earth…”
“All you. Different incarnations of you.”
“Wait. I’m everyone!?”
“Now you’re getting it,” I said, with a congratulatory slap on the back.
“I’m every human being who ever lived?”
“Or who will ever live, yes.”
“I’m Abraham Lincoln?”
“And you’re John Wilkes Booth, too,” I added.
“I’m Hitler?” You said, appalled.
“And you’re the millions he killed.”
“And you’re everyone who followed him.”
You fell silent.
“Every time you victimized someone,” I said, “you were victimizing yourself. Every act of kindness you’ve done, you’ve done to yourself. Every happy and sad moment ever experienced by any human was, or will be, experienced by you.”
You thought for a long time.
“Why?” You asked me. “Why do all this?”
“Because someday, you will become like me. Because that’s what you are. You’re one of my kind. You’re my child.”
“Whoa,” you said, incredulous. “You mean I’m a god?”
“No. Not yet. You’re a fetus. You’re still growing. Once you’ve lived every human life throughout all time, you will have grown enough to be born.”
“So the whole universe,” you said, “it’s just…”
“An egg.” I answered. “Now it’s time for you to move on to your next life.”
“Literature could turn you into an asshole; he’d learned that teaching grad-school seminars. It could teach you to treat real people the way you did characters, as instruments of your own intellectual pleasure, cadavers on which to practice your critical faculties.”—Chad Harbach, The Art of Fielding
What is your biggest fear? What is the most vivid memory from your childhood?
I fear the end of my/the world, just the idea of not existing and never existing again. I don’t believe in a god, or anything, but I don’t know. I don’t think I can bear it if people just…end, forever. And I guess it doesn’t make sense to say I can’t bear it, because I will, won’t I? I’ll accept it automatically if there is no me left to accept it. It’s all vaguely terrifying, because I can’t even fathom it all the way. I know people think of death as a relief to some extent, but I’ve always had a lot of trouble grappling with it, the yawning blankness that it could mean.
My most vivid childhood memory is the dress rehearsal I had for my ballet recital in kindergarten. It’s kind of odd, I don’t remember the recital itself at all and dancing’s never meant much to me (I quit in second grade), but it’s one of those first times I remember being aware of myself as a form of consciousness, doing some sort of half-formed motion in a blue velvet dress and lipstick and those bright, bright lights and the empty auditorium that seemed to breathe a little, and feeling so fully there.
What do you think of the current education system?
I wouldn’t call myself a fan…everything’s so standardized now, it’s like all the systems of testing have contradicted the meaning education had in the first place, has ruined any sort of real mental growth. Not to be cliche, but’s frustrating to just be a number/letter, you know? I’m hoping that college will be different.
Do you ever just try and see where your mind goes? Just follow it, like, mindlessly?
Are you ever surprised? Horrified, even? How fast and how far you can travel in the space between your ears?
I mean space in terms of space, by the way. The ever-expanding matter that composes all of the empty spots in the universe, although space is something, something very much there, so I guess in that way there’s technically no such thing as emptiness.
It’s comforting, really. There’s never nothing. There’s no such thing. All holes and gaps are just funny puzzle pieces that are meant to fit the way they do, a different sort of solidly there.
"Oh…I dunno. I mean, I’d like to believe I’m not. But, I just… I’ve just never seen any proof so I… I just don’t debate it anymore, you know? It’s like I could spend my whole life debating it over and over again, weighing the pros and cons and in the end I still wouldn’t have any proof so I just… I just don’t debate it anymore. It’s absurd."
T. nodded. “Come over here,” he said, “and look.” Out of both pockets he drew bundles of pound notes. “Old Misery’s savings,” he said. “Mike ripped out the mattress, but he missed them.”
“What are you going to do? Share them?”
“We aren’t thieves,” T. said. “Nobody’s going to steal anything from this house. I kept these for you and me—a celebration.” He knelt down on the floor and counted them out—there were seventy in all. “We’ll burn them,” he said, “one by one,” and taking it in turns they held a note upward and lit the top corner, so that the flame burnt slowly toward their fingers. The gray ash floated above them and fell on their heads like age. “I’d like to see Old Misery’s face when we are through,” T. said.
“You hate him a lot?” Blackie asked.
“Of course I don’t hate him,” T. said. “There’d be no fun if I hated him.” The last burning note illuminated his brooding face. “All this hate and love,” he said, “it’s soft, it’s hooey. There’s only things, Blackie,” and he looked round the room crowded with the unfamiliar shadows of half things, broken things, former things. “I’ll race you home, Blackie,” he said.
excerpt from E Unibus Pluram - David Foster Wallace
The next real literary “rebels” in this country might well emerge as some weird bunch of anti-rebels, born oglers who dare somehow to back away from ironic watching, who have the childish gall actually to endorse and instantiate single-entendre principles. Who treat of plain old untrendy human troubles and emotions in U.S. life with reverence and conviction. Who eschew self-consciousness and hip fatigue. These anti-rebels would be outdated, of course, before they even started. Dead on the page. Too sincere. Clearly repressed. Backward, quaint, naive, anachronistic. Maybe that’ll be the point. Maybe that’s why they’ll be the next real rebels. Real rebels, as far as I can see, risk disapproval. The old postmodern insurgents risked the gasp and squeal: shock, disgust, outrage, censorship, accusations of socialism, anarchism, nihilism. Today’s risks are different. The new rebels might be artists willing to risk the yawn, the rolled eyes, the cool smile, the nudged ribs, the parody of gifted ironists, the “Oh how banal.” To risk accusations of sentimentality, melodrama. Of overcredulity. Of softness. Of willingness to be suckered by a world of lurkers and starers who fear gaze and ridicule above imprisonment without law. Who knows.