I just finished up reading ‘The Pale King’, David Foster Wallace’s last (unfinished) novel. It was a fun read, I definitely recommend it. Especially if you read and liked Infinite Jest please do yourself a favor and read this!
As you can expect from DFW, there are many great paragraphs, sentences, and phrases throughout this novel. However, two quotes specifically stuck out to me as significant. They were both very ornately worded, emotionally deep, and true.
- The first quote that hit me hard can be found on page 210:
“…my best guess as to his never dispensing wisdom like other dads is that my father understood that advice – even wise advice – actually does nothing for the advisee, changes nothing inside, and can actually cause confusion when the advisee is made to feel the wide gap between the comparative simplicity of the advice and the totally muddled complication of his own situation and path. I’m not putting this very well. If you begin to get the idea that other people can actually live by the clear, simple principles of good advice, it can make you feel even worse about your own inabilities. It can cause self-pity, which I think my father recognized as the great enemy of life and contributor to nihilism.”
What this quote means to me is that sometimes, fathers need to recognize that even though, in hindsight, a situation that their son is going through is straightforward; at the son’s age and maturity level, the situation is 100% complicated.
In these types of situations, DFW is saying less advice is actually more advice. And no advice is actually the best advice. This is because, by making the situation seem so simple in the manner in which the father gives advice to the son, the son will actually feel worse about his ability to deal with the situation.
This, in turn, leads to self-pity. DFW says that self-pity is the enemy of life and contributor to nihilism. Self pity is the enemy of life because it makes life lose all meaning and enjoyment. Nihilism is a philosophy where the individual does not care about anything and just “coasts” along in life. Nihilists never reach their full potential, rather they just take the easiest route through every situation.
- The second quote that enlightened me can be found on pages 405-406:
“…the universe as an infinite system of neural connections that had evolved, at its highest point, an organism which could sustain consciousness of both itself and the universe at the same time, such that the human nervous system became the universe’s way of being aware of and thus ‘accessible [to]’ itself…”
In my mind, this quote actually seems to be an “answer” to the above quote. This is because DFW is explaining what he believes “the point” to human life is. Which is that humans are the universe’s way of being aware of itself. And vice versa.
What this means to me is that, we as humans, have to achieve the most we possibly can in life, and that’s the universe’s way of knowing how great it really is. Additionally, by reaching one’s full potential, a person can realize just how great the universe is.
So, the conclusion I reach from these two quotes is that DFW believed that the point of life is to achieve the most things a person can. This is the opposite of the philosophy of Nihilism.
Maybe DFW struggled with these two extreme’s in his own personal life, and this is a brief glimpse into his inner psyche?
These are just some of my thoughts. Thanks for reading and have a nice day!