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It's Maybe Probably Not Just My Fault

I haven't watched the Sox much lately out of concern for my own well-being, but from what I have seen the story hasn't changed much.  Aside from the fact there are fewer and fewer and fewer games to play, anyway.  Given that, I think it's okay to set aside Sox specifics and talk blogging.

Right, so the New York Times Magazine posted an article entitled "Another Thing to Sort of Pin on David Foster Wallace" the same day I finished Infinite Jest, DFW's hypertrophic really good second novel.  Said article diagnoses the blogging community at large with what I'll term DFW Disease.  I.e. blog post are often overlong, overwrought, rambling, hedging, nonspecific and excessively verbose.  All of these things Wallace should be accused of, the author writes, but he (DFW) gets off the hook for being brilliant.  The author goes on to say if you're not brilliant, you're aping the wrong guy.  Pick Hemingway or something, I guess.

It's worth interjecting right here that I think pretty much anyone who reads this blog would at least dig Wallace's nonfiction, which can be found all over the internet for free.  The NYTM article mentions "Tense Present" and "E Unibus Pluram", the latter of which it links to.  Harper's online archive can be found here and I'd rec every piece therein but SB Nation's plot for internet domination hasn't yet borne fruit.  If you want specifics, leave a comment to that effect.

And but so the post author continues that this disease is not a function solely/primarily of homage.  Instead, more or less, it's cowardice on the part of bloggers.  Contra the DFW-lite style, blog posts should exist: 

…To provoke and persuade, not to soothe.  And the best way to make an argument is to make it, straightforwardly, honestly, passionately, without regard to whether people will like you afterward.


From your mouth to larry's ears, sister.  Oh yeah, the article author just so happens to be a lawyer.  Or former lawyer?  Like there's a difference.  Anyway, more re: cowardice:

…Much of what passes for intellectual debate nowadays is obscured behind a veneer of folksiness and sincerity and is characterized by an unwillingness to be pinned down.  Where craving for admiration and approval predominates, intellectual rigor cannot thrive, if it survives at all.


As a reader, this is what I think I want.  I feel like I know what she's talking about.  Spend enough time reading internet writing and you'll eventually find yourself aaaargh-ing and wishing the author would just get to the point already.  I find this happens especially when I'm reading somebody I haven't read much of.

As a writer, this makes me nervously run through my mental rolodex of posts to determine my guilt.  If I'm especially guilty, I can prepare a defense.  Or maybe I pass the test and can go ahead with a Yeah! Right on! since the article in question is therefore flattering.  Though if I'm feeling so insecure that I have to make the mental checklist in the first place, it's likely I'm at least somewhat guilty.  Maud Newton (the article author) admits it characterizes her own writing often enough and says that most internet writers are guilty.  I'm guessing she doesn't waste a lot of time reading tripe; I'll assume that means most popular internet writing falls victim.  

So I'm in good company.  And even better company, as Ms. Newton admits that while there's plenty of DFW she likes, there's plenty she finds imminently frustrating and stylized beyond what's strictly necessary:

Wallace’s nonfiction abounds with qualifiers like 'sort of' and 'pretty much' and sincerity-infusers like 'really'…that it begins to seem not just sloppy and imprecise but argumentatively, even aggressively, disingenuous. At their worst these verbal tics make it impossible to evaluate his analysis; I’m constantly wishing he would either choose a more straightforward way to limit his contentions or fully commit to one of them.


I can tell you at least that this is partly a function of being so fully integrated into the community I write for.  I can guess, usually with accuracy, how certain SSSers will respond to arguments I forward.  I knew that Edwin Jackson is better than Phil Humber would get me a lot of shit and I think I eased off on that somewhat as a result.  I tried to make the argument I could get people to hear. 

My too-long post about Adam Dunn was in a similar vein.  I expected to get the full force of folks' argument coming back at me.  The result was a good post but also one that I think was so long it tired out a lot of would-be disagreement.  That wasn't an accident.  I'll go to bat for things I think are true and every now and then I'll go to bat for things I think are true and the community thinks is completely nuts.  

The thing is it's tiresome and time consuming to be seen as completely nuts or to take on 3/4 of a community full of really smart people.  Set aside whatever bad style choices I make.  What drives the conversation is common knowledge and audience expectations.  I want to tell you what I think is true in a way I think you can hear it.  That's what drove DFW to his sometimes maddening lengths.  So if you're ever wondering why you're not sure what I think, yeah, it absolutely could be bad writing.  But maybe I'm just trying to tell you something you don't want to hear.