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Instead of the news, my news. Instead of a single football game, the splintering of fifteen different games into personalized fantasy-league statistics. Instead of “The Godfather”, “My Cat’s Funny Trick”. The individual run amok, everyman a Charlie Sheen. With “Robinson Crusoe,” the self had become an island; and now, it seemed, the island was becoming the world.

The New Yorker: “Farther Away. ‘Robinson Crusoe,’ David Foster Wallace, and the island of solitude” by Jonathan Franzen, April 18, 2011, p. 88 (subscription is required for full access).

Franzen latest essay reminded me of a very small text by Gilles Deleuze: “Deserts Island” (in Deserts Island and Other Texts. 1953-1974, tr. Michael Taormina, Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2004, p. 10):

But everything that geography has told us about the two kinds of islands, the imagination knew already on its own and in another way. The elan that draws humans toward islands extends the double movement that produces islands in themselves. Dreaming of islands—whether with joy or in fear, it doesn’t matter—is dreaming of pulling away, of being already separate, far from any continent, of being lost and alone—or it is dreaming of starting from scratch, recreating, beginning anew. Some islands drifted away from the continent, but the island is also that toward which one drifts; other islands originated in the ocean, but the island is also the origin, radical and absolute. Certainly, separating and creating are not mutually exclusive: one has to hold one’s own when one is separated, and had better be separate to create anew; nevertheless, one of the two tendencies always predominates. In this way, the movement of the imagination of islands takes up the movement of their production, but they don’t have the same objective. It is the same movement, but a different goal. It is no longer the island that is separated from the continent, it is humans who find themselves separated from the world when on an island. It is no longer the island that is created from the bowels of the earth through the liquid depths, it is humans who create the world anew from the island and on the waters. Humans thus take up for themselves both movements of the island and are able to do so on an island that, precisely, lacks one kind of movement: humans can drift toward an island that is nonetheless originary, and they can create on an island that has merely drifted away. On closer inspection, we find here a new reason for every island to be and remain in theory deserted.

Here are some more excerpts of Jonathan Franzen essay about the trip he made to the island where Robinson Crusoe allegedly lived (so to speak) while trying to cope with the death of his friend David Foster Wallace.

He was lovable the way a child is lovable, and he was capable of returning love with a childlike purity. If love is nevertheless excluded from his work, it’s because he never quite felt that he deserved to receive it. He was a life long prisoner on the island of himself. What looked like gentle contours from a distance were in fact sheer cliffs. Sometimes only a little of him was crazy, sometimes nearly all of him, but, as an adult, he was never entirely not crazy. What he’d seen on his id while trying to escape his island prison by way of drugs and alcohol, only to find himself even more imprisoned by addiction, seems never to have ceased to be corrosive of his belief in his lovability. Even after he got clean, even decades after his late-adolescent suicide attempt, even after his slow and heroic construction of a life for himself, he felt underserving. And this feeling was interwined, ultimatly to the point of indistinguishability, with the thought of suicide, which was the one sure way out of his imprisonment; surer than addiction, surer than fiction, and surer, finally, than love. (page 91)

How easy and natural love is if you are well! And how gruesomely difficult―what a philosophically daunting contraption of self-interest and self-delusion love appears to be―if you are not! (page 91)

He’d love writing fiction, “Infinite Jest” in particular, and he’s been very explicit, in our many discussions of the purpose of novels, about his belief that fiction is a solution, the best solution, to the problem of existential solitude. Fiction was his way off the island, and as long as it was working for him―as long as he’d been able to pour his love and passion into preparing his lonely dispatches, and as long as these dispatches were coming as urgent and fresh and honest news to the mainland―he’d achieved a measure of happiness and hope for himself. When his hope for fiction died, after years of struggle with the new novel, there was no other way out but death. If boredom is the soil in which the seeds of addiction sprout, and if the phenomenology and the teleology of suicidality are the same as those of addiction, it seems fair to say that David died of boredom. (page 92)

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