‘There’s something very interesting about civics and selfishness, and we get to ride the crest of it. Here in the US, we expect government and law to be our conscience. Our superego, you could say. It has something to do with liberal individualism, and something to do with capitalism, but I don’t understand much of the theoretical aspect—what I see is what I live in. Americans are in a way crazy. We infantilize ourselves. We don’t think of ourselves as citizens—parts of something larger to which we have profound responsibilities. We think of ourselves as citizens when it comes to our rights and privileges, but not our responsibilities. We abdicate our civic responsibilities to the government and expect the government, in effect, to legislate morality. I’m talking mostly about economics and business, because that’s my area.’
‘What do we do to stop the decline?’
‘I have no idea what we do. As citizens we cede more and more of our autonomy, but if we the government take away the citizens’ freedom to cede their autonomy we’re now taking away their autonomy. It’s a paradox. Citizens are constitutionally empowered to choose to default and leave the decisions to corporations and to a government we expect to control them. Corporations are getting better and better at seducing us into thinking the way they think—of profits as the telos and responsibility as something to be enshrined in symbol and evaded in reality. Cleverness as opposed to wisdom. Wanting and having instead of thinking and making. We cannot stop it. I suspect what’ll happen is that there will be some sort of disaster—depression, hyperinflation—and then it’ll be showtime: We’ll either wake up and retake our freedom or we’ll fall apart utterly. Like Rome—conqueror of its own people.’
☛ The Pale King by David Foster Wallace, New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2011, §19, pp.130-131.
The Pale King is a 500-plus pages unfinished novel written by David Foster Wallace. It was edited and published posthumously by Little Brown editor and longtime friend Michael Pietsch. Here’s an excerpt from the “Editor’s Note”:
In 2006, ten years after the publication of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, Little, Brown made plans to release an anniversary edition of that glorious novel. Celebrations were set up at bookstores in New York and Los Angeles, but as the events neared, David demurred about attending. I telephoned to try to persuade him. “You know I’ll come if you insist,” he said. “But please don’t. I’m deep into something long, and it’s hard for me to get back into it when I’m pulled away.”
“Something long” and “a long thing” were the terms David used to talk about the novel he’d been writing in the years since Infinite Jest. He published many books in those years—story collections in 1999 and 2004 and gatherings of essays in 1997 and 2005. But the question of a new novel loomed, and David was uncomfortable speaking about it. Once when I pressed him, he described working on the new novel as like wrestling sheets of balsa wood in a high wind. From his literary agent, Bonnie Nadell, I heard occasional reports: David was taking accounting classes as research for the novel. It was set at an IRS tax return processing center. I had had the enormous honor of working with David as his editor on Infinite Jest, and had seen the worlds he’d conjured out of a tennis academy and a rehab center. If anyone could make taxes interesting, I figured, it was him.
At the time of David’s death, in September 2008, I had not seen a word of this novel except for a couple stories he had published in magazines, stories with no apparent connection to accountancy or taxation. In November, Bonnie Nadell joined Karen Green, David’s widow, to go through his office, a garage with one small window at their home in Claremont, California. On David’s desk Bonnie found a neat stack of manuscript, twelve chapters totaling nearly 250 pages. On the label of a disk containing those chapters he had written “For LB advance?” Bonnie had talked with David about pulling together a few chapters of his novel to send to Little, Brown in order to commence negotiations for a new contract and advance against royalties. Here was that partial manuscript, unsent.
Exploring David’s office, Bonnie and Karen found hundreds and hundreds of pages of his novel in progress, designated with the title “The Pale King.” Hard drives, file folders, three-ring binders, spiral- bound notebooks, and floppy disks contained printed chapters, sheaves of handwritten pages, notes, and more. I flew to California at their invitation and two days later returned home with a green duffel bag and two Trader Joe’s sacks heavy with manuscripts. A box full of books that David had used in his research followed by mail.
For more information about The Pale King:
- The Pale King over at the David Foster Wallace website (setup by the Hachette Book Group).
- The Pale King over at the Hachette Book Group website.
- The Pale King at Google books (no preview) and Amazon.com
- The Pale King‘s Wikipedia page.
The cover for the American edition (below) was designed by David Foster Wallace’s widow, artist Karen Green. For more information see “Unfinished David Foster Wallace Novel Gets Cover and Release Date” (by Dave Itzkoff, September 14, 2010, The New York Times), Karen Green’s official website (Flash is required), as well as two interesting interviews over at The Guardian (“Karen Green: ‘David Foster Wallace’s suicide turned him into a “celebrity writer dude”, which would have made him wince'” by Tim Adams, April 10, 2011) and The New York Times (“Coping With an Unfinished Life” by Maria Russo, October 8, 2010).
Previously: David Foster Wallace
First spotted via biblioklept.org: ““Americans Are in a Way Crazy” — David Foster Wallace”, August 19, 2011