Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Short-a-Day: David Foster Wallace's "Tri-Stan: I Sold Sissee Nar to Ecko"

Originally published in Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. Personal enjoyment rating (out of 100): 86.

Creativity now lay in the manipulation of received themes. & soon, the C-sharp siren Foretold, this would itself be acknowledged, this apotheosis of static flux, & be itself put to the cynical use of just what it acknowledged, like a funnel that falls through itself. "Soon, myths about myths" was the sirens' prophecy & long-range proposal. TV shows about TV shows. Polls about the reliability of surveys. Soon, perhaps, respected & glossy high-art organs might even start inviting smartass little ironists to contemporize & miscegenate BC [before cable] mythos; & all this pop irony would put a happy-face mask on a nation's terrible shamefaced hunger & need: translation, genuine information, would be allowed to lie, hidden & nourishing, inside the wooden belly of parodic camp.

So yeah, don't get hung up on whether or not you'll be able to follow the many in-jokes Wallace makes here about Agon M. Nar (Agamemnon) or the titular "Tri-Stan" and "I Sold" (Tristan and Isolde) or the blatant Nar(cissus) and Ecko (Echo) -- our humble author is quite upfront about his recombinant sources and parodic intentions, and so while the story isn't particularly deep -- beyond pointing out flaws in our relentless entertainment cycle that Wallace has made, better, elsewhere -- it is followable and, more importantly, funny, even in the weird non-poetic and well-endowed vocabulary of the semi-shorthand that the narrator, "the fuzzy Hensonian epiclete" Ovid the Obtuse, uses.

Wallace chooses to go way over the top in his mocking descriptions of these people, and does so at such a rapid clip that there's no need to bother looking up his unusual gerundizations of words (to say nothing of his neolonyms -- that's a portmanteau of neologism and eponym, all three literary devices of which are on display here). You just sort of go with the flow, as this "wise & clever programming executive" is punished -- for his daughter's extensive plastic surgery, which has made her supernaturally beautiful -- by Nature, and also by Codependae, the jealous wife of Stasis (think Hera and Zeus) -- who manipulate the waking dreams of a fallen rival of Agon's, turning him into a Romantic stalker of the passively viewed (and obsessed-over) Sissee. Watch how packed-full his paragraphs are:

...that if A.M.N.'d maybe let his Enhanced Love-Dumpling have one or two quick mithridatitic glimpses of herself in mirrors -- thus letting her glean even some slim bit of an idea what Herm ["Afro"] Deight MD's aesthetic Enhancements had wrought -- before at last Ecko of Venice's reflective shades hove into her unprepared view, she'd not have been so transfixed & shocked by an image which actually she alone in all the fluorescent basin saw in truth as imperfect nay flawed & inadequately Enhanced & like totally gnarlyly mortal, & she might have been able to keep it psychically together enough to run like hell & escape the semiautomatic Wagnerian intentions of the lunatic UHF-ghost-to-be.

Impressively, Wallace succeeds at creating something new out of something old; just as impressively, he makes a valid point about the shallowness and snarkiness and self-servingness of doing just so, without tainting the actual point he's making. (Expert satirists like Swift got away with such demonstrative jests all the time.) And honestly, if you don't laugh at his recasting of Nielsen as "God of Life Itself," then you're either a Luddite or dead inside. My personal favorite? The description of NBC's "roughly eighty, a thirtysomething knockoff about flappers & hepcats struggling to find both themselves & sustained continence in a modern nursing-care context." Setting aside that such programming more befits CBS, you'll have to admit that Wallace can tell and sell a highbrow/lowbrow joke rather well. This here's pure Entertainment, served with a side of creative recrimination.

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