A Betrayal of All Perfection

David Foster Wallace, “David Foster Wallace on ‘The Nature of Fun’,” The Guardian Friday 16 November 2012 [extract from Both Flesh and Not]

…The damaged-infant trope is perfect because it captures the mix of repulsion and love the fiction writer feels for something he’s working on. The fiction always comes out so horrifically defective, so hideous a betrayal of all your hopes for it — a cruel and repellent caricature of the perfection of its conception — yes, understand: grotesque because imperfect. And yet it’s yours, the infant is, it’s you, and you love it and dandle it and wipe the cerebrospinal fluid off its slack chin with the cuff of the only clean shirt you have left because you haven’t done laundry in like three weeks because finally this one chapter or character seems like it’s finally trembling on the edge of coming together and working and you’re terrified to spend any time on anything other than working on it because if you look away for a second you’ll lose it, dooming the whole infant to continued hideousness. And so you love the damaged infant and pity it and care for it; but also you hate it — hate it — because it’s deformed, repellent, because something grotesque has happened to it in the parturition from head to page; hate it because its deformity is your deformity (since if you were a better fiction writer your infant would of course look like one of those babies in catalogue ads for infantwear, perfect and pink and cerebrospinally continent) and its every hideous incontinent breath is a devastating indictment of you, on all levels… and so you want it dead, even as you dote and love and wipe it and dandle it and sometimes even apply CPR when it seems like its own grotesqueness has blocked its breath and it might die altogether.

So you’re in a bit of a dicey position: you love the infant and want others to love it, but that means you hope others won’t see it correctly. You want to sort of fool people: you want them to see as perfect what you in your heart know is a betrayal of all perfection.

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