Thursday, August 26, 2010

Windows Wide Open & David Foster Wallace

66ยบ ~ sunlight creeping over my left shoulder through the trees, a promise of 86 for a high, feeling lighter than I have in weeks as the heat abates, have thrown open the windows even though I'll only be in the house for another half hour of so, cats in chaos with only screens between them and the urban wild kingdom beyond

Many thanks to my good friend Anne for sending me this quote from the beginning of David Foster Wallace's essay "A Derivative Sport in Tornado Alley" found in his book A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again.

"When I left my boxed township of Illinois farmland to attend my dad’s alma mater in the lurid jutting Berkshires of western Massachusetts, I all of a sudden developed a jones for mathematics. I’m starting to see why this was so.  College math evokes and catharts a Midwesterner’s sickness for home.  I’d grown up inside vectors, line and lines athwart lines, grids --- and, on the scale of horizons, broad curving lines of geographic force, the weird topographical drain-swirl of a whole lot of ice-ironed land that sits and spins atop plates.  The area behind and below these broad curves at the seam of land and sky I could plot by eye way before I came to know infinitesimals are easements, as integral as schema.  Math at a hilly Eastern school was like waking up; it dismantled memory and put in light.  Calculus was, quite literally, child’s play."

Confessions:
I've never been a fan of DFW, but I also have never read his essays, just attempts at his fiction.  Truthfully, Sick Puppy from Girl with Curious Hair (1989) freaked out my naive, Iowa-girl mind when I was 18.  Not sure I was ever able to overcome the trauma...I recognize this is my failing and not DFW's.

While I love what DFW says here about those vectors and lines that are imprinted on my soul and thus infuse all of my poetry, I was terrible at calculus.  In fact, I'd been excellent at math until my senior year in high school when I hit pre-calculus.  I could work the formulas and get the "right answers" for tests, but I couldn't understand what I was doing.

I confess that finding out DFW was from the Midwest, and wrote about it like this, motivates me to read more.

Here's a lovely image that includes DFW with a field of corn.  May he rest in a peace that apparently alluded him here on earth.  


Image from The Village Voice Blogs. 

4 comments:

mariegauthier said...

I didn't know DFW was a midwestern boy either! I guess b/c I live in W MA, and he's so strongly associated with Amherst College. Thanks, Sandy!

Sandy Longhorn said...

I know, M., it shifted something in my brain when I found out. :)

Tyler G said...

You should definitely give that book a try, if not for the title essay alone. That book just reeks of humankind and humanity and other human things.

Sandy Longhorn said...

Thanks, Tyler. It's definitely on the long, long list of to-reads.