Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Memorable Quotes from The Pale King by David Foster Wallace

He knew who on the plane was in love, who would say they were in love because it was what you were supposed to say, and who would say they were not in love. (p. 13)

A lobotomy involved some kind of rod or probe inserted through the eyesocket, the term was always “frontal” lobotomy; but was there any other kind? (p. 14)

The screen door had no screen but was still a screen door, which fact she thought upon. (p. 55)

The mother’s relational skills were indifferent and did not include truthful or consistent speech. (p. 55)

One paradox of professional writing is that books written solely for money and/or acclaim will almost never be good enough to garner either. (pp. 81-82)

If sensitive issues of governance can be made sufficiently dull and arcane, there will be no need for officials to hide or dissemble, because no one not directly involved will pay enough attention to cause trouble. (p. 84)

I don’t think my father loved his job with the city, but on the other hand, I’m not sure he ever asked himself major questions like ‘Do I like my job? Is this really what I want to spend my life doing? Is it as fulfilling as some of the dreams I had for myself when I was a young man serving in Korea and reading British poetry in my bunk in the barracks at night?’ He had a family to support, this was his job, he got up every day and did it, end of story, everything else is just self-indulgent nonsense. That may actually have been the lifetime sum-total of his thinking on the matter. He essentially said ‘Whatever’ to his lot in life, but obviously in a very different way from the way in which the directionless mastoids of my generation said ‘Whatever.’ (pp. 191-192)

For those who’ve never experienced a sunrise in the rural Midwest, it’s roughly as soft and romantic as someone’s abruptly hitting the lights in a dark room. This is because the land is so flat that there is nothing to impede or gradualize the sun’s appearance. It’s just all of a sudden there. The temperature immediately goes up ten degrees; the mosquitoes vanish to wherever exactly it is that mosquitoes go to regroup. (p. 262)

In short, not only was it surprising to be greeted in person with such enthusiastic words, but it was doubly surprising when the person reciting these words displayed the same kind of disengagement as, say, the checkout clerk who utters the words ‘Have a nice day’ while her expression indicates that it’s really a matter of total indifference to her whether you drop dead in the parking lot outside in ten seconds from now. (p. 287)

As every American knows, it is totally possible for contempt and anxiety to coexist in the human heart. The idea that people feel just one basic emotion at a time is a further contrivance of menoirs. (p. 301)

Telling the truth is, of course, a great deal trickier than most regular people understand. (p. 302)

He felt in a position to say he knew now that hell had nothing to do with fires or frozen troops. Lock a fellow in a windowless room to perform rote tasks just tricky enough to make him have to think, but still rote, tasks involving numbers that connected to nothing he’d ever see or care about, a stack of tasks that never went down, and nail a clock to the wall where he can see it, and just leave the man there to his mind’s own devices. Tell him to pucker his butt and think beach when he starts to get antsy, and that would be just the word to use, antsy, like his mother. Let him find out in time’s fullness what a joke the word was, that it didn’t come anyplace close. He’d already dusted the desk with his cuff, moved his infant son’s photo in its rattly frame where the front glass slid a bit if you shook it. He’d already tried switching the green rubber over and doing the adding machine with his left hand, pretending he’d had a stroke and was bravely soldiering on. The rubber made the pinkie’s tip all damp and pale beneath it. Unable to sit still at home, unable to look at anything for more than a second or two. The beach now had solid cement instead of sand and the water was gray and barely moved, just quivered a little, like Jell-O that’s almost set. Unbidden came ways to kill himself with Jell-O.  (pp. 379-380)

The underlying bureaucratic key is the ability to deal with boredom. To function effectively in an environment that precludes everything vital and human. To breathe, so to speak, without air.
    The key is the ability, whether innate or conditioned, to find the other side of the rote, the picayune, the meaningless, the repetitive, the pointlessly complex. To be, in a word, unbearable. I met, in the years 1984 and ’85, two such men.
    It is the key to modern life. If you are immune to boredom, there is literally nothing you cannot accomplish.  (p. 438)

Meredith Rand says: ‘You have to say little things occasionally, like it’s a real conversation, to show you’re at least interested. Otherwise the person just feels like they’re yammering and the other person could be thinking about God only knows what.’ (p. 472)

‘If you are pretty,’ Meredith Rand says, ‘it can be hard to respect guys.’ (p. 482)

It turns out that bliss—a second-by-second joy + gratitude at the gift of being alive, conscious—lies on the other side of crushing, crushing boredom. Pay close attention to the most tedious thing you can find (tax returns, televised golf), and, in waves, a boredom like you’ve never known will wash over you and just about kill you. Ride these out, and it’s like stepping from black and white into color. Like water after days in the desert. Constant bliss at every atom. (p. 546)