Monday, March 4, 2013

From Black and White to Color

David J. Michael reviews the work of David Foster Wallace, and focuses on a little piece in The Pale King about boredom:
The new book was to be set at an IRS processing center in central Illinois and would follow around a group of low-level IRS examiners tasked with auditing tax returns. To prepare, he took several classes in accounting, and assembled hundreds of pages of research on boredom. One of the characters describes the boredom of this work as "boredom beyond any boredom he'd ever felt," another as "soul murdering." But Wallace wanted to show what lie on the other side of boredom:
Ability to pay attention. 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 in every atom.
If such bliss after boredom does exist, Wallace wasn't able to find it. The writing was dragging on without end. Unsurprisingly, a book dramatizing boredom was difficult to write, more difficult than he'd imagined.
I'm currently partway through my annual Lenten diet/fast.  It started out years ago as a spiritual sacrifice, limiting myself to one small meal a day with no snacks, 6 days a week, throughout Lent.  It got rid of most of my favorite bits of junk food, and made the meals much more, well, boring.  As it has gone along, and my faith has wavered, it has turned into a starvation-style diet to try to offset eating way too much bad food and drinking too many beers and not exercising all of the rest of the year.  But one of the little pleasures I have noticed is that even when I am eating what amounts to pretty bland food, it seems so damn good.  Kind of that water after days in the desert.  I think that would also be represented, even though I don't plan to experience it anytime soon, by the "runner's high."  Kind of a pleasure through pain sensation.  My conception doesn't make total sense, but I think that is kind of what Wallace is getting at with this bit about boredom.  To paraphrase Jim Morrison, it is about breaking through to the other side.

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