Quotes from David Foster Wallace’s “Both Flesh and Not: Essays

I’ve reviewed the book here.

There’s Nadal’s habit of constantly picking his long shorts out of his bottom as he bounces the ball before serving, his way of always cutting his eyes warily from side to side as he walks the baseline, like a convict expecting to be shanked.

You more have to come at the aesthetic stuff obliquely, to talk around it, or“”as Aquinas did with his own ineffable subject“”to try to define it in terms of what it is not.

Velocity’s just one part of it. Now we’re getting technical. Tennis is often called a game of inches, but the cliché is mostly referring to where a shot lands. In terms of a player’s hitting an incoming ball, tennis is actually more a game of micrometers: vanishingly tiny changes around the moment of impact will have large effects on how and where the ball travels. The same principle explains why even the smallest imprecision in aiming a rifle will still cause a miss if the target’s far enough away.

Mario Ancic’s first serve, for instance, often comes in around 130 m.p.h. Since it’s seventy-eight feet from Ancic’s baseline to yours, that means it takes 0.41 seconds for his serve to reach you.9 This is less than the time it takes to blink quickly, twice.

My complaint against trash fiction is not that it’s plebeian, and as for its rise I don’t care at all whether post-industrial liberalism squats in history as the culprit that made it inevitable. My complaint against trash isn’t that it’s vulgar art, or irritatingly dumb art, but that, given what makes fiction art at all, trash is simply unreal, empty“”and that (aided by mores of and by TV) it seduces the market writers need and the culture that needs writers away from what is real, full, meaningful.

blepharospasm“”spasmodic winking from eyelid muscle spasm

Caesar non supra grammaticos“”saying: “Even Caesar is not above grammar/grammarians“

callipygian“”having beautiful buttocks

it’s also true that Mark Philippoussis, close up, looks amazingly like Gaby Sabatini“”I mean amazingly, right down to the walk and the jaw line and the existentially affronted facial expression.

ecdysiast“”striptease artist

electuary“”mix of drugs w/sugar or honey to make them ingestible, tasty

“Fair maiden“ means “good-looking virgin,“ by the way.

“The human will to fuck“? Any animal can fuck. But only humans can experience sexual passion, something wholly different from the biological urge to mate. And sexual passion’s endured for millennia as a vital psychic force in human life“”not despite impediments but because of them. Plain old coitus becomes erotically charged and spiritually potent at just those points where impediments, conflicts, taboos, and consequences lend it a double-edged character“”meaningful sex is both an overcoming and a succumbing, a transcendence and a transgression, triumphant and terrible and ecstatic and sad. Turtles and gnats can mate, but only the human will can defy, transgress, overcome, love: choose.

And the erotic charge of hazard surrounding sex and HIV doesn’t mean we can continue to engage in sport-fucking in the name of “courage“ or romantic “will.“ In fact, AIDS’s gift to us lies in its loud reminder that there’s nothing casual about sex at all. This is a gift because human sexuality’s power and meaning increase with our recognition of its seriousness. This has been what’s “bad“ about casual sex from the beginning: sex is never bad, but it’s also never casual.

It augurs ill for both Furlong and Cameron that within minutes of John Connor’s introduction in the film we’re rooting vigorously for him to be Terminated.

gastine“”?? ghost??

THE BEST METAPHOR I know of for being a fiction writer is in Don DeLillo’s Mao II, where he describes a book-in-progress as a kind of hideously damaged infant that follows the writer around, forever crawling after the writer (i.e., dragging itself across the floor of restaurants where the writer’s trying to eat, appearing at the foot of the bed first thing in the morning, etc.), hideously defective, hydrocephalic and noseless and flipper-armed and incontinent and retarded and dribbling cerebrospinal fluid out of its mouth as it mewls and blurbles and cries out to the writer, wanting love, wanting the very thing its hideousness guarantees it’ll get: the writer’s complete attention.

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.

isochronal“”equal in duration, taking same amount of time

keloid“”a red raised scar from an injury

Omensetter’s Luck by William H. Gass (1966) Gass’s first novel, and his least avant-gardeish, and his best. Basically a religious book. Very sad. Contains the immortal line “The body of Our Saviour shat but Our Saviour shat not.“ Bleak but gorgeous, like light through ice.


oneiric“”of, relating to, or suggestive of dreams

osculate“”to kiss

parallax“”apparent change in the direction of an object caused by change in the ob-server’s position & new line of sight

paraphilia“”unhealthy sexual perversion

Poobah“”pompous, ostentatious official, especially one who, holding many offices, fulfills none of them

primipara“”woman who’s pregnant for the first time

The idiom beg the question is the compressed Anglicization of the Latin petitio principii, which is the name of a particular kind of logical fallacy in which one bases a conclusion on a premise that turns out to be just as debatable as the conclusion. Genuine examples of begging the question are “The death penalty is the proper punishment for murder because those who kill forfeit their own right to life“ and “True wisdom is speaking and acting judiciously.“ Because of its extremely specific origin and meaning, beg the question will never mean “invite the question“ no matter how widespread the usage becomes. Nor, strictly speaking, will it mean “avoid or ignore the real issue,“ even though a subsidiary def. of beg is “to dodge or evade.“ If you want to accuse someone of missing the point, you can say “You’re begging the real issue“ or something, but it’s not right to use even this sense of beg with question unless you are sure that you’re talking about a case of petitio principii.

Fervent    A beautiful and expressive word that combines the phonological charms of verve and fever. Lots of writers, though, think fervent is synonymous with fervid, and most dictionary defs. don’t do much to disabuse them. The truth is that there’s a hierarchical trio of zeal-type adjectives, all with roots in the Latin verb fervre (= to boil). Even though fervent can also mean extremely hot, glowing (as in “Fingering his ascot, Aubrey gazed abstractedly at the brazier’s fervent coals“), it’s actually just the baseline term; fervent is basically synonymous with ardent. Fervid is the next level up; it connotes even more passion/devotion/eagerness than fervent. At the top is perfervid, which means extravagantly, rabidly, uncontrollably zealous or impassioned. Perfervid deserves to be used more, not only for its internal alliteration and metrical pizzazz but because its deployment usually shows that the writer knows the differences between the three fervre-words.

Noma    This medical noun signifies an especially icky ulcerous infection of the mouth or genitals. Because the condition most commonly strikes children living in abject poverty/squalor, it’s a bit like scrofula. And just as the adj. scrofulous has gradually extended its sense to mean “corrupt, degenerate, gnarly,“ so nomal seems ripe for similar extension; it could serve as a slightly obscure or erudite synonym for “scrofulous, repulsive, pathetically gross, grossly pathetic““¦ you get the idea.

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One Response to “Quotes from David Foster Wallace’s “Both Flesh and Not: Essays“”

  1. Niklas' blog » Blog Archive » Review: David Foster Wallace: “Both Flesh and Not: Essays“ Says:

    […] My selected quotes from the book are found here. […]

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