Public intellectual = godless intellectual

In his speculation on whether public intellectuals matter, AC Grayling somehow manages to avoid noticing the giant elephant voiding its bowels in the room.

Can one give a catch-all definition of what it is to be a “public
intellectual”? Consider this list: Bertrand Russell, Albert Einstein,
Edmund Wilson, Lionel Trilling, Stephen Jay Gould, Norman Mailer, Susan
Sontag, Noam Chomsky, Richard Dawkins, indeed anyone on Prospect’s
list of people who merit or are thought to merit the label. They have
very little in common other than intelligence and engagement, and the
fact that they speak out. Those three things, accordingly, might be
taken to capture the essence.

Very little in common other than intelligence, engagement, and the fact that they speak out?  I don’t know, my highly developed pattern recognition skills suggest to me that there just might be something else these notable public intellectuals all have in common. Let’s look over his list one by one and see what the Internet has to say about their religious beliefs.

Bertrand Russell = atheist
Albert Einstein = agnostic
Edmund Wilson = atheist
Lionel Trilling = agnostic
Stephen Jay Gould = atheist-leaning agnostic
Norman Mailer = atheist (during his years as a public intellectual)
Sontag = atheist
Noam Chomsky = atheist
Richard Dawkins = atheist

My goodness, isn’t that an astonishing surprise! It goes without saying, of course, that A.C. Grayling is himself an atheist.  This failure to note this common point is so massive, and so glaring, that it is either intentional, or worse, an indication of the very small scope of the so-called public intellectual’s perspective. Of course, we should probably keep in mind that Grayling is known for his convenient memory lapses, having once falsely accused William Lane Craig of a false claim to have debated him.

This leads me to conclude that the correct answer to Grayling’s question is that public intellectuals matter very much to other public intellectuals.  As to their importance to the vast majority of the rest of the world, who don’t give a damn what a few self-important, self-promoting, godless individuals may happen to think about anything, they clearly don’t matter at all.

As I have previously shown, despite the statistical overrepresentation of the irreligious among the highly intelligent, there are still far more highly intelligent religious individuals than there are highly intelligent irreligious individuals.  To be precise, the ratio of theists with +2SD IQs to atheists with +2 SD IQs is more than 10 to one. The more significant question, therefore, is why are all of these much more numerous highly intelligent religious individuals so few and far between on this year’s list of celebrated world thinkers?  Why are so few of them invited to give TED talks?

Do their religious beliefs somehow negate their intelligence? Or could it be that there some other mysterious factor at work? This is all so very inexplicable in light of the fact that GSS studies over the past 40 years show that the MAJORITY of atheists have IQs of 100 or less.

The business of progressive science

The Left is forever attempting to cloak its evil lunacies in the veil of scientific authority.  It has been doing so since Marx first claimed his socialism was “scientific”. That is why they so ferociously defend St. Darwin and his holy theorum, why they try to portray political opposition as mental illness, and why, in the end, so many of the scientific studies to which they point turn out to be pure fabrications.

Stapel was an academic star in the Netherlands and abroad, the author of
several well-regarded studies on human attitudes and behavior. That
spring, he published a widely publicized study in Science about an
experiment done at the Utrecht train station showing that a trash-filled
environment tended to bring out racist tendencies in individuals. And
just days earlier, he received more media attention for a study
indicating that eating meat made people selfish and less social….

Stapel’s fraud may shine a spotlight on dishonesty in science, but
scientific fraud is hardly new. The rogues’ gallery of academic liars
and cheats features scientific celebrities who have enjoyed similar
prominence. The once-celebrated South Korean stem-cell researcher Hwang
Woo Suk stunned scientists in his field a few years ago after it was
discovered that almost all of the work for which he was known was
fraudulent. The prominent Harvard evolutionary biologist Marc Hauser
resigned in 2011 during an investigation by the Office of Research
Integrity at the Department of Health and Human Services that would end
up determining that some of his papers contained fabricated data. 
Every year, the Office of Research Integrity uncovers numerous
instances­ of bad behavior by scientists, ranging from lying on grant
applications to using fake images in publications. A blog called Retraction Watch
publishes a steady stream of posts about papers being retracted by
journals because of allegations or evidence of misconduct. 
Each case of research fraud that’s uncovered triggers a similar response
from scientists. First disbelief, then anger, then a tendency to
dismiss the perpetrator as one rotten egg in an otherwise-honest
enterprise. But the scientific misconduct that has come to light in
recent years suggests at the very least that the number of bad actors in
science isn’t as insignificant as many would like to believe. And
considered from a more cynical point of view, figures like Hwang and
Hauser are not outliers so much as one end on a continuum of dishonest
behaviors that extend from the cherry-picking of data to fit a chosen
hypothesis — which many researchers admit is commonplace — to outright
fabrication. Still, the nature and scale of Stapel’s fraud sets him
apart from most other cheating academics. “The extent to which I did it,
the longevity of it, makes it extreme,” he told me. “Because it is not
one paper or 10 but many more.” 
On a Sunday morning, as we drove to a village near Maastricht to see his
parents, Stapel reflected on why his behavior had sparked such outrage
in the Netherlands. “People think of scientists as monks in a monastery
looking out for the truth,” he said. “People have lost faith in the
church, but they haven’t lost faith in science. My behavior shows that
science is not holy.”

What the public didn’t realize, he said, was that academic science, too, was becoming a business.

Science, particularly academic science, is now a big business, and it is an unusually corrupt one that is primarily dependent upon the media and government funding.  It has no practical external limitations upon it holding its businessmen accountable. As Stapel’s example demonstrates, there is absolutely nothing – nothing – reliable about it.  This point should be driven home every single time anyone makes the absurd claim that science is the best, or the only, arbiter of truth and reality.

Here is how bad the corruption is: Stapel was actually teaching a graduate seminar on research ethics. Notice too that all of the established academics who caught wind of the fraud not only looked the other way, but advised others to do so as well.

We have a word for real and genuine science that is reliable enough to be trustworthy.  Engineering.

“At the end of November, the universities unveiled their final report at a joint news conference: Stapel had committed fraud in at least 55 of his papers, as well as in 10 Ph.D. dissertations written by his students. The students were not culpable, even though their work was now tarnished. The field of psychology was indicted, too, with a finding that Stapel’s fraud went undetected for so long because of “a general culture of careless, selective and uncritical handling of research and data.” If Stapel was solely to blame for making stuff up, the report stated, his peers, journal editors and reviewers of the field’s top journals were to blame for letting him get away with it.”

Neoreactionary space

It’s an informative visual, and certainly an excellent list of blogs well worth reading, but I’m a little surprised to see myself listed in between the Christian Traditionalists and the Ethno-Nationalists rather than triangulated between Christian Traditionalists, Economists and Masculine Reaction, which would put me right in between Taki and Roosh.  It’s always interesting to see what people take away from the blog.

Not that I object to the placement, of course, since my conceptual approach has become increasingly holistic as the intrinsic relationship between diverse subjects such as economics and Christian theology, or ethno-nationalism and pick-up artistry, becomes more and more readily apparent as 21st century realities render progressive 20th century visions moot.

And Neoreactionary is an apt description for the broad spectrum of intellectuals opposed to the progressive, globalist, multicultural action from 1965 to 2008. We’re not the reactionaries epitomized by the Archie Bunker caricature, we’re not the political naifs of the Silent and Moral Majority, as we know the reality of the successful Gramscian Long March and we know the progressive arguments much better than they do themselves.

Whether it is the financial crisis of 2008, the implosion of the great global warming fraud that marks the turning point, or something altogether else, I don’t know. But I have observed that something has changed, and that the conceptual energy is now on the side of we neoreactionaries and not the intellectually exhausted equalitarians.

One has only to look at the roster of TED talks to see how worn out and tired their ideas are. We are going to win in the long run because our concepts are derived from observable reality whereas theirs are not. In the war between ought and is, is always wins.

How anti-racism creates racists

 In news that should surprise no one, it appears that all those lectures on “white privilege”, the public service announcements declaring “raciss bad”, and television shows and advertisements selling “mudshark good” only ends up making people less tolerant:

Children who are given anti-racism lessons in school are more likely to be intolerant outside the classroom, a major study found yesterday.  It said accusing white pupils of racism causes animosity, and discussing sensitive ethnic concerns such as honour killings paints minority group children in a bad light.

The survey said children who live in mixed neighbourhoods are often free of hostility towards other racial groups. But it found that ‘when more attention in class is being paid to the multicultural society, the liberalising effect of positive contact in class on youngsters’ xenophobic attitude decreases’.

This actually isn’t news; there have been several studies indicating the same effect holds true with regards to the global warming propaganda.  But what I find most interesting is that the greatest negative effect isn’t on those who are avowedly racist or simply up-to-date on the relevant science, but rather, on the very moderates to whom the racemongers are primarily attempting to appeal.

A 2002 study on advertising showed adults are similarly resistant to the anti-racist propaganda: “People in two minds about their attitudes towards ethnic minority groups
become more unfavourable when exposed to anti-racism advertising or
arguments, according to new research sponsored by the ESRC. The ‘backfire effects’ occur both in conscious and non-conscious
feelings towards people from ethnic minorities, says a report based on
studies by a team led by Dr Gregory Maio of the School of Psychology at
Cardiff University.”

I suspect the backfire effect stems from the natural human instinct to rebel against propaganda and social totalitarianism. Consider the low point of the most recent European football championship. Even the most oppressed, left-leaning, racially conscious African immigrant could not watch the clumsy anti-racist statements read out in robotic fashion by the captains of the two teams playing in the final without feeling a momentary temptation to burn a cross on someone’s lawn, paint a Swastika on a synagogue, order dog at a Chinese restaurant, and sketch a cartoon of Mohammed on the nearest napkin.

The arguments for the anti-racist position are weak and everyone knows it.  That is why the one thing they cannot permit is free and open discourse on the subject, which is a red flag in the eyes of those of every sub-species, color, or creed who happens to value human liberty.

Intellectual fads come and go. The intrinsic intellectual and scientific weakness of the equalitarian position is less demonstrated
by the counterproductive nature of the heavy propaganda as the
equalitarians obvious awareness of their need to resort to it in the
first place. Equalitarianism is merely an eyeblink in the grand course of human history and the half-century of attempts to permanently enmesh the various nationalities and human sub-species is nothing that a decade or two of intense wide-scale violence will not easily undo. The ethnic cleansings of the 21st century will be all the more brutal for the multiculturalism and diversity celebrating of the latter half of the 20th.

It should not be hard to see that love for one’s own kind has been falsely spun as hatred for the Other.  And if one is told that one already hates the Other, even when one has no opinion at all about them, then most people are more likely to graduate to genuine hatred before they will give up their natural and instinctive love for their own. 

Who among you would stop loving your child simply because you were told that your love for your child was hatred for all the other children in their school?  Perhaps the most rabbity might, but faced with such a price, even the average rabbit would shrug and admit that, yes, they do indeed hate all those others.

West Hunter abuses E.O. Wilson

Solely in the mathematical sense, you understand:

Lord Kelvin said “I often say that when you can measure what you are
speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it;
but when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre
and unsatisfactory kind; it may be the beginning of knowledge, but you
have scarcely, in your thoughts, advanced to the stage of science,
whatever the matter may be.”  Even those who didn’t have much math
sometimes wished that they did.  Chuck Darwin said “I have deeply
regretted that I did not proceed far enough at least to understand
something of the great leading principles of mathematics;  for men thus
endowed seem to have an extra sense.”

E. O. Wilson would have benefited from having that extra sense. If he
had it, he might not have suggested that ridiculous “gay uncle” theory,
in which homosexuality pays for itself genetically thru gay men helping
their siblings in ways that produce extra nieces and nephews. First,
that doesn’t even happen – so much for field work.  Second, it’s
impossible.  The relationship coefficients don’t work. Nephews and
nieces are only half as closely related as your own kids, so you’d need
four extra to break even, rather than two, as with your own kids.  Maybe
if Wilson had ever learned to divide by two, he wouldn’t have made this mistake.

Biology and softer-headed sciences such as anthropology are
absolutely rife with innumerates, and there is a cost.  If I hear one
more person say that average growth rates were very low in the old stone
age, a teeny tiny fraction of a percent [true], and so anatomically
modern humans only left Africa after it filled up, which took a hundred
thousand years, I’m gonna scream.  If I hear another anthropologist say
that she could understand how a small group could rapidly expand to fill
New Zealand, but just can’t see how they could fill up the Americas,
whole continents, in a thousand years – lady, they screwed, they had
babies, and they walked.  All it took was a weird, unacademic lifestyle
in which you raised three kids – pretty easy to do in the Happy Hunting

This is helpful in illustrating why biologists, as well as science fetishists who harbor blind faith in biologists, shy away from the sort of quantifiable questions I posed to Mike Williamson earlier this week.  It’s true that quantification is not the magical be all and end all; economics is riddled by pseudo-quantifiable fictions that lead to bad theory and even worse policies. But without numbers, there is no precision, and without precision, there is no science, there is only, as Lord Kelvin suggested, the beginning of what could, eventually, become science.

And insofar as it remains unquantifiable and non-numeric, (to say nothing of unfalsifiable), the Theorum of Evolution by (probably) Natural Selection remains a matter of philosophy, not science.

Reinhart and Roghoff respond

I have been following the mini-scandal of sorts in economics ever since the revelation that debt stars Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Roghoff committed a basic Excel error in their famous paper that served as the basis for their very good 2009 book, This Time It’s Different.  I refrained from jumping into it right away because I think it is usually best to hear what both sides have to say before attempting to reach any kind of judgment on the matter.

Also, from my neo-Austrian perspective, the basic idea that economic statistics can provide legitimate and meaningful guidelines for policy actions is a dubious one at best. The recent artificial boost to GDP by means of counting R&D expenditures twice, (to put it very, very crudely), is only one of many examples of the futility of attempting to derive economic principles from analyzing government-produced statistics.

Even so, I tended to suspect that the Neo-Keynesians were exaggerating the significance of the error, since the idea that beyond a certain amount, the addition of more debt will tend to reduce one’s ability to spend is not exactly logically controversial.  The fact that Krugman and others immediately attempted to turn the matter into a policy debate was also suspicious, since the Reinhart and Roghoff paper was hardly the only one published on the subject. And, as it happens, Reinhart and Roghoff’s response indicates that their admitted mistake was considerably less significant than the Keynesians and the inflationistas would like to pretend it is.

LAST week, we were sent a sharply worded paper by three researchers from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, at the same time it was sent to journalists. It asserted serious errors in our article “Growth in a Time of Debt,” published in May 2010 in the Papers and Proceedings of the American Economic Review. In an Op-Ed essay for The New York Times, we have tried to defend our research and refute the distorted policy positions that have been attributed to us. In this appendix, we address the technical issues raised by our critics.

These critics, Thomas Herndon, Michael Ash and Robert Pollin, identified a spreadsheet calculation error, but also accused us of two “serious errors”: “selective exclusion of available data” and “unconventional weighting of summary statistics.”

We acknowledged the calculation error in an online statement posted the night we received the article, but we adamantly deny the other accusations.

They neglected to report that we included both median and average estimates for growth, at various levels of debt in relation to economic output, going back to 1800. Our paper gave significant weight to the median estimates, precisely because they reduce the problem posed by data outliers, a constant source of concern when doing archival research that reaches far back into economic history spanning several periods of war and economic crises.

When you look at our median estimates, they are actually quite similar to those of the University of Massachusetts researchers. (See the attached table.)

Moreover, our critics omitted mention of our paper “Public Debt Overhangs: Advanced-Economy Episodes Since 1800,” with Vincent R. Reinhart, published last summer, in The Journal of Economic Perspectives. That paper, which is more thorough than the 2010 paper under attack, gives an average estimate for growth when a country’s debt-to-G.D.P. ratio exceeds 90 percent of 2.3 percent — compared to our critics’ figure of 2.2 percent. (Also see the comparisons posted by the blogger known as F. F. Wiley, including his chart, a copy of which accompanies this essay.)

Despite the very small actual differences between our critics’ results and ours, some commenters have trumpeted the new paper as a fundamental reassessment of the literature on debt and growth. Our critics have done little to argue otherwise; Mr. Pollin and Mr. Ash made the same claim in an April 17 essay in The Financial Times, where they also ignore our strong exception to the claim by Mr. Herndon, Mr. Ash and Mr. Pollin that we use a “nonconventional weighting procedure.” It is the accusation that our weighting procedure is nonconventional that is itself nonconventional. A leading expert in time series econometrics, James D. Hamilton of the University of California, San Diego, wrote (without consulting us) that “to suggest that there is some deep flaw in the method used by RR or obvious advantage to the alternative favored by HAP is in my opinion quite unjustified.” (He was using the initials for the last names of the economists involved in this matter.)

Above all, our work hardly amounts to the whole literature on the relationship between debt and growth, which has grown rapidly even since our 2010 paper was published. A number of careful empirical studies have found broadly similar results to ours. But this is not the definitive word, as a smaller number of just as scholarly papers have not found a robust relationship between debt and growth. (Our paper in The Journal of Economic Perspectives included a review of that literature.)

Researchers at the Bank of International Settlements and the International Monetary Fund have weighed in with their own independent work. The World Economic Outlook published last October by the International Monetary Fund devoted an entire chapter to debt and growth. The most recent update to that outlook, released in April, states: “Much of the empirical work on debt overhangs seeks to identify the ‘overhang threshold’ beyond which the correlation between debt and growth becomes negative. The results are broadly similar: above a threshold of about 95 percent of G.D.P., a 10 percent increase in the ratio of debt to G.D.P. is identified with a decline in annual growth of about 0.15 to 0.20 percent per year.”

It’s important to understand how deep we are into uncharted waters here, as only 8 percent of the postwar observations in advanced economies exceeded 90 percent of GDP and levels over 120 percent are almost unheard of.  But regardless, as Reinhart and Roghoff point out, there are only four options: slow growth and austerity for a
very long time, elevated inflation, financial repression and debt
restructuring.  And the only one that offers any possibility of success without massive social disruption and violence is the last one.

More importantly, as we’ll be discussing in the next round of the Inflation/Deflation debate, policy makers may not have anywhere nearly as much choice in the matter as they believe they have.

As Zerohedge notes, US Government Debt/GDP presently stands at 104.8 percent, up from 103 percent three months ago.

NFL draft: Day One

Possibly the most boring draft ever, in terms of the glamor positions, but still of interest to real NFL fans. I’m pleased with the Vikings picks; three first-round talents at DT, CB, and WR fill the three positions we most needed in the absence of a real quarterback being available. 2013 would appear to be a rebuilding season for the Vikes, barring some serious and unanticipated improvement on the part of Christian Ponder.

Anyhow, this would be your open NFL Draft discussion. Not much else worth mentioning, except for the general lack of interest shown in Geno Smith and Manti Te’o.

Book review: INFINITE JEST

David Foster Wallace
Rating: 3 of 10

If nothing else, I now understand why David Foster Wallace killed himself. Despite being built up as the literary wunderkind of his generation, despite having been widely acclaimed as the author of one of greatest novels of the 20th century, he could not escape the realization that, at least as a novelist, he was a poser and a literary charlatan. Thanks to a tireless campaign by the New York literati and the fact that so few people who claim to admire the book actually bothered to read his magnum opus, he dodged one bullet following the publication of Infinite Jest.  But he couldn’t count on doing that twice, and he must have known that he would be left exposed to all and sundry upon publication of The Pale King.

Now, I’m not the least bit intimidated by large books nor do I find their girth intrinsically impressive.  I very much enjoyed War and Peace as well as Cryptonomicon. My own most recent novel runs more than 850 pages. But I will admit that it was hard and brutal slogging through the overly self-conscious, over-educated banality of Wallace’s Infinite Jest; the only literary experience to which I can reasonably compare it is reading two of the later Robert Jordan novels in The Wheel of Time series, back to back, after both novels have been translated into German and back again into English by Google Translate.  There is considerably less pulling of braids and considerably more in the way of physical and mental abnormalities in Infinite Jest, but that’s a fair approximation of the literary pleasure one can expect to find in Wallace’s so-called masterpiece.

It doesn’t take long to recognize Wallace’s High American Lit style. If you are familiar with Tom Robbins or John Irving, then you’ve read the distillation of David Foster Wallace. Infinite Jest is little more than an oversized, incoherent, less amusing version of The World According to Garp. It takes five times longer to say less than Still Life with Woodpecker. Take a few quirky and improbably intelligent characters with exaggerated vocabularies.  Go into
excruciating detail concerning the minute-by-minute existence of their
quotidian routines, especially regarding the sexual or toilet aspects,
then throw in some highly implausible gonzo drama produced by their
relationships with their cartoonishly dysfunctional families, inexplicably deformed lovers, or hopelessly deviant housemates.  Be sure to include a strong amateur sporting
element, be it wrestling or tennis.  At all times, be careful to
utilize the high-low technique of an unfamiliar and elevated vocabulary
taken straight from the OED alternating with the crudest vulgar slang. 
The perspective, at all times, is one of vaguely bemused detachment; the
narrative only observes, it never acts.

When I finished Infinite Jest, a review of Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy by Ferdinand Bardamu came to mind: “[T]his neutered New York has produced a literati that spends all day
sniffing its own farts. Jonathan Safran Foer, Colson Whitehead, Nicole
Krauss, Gary Shteyngart, Jhumpa Lahiri, David Foster Wallace (actually
wait, he’s dead — I’ve never derived so much joy from a suicide in my
life), and all the rest: worthless hacks devoid of curiosity, humanity
or talent.”

There is very little genuine humanity in Infinite Jest. It is a curiously autistic novel, as if the emotions of the characters described in such extensive detail are being cataloged by someone who has never actually felt them. It is a decrepit bordello of freaks and wrecks, whose fictional realities are as alien as they are unconvincing to the sane and sober reader. After finishing the book, I was curious to read its various reviews in order to see who had been courageous enough to openly declare that the American literary prince was strutting about in the buff.  There were a few who weren’t afraid to point out that DFW wore no clothes, but to my surprise, easily the best review was by a writer who happens to know more than a little about inflated vocabularies and literary pretensions himself, our old friend Wängsty, known to the rest of the world as R. Scott Bakker.  In his excellent review of Infinite Jest, he writes:

Like lovers and assholes (and reviews), books sort readers. I would argue that books like Infinite Jest identify
you–your affiliations, your beliefs and values, your politics–with the
same degree of accuracy as monster truck rallies….

This is the whole reason why publishers are keen to plaster testimonials on the cover of their books: to milk our authority and social proof biases. Infinite Jest is literally festooned with blurbs from a galaxy of authoritative sources: It arrives literally armoured in literary authority. We are told by a variety of serious people (who are taken very seriously by other serious people) that this is a seriously serious book. There can be little doubt that as far as the 1996 literary ingroup was concerned, Infinite Jest was a smashing communicative success.

Which should be no surprise. “I come to writing from a pretty hard-core, abstract place,” Wallace explains in The Boston Phoenix interview. “It comes out of technical philosophy and continental European theory, and extreme avante-garde shit.” Given who he was, and given he saw this as a conversation with good friends, and given that the seriously serious readers likely shared, as good friends often do, the bulk of his attitudes and aesthetic sensibilities, it’s easy to see how this book became as successful as it did. Infinite Jest is the product of a ingroup sender communicating to other ingroup receivers: insofar as those other receivers loved it, you can say that as a communication Infinite Jest was a tremendous ingroup success.

The problem is that one can say the same about The Turner Diaries or Mein Kampf.

I don’t pretend to know what literature is any metaphysical sense, but I do think that it has to have something to do with transcendence. What distinguishes literature from fiction in general is its ability to push beyond, beyond received dogmas, beyond comfort zones, and most importantly (because it indexes the possibility of the former two), beyond social ingroups. This is why communicative success and literary success are not one and the same thing. And this is also why outgroup readers generally find ingroup estimations of literary merit so unconvincing.

Make no mistake, Infinite Jest is a piece of genre fiction: something expressly written for a dedicated groups of readers possessing a relatively fixed set of expectations. It just so happens that this particular group of readers happen to command the cultural high ground when it comes to things linguistic and narrative. 

In the immortal words of Public Enemy, don’t believe the hype. Avante-garde shit, however extreme, is still, in the end, shit, and it tends to be more noxious than the more pedestrian varieties.  Infinite Jest is what might have been a decent 250-page novel stricken with a terminal elephantiasian cancer. Wallace’s excess verbosity and endless, pointless, pretentious, indefatigable digressions hang off and over the story like giant slabs of flesh swollen with fatty tumors; if this book were to come to life and take the shape of a man, it would resemble Mohammad Latif Khatana.

The most impressive thing about Infinite Jest, or as I found myself thinking of it, Tedious Waste, is the sheer magnitude of the deceit in the Foreword written by David Eggers.  There has seldom been a less honest paragraph written in the English language than this one:

“The book is 1,079 pages long and there is not one lazy sentence. The book is drum-tight and relentlessly smart, and though it does not wear its heart on its sleeve, it’s deeply felt and incredibly moving. That it was written in three years by a writer under thirty-five is very painful to think about. So let’s not think about that. The point is that it’s for all these reasons — acclaimed, daunting, not-lazy, drum-tight, very funny (we didn’t mention that yet but yes) — that you picked up this book. Now the question is this: Will you actually read it?”

There may not be one lazy sentence, whatever that might be, but there are thousands of totally unnecessary ones. The book is not drum-tight; it doesn’t even have an ending, or, for that matter, a coherent plot — and before any literati groupies attempt to protest, I will note that Wallace himself openly admitted as much — and it cannot possibly, by any reasonable metric, be described as “very funny”.  There are the occasional moments where Infinite Jest generates mild amusement, to be sure, but I never once on any of the 1,079 pages found myself provoked to laughter. It is not deeply felt; the descriptions of the game of tennis are far more loving than those of any of the human relationships, and I have to sincerely question the sanity of anyone who found it “incredibly moving”. It does not wear its heart on its sleeve because it does not have one; it is heartless.

Eggrers’s Foreword is pure PR puffery on a scale to make the inveterate circle-jerkers known as the FourThree Horsemen of the New Atheism roll their eyes.

It is telling that the reader has to be challenged to actually read it the book they are, by virtue of reading the forward, presently reading.  And yet, there is no point to actually reading the novel, even if one wishes to claim the literary cred for doing so. Given the observed behavior of the sort of people who desperately want to be seen as the sort of person who adores this sort of thing, the sort of individual who very much wants to consider himself part of the in-group for whom Wallace was writing, one can be sure that very, very few of them will have actually read more than a few chapters.  A few casual references to “wheelchair terrorists”, “that amazing game that combined geopolitics with tennis”, and “lethally enstupidating Entertainment”, plus throwing in a knowing joke about this being “The Year of The Taco Bell Cool Ranch Doritos Locos Taco”, should inspire sufficient panic in any other individual who pretends to have read Infinite Jest to convince him to enthusiastically nod, vociferously agree, and immediately change the subject.

I can’t say that I derived any pleasure, let alone joy, from David Foster Wallace’s suicide. But it doesn’t surprise me terribly to learn that a man whose whole essence and identity were derived from the supposedly exceptional quality of his writing would elect to kill himself after producing such a overrated work of unmitigated fraudulence. 

Infinite Jest is a joke, but it isn’t one that is intended at the reader’s expense. It is the author’s bitter view of himself and the small, shallow make-believe world in which he lived.

Story: 1 of 5.  I won’t even bother attempting to describe the plot, such as it is.  Suffice it to say that it is ludicrous, unconvincing, incoherent, unfinished, weirdly remniscent of the 1970s, and despite Wallace’s attempt to involve the reader’s imagination in its completion, leaves him absolutely devoid of any curiosity concerning “what really happened”.  The insufficiently well-read might be surprised, even angered, to find their arduous effort in finishing the book so poorly rewarded. Those more familiar with the eminently predictable tricks of the neutered New York literati will simply smile wryly and close the book with a dismissive “yeah, I expected as much.”

Style: 3 of 5. Harold Bloom was a little too harsh when he said: “Infinite Jest is just
awful. It seems ridiculous to have to say it. He can’t think, he can’t
write. There’s no discernible talent.”  There is talent there, there is intelligence, the problem is that it is not put to effective use.  Wallace can write, but apparently his editor can’t edit. I enjoyed the occasional adroit turn of phrase, but they were far too few and far between to make up for the run-on sentences. I’ve translated Umberto Eco sentences from Italian that required five separate English sentences to make proper sense, and they were still shorter than some of Wallace’s unnecessarily extended monstrosities.

Characters: 0 of 5. I don’t think it is controversial to say that you not only will find it hard to keep the vast cast of characters straight, but you won’t give a damn about what happens to any of them.  It’s almost a remarkable achievement of sorts that Wallace can provide so much detail about so many characters without making any of them feel even remotely credible or breathing life into any of them.  It takes a certain amount of inadvertent skill to render a healthy young NFL punter who seduces every woman he comes across almost completely indistinguishable from a hospitalized former drug addict who is the whitest knight in the history of American literature. And Wallace’s characters aren’t merely cardboard, they are cut out from a John Irving novel.

Creativity: 3.5 of 5. I didn’t really know how to fairly consider this. Infinite Jest is certainly creative in certain senses, such as its structure and in some of the details of the idiotic plot. Its delving into the experience of addiction is actually fairly good. In other ways, there is a rigid adherence to exactly what one would expect from an author writing in this genre, complete with all the politically correct prejudices and myopic sensitivities. But in sum, it is different than the average novel, so I’m choosing to err on the side of mild generosity here.


On a White Flag Group Commitment to the Tough Shit But You Still Can’t Drink Group down in Braintree this past July, Don G., up at the podium, revealed publicly about how he was ashamed that he still as yet had no real solid understanding of a Higher Power. It’s suggested in the 3rd of Boston AA’s 12 Steps that you to turn your Diseased will over to the direction and love of ‘God as you understand Him.’ It’s supposed to be one of AA’s major selling points that you get to choose your own God. You get to make up your own understanding of God or a Higher Power or Whom-/Whatever. But Gately, at like ten months clean, at the TSBYSCD podium in Braintree, opines that at this juncture he’s so totally clueless and lost he’s thinking that he’d maybe rather have the White Flag Crocodiles just grab him by the lapels and just tell him what AA God to have an understanding of, and give him totally blunt and dogmatic orders about how to turn over his Diseased will to whatever this Higher Power is. He notes how he’s observed already that some Catholics and Fundamentalists now in AA had a childhood understanding of a Stern and Punishing–type God, and Gately’s heard them express incredible Gratitude that AA let them at long last let go and change over to an understanding of a Loving, Forgiving, Nurturing–type God. But at least these folks started out with some idea of Him/Her/It, whether fucked up or no. You might think it’d be easier if you Came In with 0 in the way of denominational background or preconceptions, you might think it’d be easier to sort of invent a Higher-Powerish God from scratch and then like erect an understanding, but Don Gately complains that this has not been his experience thus far. His sole experience so far is that he takes one of AA’s very rare specific suggestions and hits the knees in the A.M. and asks for Help and then hits the knees again at bedtime and says Thank You, whether he believes he’s talking to Anything/-body or not, and he somehow gets through that day clean. This, after ten months of ear-smoking concentration and reflection, is still all he feels like he ‘understands’ about the ‘God angle.’ Publicly, in front of a very tough and hard-ass-looking AA crowd, he sort of simultaneously confesses and complains that he feels like a rat that’s learned one route in the maze to the cheese and travels that route in a ratty-type fashion and whatnot. W/ the God thing being the cheese in the metaphor. Gately still feels like he has no access to the Big spiritual Picture. He feels about the ritualistic daily Please and Thank You prayers rather like like a hitter that’s on a hitting streak and doesn’t change his jock or socks or pre-game routine for as long as he’s on the streak. W/ sobriety being the hitting streak and whatnot, he explains. The whole church basement is literally blue with smoke. Gately says he feels like this is a pretty limp and lame understanding of a Higher Power: a cheese-easement or unwashed athletic supporter. He says but when he tries to go beyond the very basic rote automatic get-me-through-this-day-please stuff, when he kneels at other times and prays or meditates or tries to achieve a Big-Picture spiritual understanding of a God as he can understand Him, he feels Nothing — not nothing but Nothing, an edgeless blankness that somehow feels worse than the sort of unconsidered atheism he Came In with. He says he doesn’t know if any of this is coming through or making any sense or if it’s all just still symptomatic of a thoroughgoingly Diseased will and quote ‘spirit.’ He finds himself telling the Tough Shit But You Still Can’t Drink audience dark doubtful thoughts he wouldn’t have fucking ever dared tell Ferocious Francis man to man. He can’t even look at F.F. in the Crocodile’s row as he says that at this point the God-understanding stuff kind of makes him want to puke, from fear. Something you can’t see or hear or touch or smell: OK. All right. But something you can’t even feel? Because that’s what he feels when he tries to understand something to really sincerely pray to. Nothingness. He says when he tries to pray he gets this like image in his mind’s eye of the brainwaves or whatever of his prayers going out and out, with nothing to stop them, going, going, radiating out into like space and outliving him and still going and never hitting Anything out there, much less Something with an ear. Much much less Something with an ear that could possibly give a rat’s ass. He’s both pissed off and ashamed to be talking about this instead of how just completely good it is to just be getting through the day without ingesting a Substance, but there it is. This is what’s going on. He’s no closer to carrying out the suggestion of the 3rd Step than the day the Probie drove him over to his halfway house from Peabody Holding. The idea of this whole God thing makes him puke, still. And he is afraid. 

And the same fucking thing happens again. The tough chain-smoking TSBYSCD Group all stands and applauds and the men give two-finger whistles, and people come up at the raffle-break to pump his big hand and even sometimes try and hug on him.

It seems like every time he forgets himself and publicizes how he’s fucking up in sobriety Boston AAs fall all over themselves to tell him how good it was to hear him and to for God’s sake Keep Coming, for them if not for himself, whatever the fuck that means.