A Supposedly Fun Thing Essay

A Supposedly Fun Thing Essay-88
(Or seven.) Had “Shipping Out” been written by someone else – had it been written, actually, by anyone else – the result would probably have been a perfectly lovely magazine essay embodying the kind of rhetorical doubling that perfectly lovely magazine essays tend to strive for: on the one hand a travelogue with a transformative narrative arc and appropriately Dickensian details…and on the other a cultural critique of the m.v. And “Shipping Out,” despite its lyricism (“I have felt the full, clothy weight of a subtropical sky”), is an argument whose poetry and provocations orbit around a single point: “There’s something about a mass-market Luxury Cruise that’s unbearably sad.” A thesis Wallace will prove through taxonomic considerations of ship-borne sorrows, through vignettes conveying both humanity and the absence of it, through rhythmic repetitions of the word “despair,” through inventories of assorted atrocities that have, in the topsy-turvy moral terrain of the Seven-Night Caribbean Cruise, adopted the guise of Mandatory Fun.

(Or seven.) Had “Shipping Out” been written by someone else – had it been written, actually, by anyone else – the result would probably have been a perfectly lovely magazine essay embodying the kind of rhetorical doubling that perfectly lovely magazine essays tend to strive for: on the one hand a travelogue with a transformative narrative arc and appropriately Dickensian details…and on the other a cultural critique of the m.v. And “Shipping Out,” despite its lyricism (“I have felt the full, clothy weight of a subtropical sky”), is an argument whose poetry and provocations orbit around a single point: “There’s something about a mass-market Luxury Cruise that’s unbearably sad.” A thesis Wallace will prove through taxonomic considerations of ship-borne sorrows, through vignettes conveying both humanity and the absence of it, through rhythmic repetitions of the word “despair,” through inventories of assorted atrocities that have, in the topsy-turvy moral terrain of the Seven-Night Caribbean Cruise, adopted the guise of Mandatory Fun.

Wallace takes a seven-day luxury cruise to the Caribbean.

These vivid, hilarious essays attracted much attention when they were originally published, but they also made Mr.

Wallace vulnerable to accusations, as a friend of mine put it, of ''sneering at ordinary people.'' Rereading them lays such reservations to rest. Wallace's humor is himself, and if he seizes upon his experiences to reveal ugly aspects of the American character, he always does it through the lens of his own worst impulses.

Compulsively analytical, he no sooner notices something -- the at first irritating ''bovine and herdlike'' movement of Midwestern fairgoers, for example -- than he's formulated a grand and quite credible theory about it: ''the vacation-impulse in rural IL is manifested as a flight-toward.

Ultimately, '' Infinite Jest'' felt noncommittal, leaving some readers unconvinced that Mr.

Wallace offered anything more than a lot of energy and a dazzling but heartless cleverness.'' A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again'' should settle the matter at last.

This collection of ''essays and arguments'' -- originally published in Harper's, Esquire and Premiere, among other magazines -- reveals Mr.

Wallace in ways that his fiction has of yet managed to dodge: as a writer struggling mightily to understand and capture his times, as a critic who cares deeply about ''serious'' art, and as a mensch. Wallace's two journalistic forays into Middle American culture: '' Getting Away From Already Being Pretty Much Away From It All,'' about a visit to the Illinois State Fair, and the title essay, in which Mr.

, the struggle between entitlement and indignation that reveals itself gradually, mercilessly, in the buildup of such apparently innocuous announcements as “I have met Cruise Staff with the monikers ‘Mojo Mike,’ ‘Cocopuff,’ and ‘Dave the Bingo Boy.’ ” Wallace is plunging us, forcefully but (this being Wallace) also charmingly, into the world of the .[1] In ceding his story, at least at its outset, to a kind of narrative nihilism, he is revealing the essay’s upshot – sadness, emptiness and the causes/manifestations thereof – even before he comes out and, un-subtly, says it.

Conga lines notwithstanding, this was not a fun trip.

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