While reading The Pale King, Wallace’s musings on boredom really struck a chord with me:
“Maybe dullness is associated with psychic pain because something that’s dull or opaque fails to provide enough stimulation to distract people from some other, deeper type of pain that is always there, if only in an ambient, low-level way, and which most of us spend nearly all our time and energy trying to distract ourselves from feeling, or at least from feeling directly or with our full attention. Admittedly, the whole thing’s pretty confusing, and hard to talk about abstractly…but surely something must lie behind not just Muzak in dull or tedious places any more but now also actual TV in waiting rooms, supermarkets’ checkouts, airport gates, SUVs’ backseats. Walkman, iPods, BlackBerries, cell phones that attach to your head. This terror of silence with nothing diverting to do. I can’t think anyone really believes that today’s so-called ‘information society’ is just about information. Everyone knows it’s about something else, way down.”
Not only did I know exactly what he was talking about on a personal level, but I had also seen Louis C.K. recently express his frustrations about the “information society”and cell phones in a interview on Conan (which I watched, coincidentally, on my cell phone). He essentially discusses the same empty void or, as he puts it, “that forever empty” that society fills with screens and phones. (The real meat of his argument starts in around 0:50)
Wallace identifies the pain and gets really close, but isn’t necessarily able to pinpoint it. C.K. argues that the pain is really just the state of being human, and that when we’re bored and try to cover it up with a technological distraction, we prevent ourselves from really feeling the full range of human emotion. We end up being “kind of satisfied with [our] product”.
So the question is, how does something like the “boring fiction” in The Pale King work against that? Wallace’s serious discussions on self-awareness (whether or not brought on by Obetrol) are devoid of screens and brought on by sitting alone by oneself, which is exactly what C.K. mentioned. The boredom Chris Fogle experiences makes him reflect on himself, his actions, and the actions of others. Taylor mentioned in class how she had to step away from a particularly lengthy paragraph on the IRS–when we step away from those dense paragraphs, what does it do to us as the reader? And what happens if we choose instead to press on? If being bored is what makes us human, does reading this book make you a better person? Or at least more in touch with your humanity?