Tuesday, June 23, 2015

David Foster Wallace, "The Broom of the System"

 - e-book

Read from  July 2nd to August 25th  2013

My rating:

The Word Out of System

Funny, witty and disinhibited, David Foster Wallace’s “Broom of the System” prend à la légère the theories of Wittgenstein and Derrida right from the title, whose significance is partly revealed in a dialogue between Gramma Lenore and her grandson, whom she asks about the more elemental part of the broom – the bristles or the handle. When he points the bristles, she triumphantly yells:

Aha, that's because you want to sweep with the broom... If what we wanted a broom for was to break windows, then the handle was clearly the fundamental essence of the broom

And that’s how we should enter Wittgenstein’s world ruled by language games, on the principle (contradicting Plato’s theory, of course) that ideas exist only within language. I said “we should”, because it is Wallace’s world we truly enter, a world where everybody simulates knowing the bounds within which a statement makes sense and maybe they do, but no one really communicates, so great is their desire to assert themselves and only themselves. All that is not “themselvesness” is, to use a word Rick employed to characterize his relationship with Lenore, “untalkaboutable” and uninteresting because is “elseone”.

In a subtle parody of Derrida’s terminology, Wallace creates his own words to describe this world that forever fights against communication, afraid to be swallowed by too revealing or simply too meaningful words (what’s Norman Bombardini other than a big, fat, word attempting to monopolize all possible senses?)

The book is thus made of monologues, of false interpretations and comical changes of the context in order to serve a purpose, like the delicious absurd religious meaning a reverend gives to the licentious words of a loquacious bird:

UGOLINO THE SIGNIFICANT: Use me. Satisfy me like never before.

REVEREND SYKES: Tonight we must attempt to see together that to be satisfied in a spiritual sense is to be used.

Add to this maybe the most interesting figure of the narrative, Rick the Vigorous, this “sperm without a tail”, who suffers of “penis shmenis” and hides his impotence, like Scheherazade her fear of womanhood, behind endless stories with supposedly curative powers:

Some words have to be explicitly uttered, Lenore. Only by actually uttering certain words does one really do what one says. ‘Love’ is one of those words, performative words. Some words can literally make things real.

As for Lenore, she is the girl that once fascinated the author with her wish to be rather a character in a novel than a real person. For says Antichrist:

…Lenore has you believing with your complicity, circumstantially speaking, that you’re not really real, or that you’re only real insofar as you’re told about, o that to the extent that you’re real you’re controlled, and thus not in control, so that you’re more like a sort of character than a person, really- and of course Lenore would say the two are the same, now, wouldn’t she?

Caryn James reproached the book a certain weakness of argumentation and a scholarly interpretation of the philosophical ideas: “There is too much flat-footed satire of Self and Other, too much reliance on Philosophy 101.” I’d say it’s first and last a ludical quarrel with serious problems, with all the teribilism of a 24-year-old author who wasn’t afraid to make fun a little of sacred monsters.

Even the end seems to be an amused reply to Derrida’s famous “Il n’y a pas de hors-texte”. Sure it is. It’s the tunnel of the telephone company where Lenore disappears; it’s the cold hand of the television that grabs Rick. It’s the broom that shatters every system. With which part, yours to decide J.


  1. Huh, Wallace e pe la coada listei mele de lecturi, nu mă atrage în mod deosebit. Din recenzia ta (mai scurtă decât de obicei?) deduc că nu prea are subiect - sau mă înșel? Nu că asta m-ar deranja. Aș fi vrut să știu și ce nu ți-a plăcut la cartea cu mătura, poți elabora un pic?

    1. Mi-a placut, de fapt, pe alocuri m-a distrat tare - ti-am mai spus ca trei stele ale mele [inseamna carte buna :D. Nu am nimic a-i reprosa, doar ca se vede ca e o carte de tinerete, autorul "is showing" un pic.

      Recenzia mea e mai scurta pentru ca e aia din 2013, cînd am citit cartea într-un grup de lectura cu italienii mei :) (eu am citi-o totusi în engleza).

    2. Cred totusi ca Wallaca e o experienta care merita încercata - parerea mea!

    3. Ah, Stela, tu și cu notările tale. :)) Trebuie să fie o diferență între o carte de 5 și una de 3 stele! Poate felul în care o resimți în forul tău interior? :))
      A, nu mi-am dat seama că e o recenzie mai veche, dar e foarte bine că le pui și pe blog, e păcat să nu fie aici, pentru că ai destule! Chiar și mai scurte-s bune (adică bine făcute). :)
      Da, măi, o să citesc ceva de Wallace la un moment dat (îmi place acel Wallaca :)). O curiozitate există și sunt sigură că va fi o experiență diferită de alte lecturi. Doar că abia mai scot capul la suprafață dintre cărțile de pe lista „scurtă”...

    4. O carte de 5 stele nu e neaparat o capodopera dar e sigur una care mie mi s-a parut perfecta, si suficient de memorabila încît sa vreau sa o mai citesc o data! La una de patru pun un "poate" în fata relecturii, chiar daca m-a impresionat suficient. Unei carti de trei stele îi recunosc talentul si inventitvitatea, dar fie astept ca autorul sa mai creasca, fie nu cred ca va rezista timpului - am reusit sa ma explic?
      Cu "Wallaca" vina mea, scriu repede si nu-mi recitesc mesajele, tabarnak!

  2. Oare Infinite Jest ai citit-o? Ca sint foarte curioasa de tot acest hype din jurul ei, parca m-as apuca de ea numa' de-aia, dar imi cam piere cheful la caramizi din astea...

    1. E pe lista mea de multa vreme, da' tot amîn ca-i imensa :)))). Si eu am auzit multe lucruri bune despre ea, si o sa-i vina rîndu'… cîndva - undeva :D