Read from July 2nd to August 25th 2013
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.