Recently I’ve found my poetry drifting away from the melancholic, transgressive Beat-inspired subjects of past years and into territory that feels as though it has merged with a lot of my critical output, focussing ever more on “the state of the arts.” Much of it has been a lament. Occasionally there is a celebration. At some stage it feels as though this is going to coalesce into some kind of a show/lecture on modern (and, indeed, Modernist) literature and culture in general. For now, it is a series of disparate pieces. This particular piece came from a twitter conversation I had on #futurechat a few weeks ago. The general conversation was about writers genuinely engaging with, as opposed to simply using and being part of, digital culture. Alt Lit was inevitably part of that conversation, but I wanted to centre it around David Foster Wallace. “Have you really got nothing more than that?” asked my interlocutor, “He’s been dead almost 10 years.” And I thought. And thought some more, and this emerged, a reflection on the writers who came after, and their relation to DFW.
Oh David Foster Wallace!
Bandanaed Baptist of frat boy angst
Did you spill your milk in the wilderness for this!
Your children had visions of Christopher Hitchens
Expounding the kitschness of Kylie Minogue
And drowned in the sound
Of a thousand interrobangs all gone rogue.
Hipsters who announced with theatrical thunder
Manifestos of derivative syntactical plunder
Carefully avoiding a thematical blunder
With a cultural emetic administered down under
For the discretest verbal tactical chunder;
Reblogging flawless gifs on a radical tumblr
only if they find themselves a practical funder
They veered violently away from the terrorist menace
They believed that life was a metaphor for tennis.
They thought the poet’s job was to be erudite and jokey
But irony’s just gaslighting all lagered-up and blokey.
Oh David Foster Wallace you were the fugu chef who fed a generation similes
You filleted the poison till your blistered lips bled homilies
But your exquisite loins bred cynics who barked satire like Diogenes
Who never spotted the intransigence of rhizomes of misogyny.
They paraded privilege like legs that wear the stockings of neutrality
Got shocked by the suggestion that they’re masking a disparity,
Danced like vampires in the sunlight at the thought of things declarative,
Had tantrums when you told them that it wasn’t all comparative.
They never noticed that they never met a better metanarrative.
Oh David Foster Wallace, I say to your worshippers
The functions performed by the clowns in our circuses
Are wit in the service of sinister purposes
And timely reminders of ultimate worthlessness
And gouging chunks from the skin of our cultural surfaces.