Pale King Contest Winners

I’ve received a ton of great submissions for the Pale King contest I announced a couple of weeks ago. I want to thank everyone who submitted entries and put thought and energy into these ideas. I was really impressed by the quality of the answers. Many of the responses to the contest about themes and ideas were lengthy and sophisticated. I truly enjoyed reading all of them. I hope you enjoy them as well.
(Winners will receive copies of David Lipsky’s Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, seek courtesy of Random House, website like this copies of David Hering’s Consider David Foster Wallace, viagra courtesy of SSMG Press, Infinite Jest posters from the amazing Sam Potts and other small prizes.)

Contest #1: Did any theme or idea in The Pale King remind you of Wallace’s earlier work?

Winner:

Matt King

The Pale King, approximately p. 270-284 vs. Infinite Jest, approximately pg. 601-619.

“The connection I have in mind concerns Wallace’s use of needlessly complicated and poorly planned (or deliberately planned to be inconvenient) parking situations and bureaucratic demands placed on specific individuals as a means of gaining insight into these characters. In the relevant section of The Pale King, David “Author Here” Wallace has to balance the (past) anxiety of his new job and the (current) demands of narration against the poorly planned parking situation at the Peoria REC. In the relevant section of Infinite Jest, Don Gately has to balance the rules of the halfway house and the consequences of Lenz’s shenanigans while also trying to make sure that the residents get their cars moved to the other side of the street. For Wallace, there seems to be a sense in which both submitting oneself to bureaucratic rules (of the halfway house, of the IRS) and enduring situations made needlessly complicated (in these cases, specifically with reference to parking) makes one stronger, or at least serves as a sort of test of Don’s and Dave’s abilities to let go of a sense of self. In other words, these scenes are about Don’s and Dave’s capacity to respond, not only to other people but to situations that test their patience and limits of boredom and annoyance.”

 

Runners Up:

James McAdams: “I noticed a direct accounting link between Sylvanshine’s observation that ‘the core accounting equation A=L+E can be dissolved into everything from E=A-L to beyond’ (The Pale King, p. 5) and one of the super long footnotes that rupture “Octet,” i.e. where the narrating author admits that ‘the Quiz spends five lines constructing a possible analogy between the world’s joy/misery ratio and the seminal double-entry A=L+E equation of modern accountancy, as if more than one person out of a thousand could possibly give a shit.’  (Brief Interviews, 150).”

Matthew Ritter: “Meredith Rand has a history of grappling with the classic objective/subject (or being-for-itself vs. being-for-others if you want to get existential) distinction. On page 484, she says, “I mean starting to see yourself as a piece of meat, that the only thing you’ve got is your looks and the way you affect boys, guys. You start doing it without even knowing your doing it. And it’s scary, because at the same time it also feels like a box; you know there’s more to you inside you because you can feel it, but nobody will ever know–not even other girls, who either hate you or are scared of you, because you’re a monopsony […]”

This discussion, the problem of being a body and, therefore, an object for others’ consumption/use is reminiscent of B.I. 46 in Brief Interviews with Hideous Men (pages 98-105) [The story in which the narrator asks “How would you feel about me tying you up?”]. In both, the point seems to be that humans are both subject and object, but object much more so. We cannot deny our embodiment, our being seen by/thought of/addressed by others, that we are not simply just who we think we are inside our own heads, but that the lion’s share of the self resides in the intangible, private, and unseen world. When being-for-others/objectivity casts too great a shadow, the eclipse of self is frightening, dangerous, and destructive.”

 

Philip Miletic: “One of the themes in Wallace’s The Pale King that has been a recurrent and rolling stone picking up moss is Trauma and the formative features of trauma on individuals or groups of individuals. Thomas Tracey, in his essay “Representations of Trauma in David Foster Wallace’s Oblivion” in Consider David Foster Wallace, draws attention to Wallace’s peaking interest in trauma: “In Oblivion…the experience of trauma touches especially on human memory, dream, and fantasy” (173); and calls Infinite Jest‘s focus on AA as “a precursor to the detailed exploration of psychological trauma we later encounter in Oblivion” (172). In a New York Times review of The Pale King, Michiko Kakutani writes, “Wallace is focused on how various characters came to work at the I.R.S. — what combination of psychological tics, childhood trauma, financial circumstance and random luck propelled them into the rat race and tossed them onto the hamster wheel that is life as accountants there, pushing paper and numbers in a deadeningly generic office fitted with fluorescent lights, modular shelving and the ceaseless “whisper of sourceless ventilation.”” The exploration of trauma as a formative function in an individual’s development is abundant in The Pale King w/ the numerous back stories (the boy who sweats, the boy who is incredibly nice and thus hated by everyone, Meredith Rand’s exhaustive retelling of her past trauma that elevates Drinion, captures his attention although some would find it drastically dull, and etc.) that may not seem overly traumatic in a blown-up magnitude kind of way, but are the little instances of trauma, sometimes subconsciously, that form character, that is unique to an individual and can be revealed to others if these small (or big) trauma are given attention. The narrator in “The Soul is Not a Smithy” calls their “unwitting” trauma “the original trauma” (Oblivion, 67) that is similar to the original sin of Adam and Eve, the original sin that is responsible of human existence. InInfinite Jest, the site of trauma is not just the AA center, but Hal too experiences trauma, discovering his father’s dead body, that forms his current identity; Joelle’s acid accident possibly gives birth to Madame Psychosis: Trauma here creates an entirely new identity. And even in The Broom of the System, Lenore Beadsman goes the traumatic experience of an identity crisis due to the shared name w/ her Grandmother, Lenore Beadsman. (This calls to attention the two David F. Wallaces in The Pale King. Because of the unfinished state of the novel, we can only imagine what traumatic experience both David Wallaces will go through, that is, from what we have only glimpsed from their displacement.) Trauma becomes for Wallace something that is overlooked, which is depressing because it is trauma that is wholly specific to an individual (even within a shared traumatic experience) and is what really creates an individual unique within a society that clumps people within groups, organizations, jobs, classes, etc.”

 

Jeff Stern: “The thing that struck me was the “what’s wrong?” device – the way the smoother of the tax guys would insert that phrase in a conversational pause strategically in order to be seen as insightful and attentive, while actually being less attentive and attuned to the person he’s listening to than he might be otherwise.  This reminded me a lot of the way that Orin would approach subjects in IJ, with the same story, the fake wedding band, and seem to connect in a way with them that other men were unable to accomplish. That sense of personal connection that is so rare – a feeling that someone really knows you, cares about you, has an instant connection in a way that others you have known your whole life have failed to make. And the parallels here are profound, I think. It’s not just the contrivance that fakes a true connection. It’s not just the way that the social con artist preys upon the ego and fragility of the subject. It’s also the newness. The way that we attach importance and profundity to someone who is able to show insight connection immediately. In fact, it seems all the more powerful that a stranger can tell you things and know things about you that those you have lived with all your life have failed to see. This is the power of fortune tellers, the power of Dr. Phil. They cut through the bullshit of everyday life in seconds and see into your soul, precisely because you are so desperate to have someone recognize you – the real *you* inside that you always keep partially hidden from the world for fear of ridicule (or worse, hurt or death due to exposure). And as a subject you don’t realize that these devices are so successful because you are just like everyone else. You don’t realize that those around you know these things too, but don’t say them out of politeness or out of fear or out of being absorbed in their own neuroses. You wouldn’t accept your friend saying this stuff to you anyway, precisely because of the shared history you have. You need to hear it from a stranger – you give them that power over you and the benefit of every doubt both because you crave that recognition and intimacy and yet are unable to deal with it on a regular basis because then that requires facing icky truths about yourself on a regular basis, and ewww.  And so whether it is the hook up artist or the professional networker, you are able to accept it then and imbue this experience with meaning and assign to this person a preternatural ability to see deep within your soul. And the nature of this exchange with a stranger or near-stranger – the social anxiety involved – helps to make it happen. And we would never do this in our regular lives with the regular people we love because we have to keep telling ourselves “this is water. this is water.” just to keep from exploding at that guy with the bad comb-over who has too many items in the express line at the grocery store, and our family – well, don’t get me started. Actual intimacy does breed contempt to a degree, and we’d much rather believe in magical intimacy even though it’s actually just pure trickery that leaves us cold and empty in the aftermath. So I guess that I think this is sort of a repetition of the theme of false intimacy trumping actual intimacy, and a sort of individualized version of the entertainment/boredom issues that Wallace addresses in IJ and TPK, flip sides of a coin on micro and macro levels, but really just talking about what it’s like to be human.”

Several folks submitted this one:  toward the end of Meredith Rand’s long monologue, she talks about “all the terrible country songs my dad used to listen to” and how if you change “the you to me, like, you understand that what they’re really singing about is losing some part of themself or betraying themself over and over for what they they think other people want.” (TPK, page 508). Wallace talks about this same phenomenon to David Lipsky in Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, page 198: “I remember just being real impatient with it [country music]. Until I’d been living here about a year. And all of a sudden I realized that, what if you just imagined that this absent lover they’re singing to is just a metaphor? And what they’re really singing to is themselves, or to God, you know?”

The Menace of Insects – Glendennings obsession with mosquitoes as it relates to fear of insects (spiders) in Infinite Jest and “Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature.”

 

Contest #2: What is the single best word in The Pale King?

Winner: banausic, page 229, submitted by Jesse Hilson

“Banausic” is defined as serving utilitarian purposes only or mechanical or practical. The word and concept  (banausos) have an impressively complex etymology related to Greek mythology, economic insults, Plato, and philistinism. So much of The Pale King concerns the class of people who appear to actively choose to serve utilitarian purposes only—the practical, mechanical, routine tasks necessary that keep the nation’s finances flowing.

Runners Up:

scirocco

blancmange

neurospiritual

Other words submitted:

titty-pincher

dyadic

agnate

anfractuous

jejune

obtundated

hypoxic

Q-tipless

[I was a little surprised that no one submitted any of the words from the opening page of the novel: shattercane, sawbrier, muscadine, vetch, invaginate, chert, corn-bound. Read these.]

Congratulations again to all the winners. I will contact you about the prizes.

Looking back through some notes I made, the “what’s wrong?” device was mentioned on p. 17, and I think the corollary to that and the Orin thing is made explicit on p. 85: “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 to distract ourselves from feeling…”

 

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