I was inducted into the cult this weekend, devouring this collection of essays, enjoying the tapdancing in my head, exhausting my dictionary. All those rabid fans are right– Wallace is one of the greats. This collection includes extensions of work published in Harper’s, Harvard Book Review, Premier, Esquire, and The Review of Contemporary Fiction. The topics cover: tennis in tornado conditions, the impact of television on culture, David Lynch, an Illinois state fair, deconstructionism, how pro tennis players differ from us, and a 7 day Caribbean cruise. It is hilarious, achingly well written, and mind-stretching. The work speaks for itself, I will not attempt my usual desultory summarization. Instead, I leave bread crumbs of words that I picked up from the 300+ pages. I am now interested in details like what Wallace circled in his dictionary. Rabbit hole, here I come.
A partial word list I learned or re-introduced myself to:
ectomorphic, melisma, strabismus, lacuna, senescence, thanatology, saprophytic, spume, gestalt, preterite, rictus, titivate, onanism, olla podrida, hermeneutic, ablate, crepuscular, anamorphic, pulchritude, weltschmerz, teleological, ad hominem, exergue, ostensive, otiose, commissure, promulgate, enfilade, plangent, soteriology, eidetic, solmization, coffle, solipsism, prurient, synecdoche, hebephrenia, saurian, glabrous, candent, miscegenation.
Some of my favorites from the above:
- lacuna: blank space or missing part
- spume: frothy matter on liquid (and called out as DFW’s favorite word learned on the cruise)
- rictus: a gaping grin
- titivate: to spruce up
- ablate: to remove by cutting/evaporating; to vaporize
- weltschmerz: depression about state of world compared to ideal state
- otiose: futile
- plangent: having a loud reverberating sound
- solipsism: extreme egoism
- glabrous: smooth, hairless
When my dictionary failed me, I searched for definitions online (for plumeocide), which led me to other people’s word-love with Wallace. I like this community.
Wallace seemed to prefer certain words, too. My unsophisticated noticing saw several uses of these in the book: miscegenation, plangent, sophist, instantiate, otiose, promulgate, weltschmerz.