Some of the most singular moments in understanding come on as if being shook: a presence entering the body unto some new consideration of how that entrance might occur. One kind of a map of a version of one’s self might be determined by considering among the terrain of the body a series of approached organs; objects imbibed, in what order, how one’s own output is affected; what is out there; what is. Seeing does this. Language, more indirectly, does this, too: entering as symbols and networks of orchestrations. Some strings of language, as well, leave in their wake a total reinvention of creation as an act, iconing on the map of self, and many selves; updating or widening or recalcifying what any kind of words can, could, or should do.
I can remember with unusual clarity the feeling in me the first time I read David Foster Wallace’s “Mister Squishy.” It was published under the name Elizabeth Klemm in the 5th issue of McSweeney’s in 2000, but by the time the magazine reached my hands I’d already heard on the Wallace listserv that this rather lengthy piece of fiction could only ever be written by him; there could have been nobody else. I was already a rabid Wallace freak; I’d pretty much begun writing fiction as a direct byproduct of reading Infinite Jest, and since then become obsessed. I read this story, long as perhaps 3 normal stories, on a futon in a house in one sitting under a skylight with legs crossed, already ready to be lit. And yet, the particular instance of “Mister Squishy,” even having then been well versed in a way that somehow placed the author’s presence in my daily thoughts (which has not since then stopped), rendered in me that the first time something different even than what I’d been ready to expect: some odd confabulation of provocation, confusion, inundated awe; a feeling rare not only for any kind of language, but particularly for a shorter work. This was something singular beyond even the already neon body of Wallace’s work in constellation, and in particular, beyond the confines of what a story as a “story,” or a novel even, or text as text, traditionally operationally assists to construe.
Since then I’ve read the 63 pages of “Mister Squishy” at least a dozen times. I’m not sure even still I can begin to wholly how to parse the innumerable levels of its moves, using tactics and employments that continue shifting with each reconsideration and further study in the way a Magic Eye painting might if it could get up and walk around: a kind of high water mark of contained language and ambition, since then, now ten years later, still uncontested in the ways of invoking the uninvocable, the void. It is a station, I believe, should be reexamined; it is, in many ways, a kind of key to a beyond, both in the content of the story, and the method of its opening a new kind of affect in languageground, one that still has yet to be, these years later, fully inculcated, or because of time’s way, even unpacked.
“Mister Squishy” opens in midst of something already underway: “The Focus Group was then reconvened in another of Reesemeyer Shannon Belt Advertising’s nineteenth-floor conference rooms.” This kind of opening, wherein the reader is inducted into something forces him to assume a certain amount of momentum elapsed prior to the text’s initiation, not as backstory, but as present motion clipped into already underway, is a device not unfamiliar, but often misplaced or mistakable in other fictions. Here the method seems to set you down into a record of no sound, as what comes after this motion opener is not at all the kind of action one would expect having snipped into: a test panel being performed with a focus group for a major market research corporation.
Wallace’s narration for the remainder of the opening graph concerns itself with his by now patent Wallaceian descriptive eye, which somehow manages to operate both clinically and with odd persona flourishes to create an equally spartan and familiar-without-demanding-familiarity sense of air. Of all of the particularities of Wallace’s voice that make his megasentenced, highly aware narration affective and so wanting in the reader is this seamless balance of the voice, almost like the kind of beautiful human robot we find in children’s films: it should have no emotion, because it is machine, but it cannot help but leak some warmth in through its frame. Here it is even more subtle than in other Wallace texts: “Bottled spring water and caffeinated beverages were made available to those who thought they might want them.” Refreshing, yes, if queerly common, a disarmingly simple kind of calm, inside the plastic den: it is like being given a tour of a new home by a friend you have known a long time and never gotten quite past a certain formality with; it wants you to settle in without particular discomfort, and yet there are these rooms to see.
The first 7 pages of the story then proceed in primarily this opening voice, describing in selective, explicit detail the fourteen members of a marketing focus group, all men between the age of 18 and 39, who for the most part are rendered by certain peculiarities about their appearance or demeanor. Other descriptions reduce the men to percentages of how many of them of the whole share certain sociological traits. There is little reference to actual names, and for the most part the characterization, the tolling of the “human” quantity present seems glassy, glancing, if peppered still with Wallace’s strange homey/alien flares that create quiet bursts of seemingly sourceless warmth. This makes sense, given the focus of the story’s concentration: marketing research, but also carries with it a kind of double front, as if we are waiting for the wall to turn reflective, be a mirror.
A pair of short (for Wallace) single sentences in the first 8 pages also are separated from the larger graphs, letting two twin hiccups stand alone, suggesting, in other models of singling out of ideas in paragraphic structures, that these items should carry heavier weight, and yet each of them seem oddly devoid of character beyond the way they render air both populated and unused. On the first page, the second graph, in full, reads: “There were more samples of the product arranged on a tray at the conference’s table’s center.” At the point of this pronouncement we don’t even know what ‘the product’ is yet, which in closer looking at that sentence as it stands alone among the larger fields seems, if you let it, terrifying, while also, blank. On page 5 (and here, as I will do from now on, I’m referring to page lengths and numbers by their appearance in the later version of the story as it appears collected in Wallace’s final fiction collection, Oblivion): “Traffic was brisk on the street far below, and also trade.” Again, a singled away graph that seems to offer nothing but an abstruse pawing at the air surrounding the building we are so far housed in, which as the story goes on, will never in present moment action camera away from beyond a edgeless lip of locality for the building, as if the building could be in any city large enough to have a building of such size, oddly monolithic as not even other neighboring buildings are described.
Rigorous attention in these opening pages is also paid to Terry Schmidt, the focus group’s “facilitator,” who instructs the group on the surveying method for the panel, responding to the afternoon’s product of their concern: Felonies!, a high end chocolate desert that intends to create its own niche in the dessert snack food market by embracing its indulgence in the midst of a trend of diet foods and self-conscious consumption, manufactured by a brand known as Mister Squishy. These details are presented almost without clear reasoning as to why so much detail is necessary as to the nature of the focus study, even being important enough as object to provide the text’s title with its name, and yet in Wallace’s voice is carried forward by its pleasurable exactitude and voicing. It is equally obsessive, benign, and seemingly puffy, like a plastic bag being slowly blown into with a mouth; each reread I’ve done on these sections, after knowing how they will play out (which is, mostly, not at all, in way of action, but all potential and in paused thrall), has evoked further sublimity in the somewhat cryptic meandering of the buried information, like little cells that take their own air and eat it and stay full, coupled with a teeming rubber silence that builds between them, on the edge of equally collapse and an implosion even knowing later (kind of) what they will entail.
Near the end of these 7 pages of market-speak brick laying, before the major first shift in perspective that will come on the next page in the same utterance of flow, Wallace leaks a parallelism in the narration of Schmidt’s persona and function as a human and the leading of text’s as object, in its manner, unto what as we continue might open larger light: “The whole problem and project of descriptive statistics was discriminating between what made a difference and what did not.” The sentence comes among one of many in the same mode, a placid straight-face that over the course of the whole text never truly breaks. This early in the work we could take this to mean a more common idea of language making, such that any detail is an important detail, by its inclusion, even if some push us further than others in the mix; as more such slight intentional slips emerge between author and himself (not the reader, because this is an organism rather than a fable), we will begin, I believe, to find something more akin to the opposite: that anything is the thing itself; is not constructed metaphorically, but in orchestration of reflection of itself seeing itself, and thus has almost no quality beyond what it is not. As we continue, this idea will continue to be slightly adjusted and rolled against in other hidden and undirectly applied threads, all of which, in a certain mode of consideration, could be said to be tooling not with the characters or scenarios contained on paper, but in the nature of the reader’s, and the author’s, heads: a breaking of the third wall without acknowledging the third wall, and w/o regard for the old idea that you should not interrupt some narrative “dream,” though among the meat of such a dream so undreamed it feels not dreamlike but equations, machines in purring, a song made out of symbols. Where the blur fits onto the person, I’ve felt in all my time in brain with this text, is less a question of reflecting the human, or even directly altering the human, but installing in the head a little blip or tiny mirror that over time, in me at least, causes longer term station: here, then, the rendering upon the “human element” is not a question of conveying emotion, or even direct affect, but by infecting me with what I do not realize I am being infected by because it is in me and so becomes me and is there. For all of those who’ve championed Wallace’s wishing to portray the human, to use emotion in a text, this effect in “Mister Squishy” is perhaps one of the greatest examples of how this semblance is not actually a function of empathy, narration, identity, or drama, but more a product brought on by evoking something that otherwise does not exist, and installing it in the function of the reader without them even fully knowing why: a power entered in the flesh, unto the flesh: no parable, or index, but a twinning, a sum towards the zero, made of activated mechanical work.
“You’re trying somehow both to deny and affirm that the writer is over here with his agenda,” Wallace said to Larry McCaffery, “while the reader’s over there with her agenda, distinct. This paradox is what makes good fiction sort of magical, I think.”
And so now: on Page 13, without visual demarcation beyond new paragraphing, and without a switch in tone, the text then abruptly but fluidly alternates to a second present moment setting of the story: what is going on outside the building that focus group convenes at the same time as they convene. Which is: a “figure” appears in “free climb” on the building’s face, outfitted with Lycra, GoreTex, and suction cups. The figure begins moving up the windows of the building without clear intent or cause, in a “manner of climbing [that] appeared almost more reptilian than mammalian, you’d have to say.” Wallace uses only one average sized graph to introduce the figure, as well as the crowd that begins to observe him from below. The next graph immediately again returns to the conference room, leaving this instance as a thin, black jump cut in the progression, glimpsed on and left wide; this toggling will occur at various points throughout the remainder of the explication of the story’s primary focus on the focus group.
From here on, under the new veil, even as the pacing, ad-language, and weirdly poised corporate speak continue, we are suddenly blanketed with a latent building terror: we don’t know what the two modes have business about together, or why so casually we’ve been dunked into the other frame, like a sporadic appearance of a black screen slipped into our usual program. On first read, one must assume the figure outside the building will collide with something inside, the scenes will merge. The assumed potential splay of this impending collision (which, spoiler: will never come; at least, not physically) sends both a backdraft through the lengthy set up, of what had been and would be coming, between glass, and an increasingly taut string of pull-me-forward, wherein, throughout the pacing, we are flinching for the bang. This bang, however, is semantic, and therefore, even up until today as I am typing still inside me will recoil; if anything, too, on rereading, once we know, this duality is weirdly even more alarming, because in never fully playing out or directly corresponding, we are not allowed to touch: the run off, then, runs off of page of the book and is left to spill into the mind. More than a simple “human” ramification product, and more, too, than sound-based language without clear frame wide-open unto all, the split is a shriek that keeps repeating, and will repeat without end.
Our return to the description of the focus group’s outfitting in the next graph is not wholly left to be carried by the sudden latent paranoia of the figure; at the end of the graph, on page 14, the fabric of the speaking shifts again. In the last third of this next graph we are suddenly dropped from what seemed a third person omniscient voice, into a first person omniscient, again without cursor blinkage between modes: “…he also had an over-shoulder bag he kept in his cubicle. I was one of the men in this room, the only one wearing a wristwatch who never once glanced at it. What looked just like glasses were not. I was wired from stem to stem.” Here, now, implanted in our speech stream, is another figure, one who, unlike the newly rising climber, had been in our midst undetected (even speaking to us) all along. Again, this consideration is only briefly chewed at, signaling a more complicated string of locomotion already underway, something perhaps more sinister or to-be deep-reaching than we’d previously only just now been updated to, right beside us; and then again the mode shifts back to the speaking manner we’d been acclimating into, if slightly veering in its aim. In fact, this will be the only invocation of the “I” inside the text; making it, in repetition of the whole, even more alarming as a narrative tactic, and also as a wire in the house.
What we now are turned to, again, all seeming quite casually in pace and tone, is a more in depth consideration of who will now even more concretely emerge as the central definitive human presence in this text, Terry Schmidt, via the nature of his building infatuation and obsession with coworker Darlene Lilley. Schmidt’s make up is patently pathetic; he lusts for this woman he can not have, all rendered in Wallace’s more familiar-from-previous-work sense of longing parsed with his position’s inflated market-speak. In fact, we find in waves that Schmidt in many ways is so intrinsically infused with his employment, that in certain ways they are becoming, within him, semantically confused. A short graph immediately after the revelation of the “I” states: “Terry Schmidt himself was hypoglycemic and could eat only confections prepared with fructose, aspartame, or very small amounts of C 6 H 8 (OH) 6, and sometimes he felt himself looking at trays of the product with the expression of an urchin at a toystore’s window.” Here Schmidt is portrayed as so disarmed by life’s work he’d not even able to consume the object he’s undertaken a life in pursuit of employ to manifest unto the public. He is separated from his life-object by a kind of glass, like the glass that separates the focus group from awareness of the climber, that bisects his life and its object-laid conceit.
Later, this persona blur between the self and the product is even more concretely and directly weighed:
[Schmidt] would look at his face and at the faint lines and pouches that seemed to grow a little more pronounced each quarter and would call himself, directly, to his mirrored face, Mister Squishy, the name would come unbidden into his mind, and despite his attempts to ignore or resist it the large subsidiary’s name and logo had become the dark part of him’s latest taunt, so that when he thought of himself now it was as something he called Mister Squishy, and his own face and the plump and wholly innocuous icon’s face tended to bleed in his mind into one face, crude and line-drawn and clever in a small way, a design that someone might find some small selfish use for but could never love or hate or ever care to truly know.
This moment is one of the more plain Wallace-qua-Wallace moments in the entire text; it and other moments like it in emotional texture are all confined within the body of Schmidt, the neuter, the gimp. The familiar language-algebra and mechanisms of the up front market-saturated objectivism we’ve been presented thus far, again in the presentation of relation between man and glass is briefly, slightly relieved, if here still in its own way creating another kind of glass, one back with reflective paper, forcing the self onto the self. In seeing himself in the glass by which he is surrounded head on, Schmidt is not only anesthetized figuratively, identifying with his overlord and payor, but commented upon there inside it as inhuman, a caricature of emotion, clever, yes, but “in a small way.” The self reflects the self the self chooses to reflect, and that is who he is, to him. Each person hiding “the repulsive nest of moles under their left arm” (Schmidt’s) or perhaps more dark, complex desires (Schmidt’s), which as a matter of fact end up being quite central to this text’s center, slightly hinted, and soon to come further into light.
Please forgive me: Terry Schmidt, 5 letters and 7 letters. David Wallace, 5 letters and 7 letters; the latter “having emerged from years of literally indescribable war against himself.” (Said quote appearing later in this same book re: David Wallace’s appearance in the story “Good Old Neon”).
“Advertising is not voodoo,” the narration states in perhaps the shortest sentence in “Mister Squishy” some pages earlier than Schmidt laid bare. Want is manifested not by mere dictation, but by inspiration, by becoming. This corporate building of our setting is devoted to the creation of ads not only designed to make someone believe they want something, and so do, but also in such believing, whether taken on as self or not, becomes a session of the self: it is, and is. These are poses. Minute orchestrations of self in carrying the self. It is seen, perhaps less self-consciously, also in member of the panel: “the sleeves of the sweater were carefully pushed up to reveal the forearms’ musculature in a way designed to look casual, as if the sweater’s arms had been thoughtlessly pushed up in the midst of his thinking hard about something other than himself” (28). Some selves less mentally ripped than the statedly above-average-intelligent Schmidt might be less of themselves by not succumbing in the image, or might in other ways, actualized, be more. Both are true and neither is true. The glass looks the same from either side, though what is behind it shifts.
It is perhaps important now to recall, too, that all of this, is being told to us by the covertly implanted “I,” our secret member of the panel who seems to know all of both the ins and outs of the workings of the office, and the panel orchestration, and the panel members’ lives, and the goings on outside the building: a seated member in the fold, who, in knowing all things in all people, seems like god; who is in our midst, who is armed with something that may or may not seem ready to destroy us all; who does not exist; who is creating this whole amalgam in his nowhere; who is anyone; the reader. Again, we do not know.
The notion of god does arise here elsewhere, however, in passing, in Schmidt’s elucidation of his concurrently running and pummeling want for this woman Lilley, who consumes his mind at some points to the point of her taking a dual overriding face behind the face of Mister Squishy’s crushing load. “Marriage,” thinks the thinker in the mind of Schmidt’s mind, “…seemed every bit as miraculous and transrational and remote from possibilities of actual lived life as the crucifixion and resurrection and transubstantiation did, which is to say it appeared not as a goal to expect to ever really reach or achieve but as a kind of navigational star, as in in the sky….” Schmidt’s only motivation to go forward, beyond the dogday shit of money-motives, is beyond amorphous, is not real, is no part of him, but some high map; a thing that in the same breath is manifested in the terror of his nightly channel surfing looking for something better, afraid of missing one channel’s signal for another’s, never seeing anything to see, but want and want and want and never have. The blank is the thing. The metaphor is not a conduit of some unreal, but a falsity misplaced.
This abjection is reflected in the growing of the crowd that congregates below the building where the figure outside climbing the glass continues to rise. They watch, wanting the something, living in the reel. This is reflected in the narration’s admission that the very market research taking place here must be orchestrated in such a way, always, to approve: as the nature of market research is that by the time one has spent enough to know that what they are researching is “resoundingly grim or unpromising,” it is too late to turn over; the job would be lost. The job is to authorize the job. The absence of the god is to demand the god.
…the whole huge blind grinding mechanism conspired to convince each other that they could figure out how to give the paying customer what they could prove he could be persuaded to believe he wanted, without anybody once ever saying stop a second or pointing out the absurdity of calling what they were doing collecting information…
What are we talking about here. We’re talking about talking, about talking about self hiding the self: this is writing, in a soft object, a book in replication. What happens to Wallace later. We’re talking about writing. We’re talking about a body who concerned himself with the image of man rendered in words. We’re talking about a man who ended his life with his hands he’d used on other days to write, or masturbate, or eat. This story was written by that man in the mind of another mind he tried on wanting to be someone else, to other people: Elizabeth Klemm.
The one time I saw Wallace read and do a Q&A I stood up asked him something goofy about Klemm; he seemed to shrug it away, as the name itself had been a suit he’d tried on and could not hide his own body using any longer after, an aborted attempt to enter else. He’d accepted this. He was him through him to who. We’re talking about writing about writing about a thing that does not exist in anything but in traces. We’re talking about talking about talking about it, it, it, it, it, it, it. Mister Squishy. Oblivion.
“That it made no difference,” the narration states, re: the focus research, and therefore Schmidt’s ultimate pursuit. “None of it.”
The object at the center of this text is, remember, Felonies!, a chocolate candy made to be so rich it made the rich feel richer. Wallace could not eat sugar later in his life.
Today outside my window where I am writing the light is touching at the curtains at the tip of the top of the V between the spreading white shim as if it is licking at my face to hit my eyes and change their light.
The figure on the face of the building inside the text continues to rise. He reaches a point on the building and begins to suction himself in a quasi-human contortion where he affixes himself and begins to inflate sections of his body, rising out in balloon, becoming disfigured from the person already reptilian but of the human, and changing shape before the rapt and potentially endangered crowd below, whose awareness of being potentially endangered does not preclude them to check out of the scene. They can not bring themselves to not watch the human inflate, disfigure, again in sections that supplant themselves between the by now throat-throttingly paced an still-even but with now backlog on the backlogged writing that has begun to seem not about marketing or want or event at all, but about something wormed behind the worming worms, something in the blood of the false body of the creator, behind the machine, who is there and never there, and never, now, here, either, but in these words, which might be more than any other mode and might be nothing but a sold thing, burnable, a machine, if a machine that reflects, glassly, god. A god concerned, at the end of the day, herein, with the consuming of a chocolate.
Felonies!, the narration explains, is a “Shadow product,” meaning “one that managed to position and present itself in such a way to resonate with both” “the Healthy Lifestyles trend’s ascetic pressures and the guilt and unease any animal instinctively felt when it left the herd.” To conflate life (good health) and death (demapping). To do this, and having admitted the knowledge that the market research industry props itself up by always greenlighting itself by manipulating its own characteristics to such an extent that the right is always right, a projected marketing strategy for Felonies! could go the way of what the narration says “was known in the industry as a Narrative (or, ‘Story’) Campaign),” which operates by reflecting the uselessness of the data onto the creator, vis a vis, in the example here of candy, “say, a tyrannical mullah-like CEO,” who, the Story would tell the buyer, forced the market-poor object through the system because of his own want for such a luxury, an item demanded in himself beyond all means, however fluffy, and thus, via, again, the Story, use the idea that we all know by now that marketing is goobered, and this is just an object that was wanted by the god. The god deigned to put the chocolate in our big mouths so we could have it: a gift. Is the theory. Pleasure. Is what, say all this goes right, Mister Squishy, the brand, might do. Theoretically. If this goes forward, though the narration will not be around to lead us to such end. We are going to be abandoned. Each thing is contained in the paper of its time.
Among all this, too, I’ve yet to more than poke at, is Schmidt’s further complicating ploy–rendered in past-relayed action, “back story,” here almost dreamlike and algebraic at the same time: totems–to sabotage the whole thing by creating and injecting Ricin, a lethal toxin, into a few iterations of the chocolate object’s hollow center, and letting such damage leak into the market, ruin the product’s reputation, and its grasp: to in effect cripple the object, by indirect murder, destroying, if we maintain the Mister Squishy head over his head, his own self, making him a weapon and a ruin at once. Following a brief but rather brutal description of Schmidt’s trying to make emotional headway in his life by taking place in a Big Brothers / Big Sisters program, via which his false child enters a mall and disappears, Schmidt is described actually synthesizing the poison, bringing death fantasy into his true life. Explicit instructions on how to create the toxin are laid out like a recipe, as if supplying Anarchist Cookbook style kill-them-all-kill-yourself screed buried deep here in, countless levels folded in the fold. The death drive goes on even still inside the crippled, malformed ID of body. Demapping the false map.
In my room now the light at the window has retreated to just a slim glow along the tipmost point of the inverted V. My hands look yellow, chalky.
I am in here.
You are in where?
This fantasy will not occur. Schmidt’s ploy, as far as we see, is unemployed, at least onscreen. Schmidt’s mind defeats itself. In another fantasy of Lilley, in which he fucks her, to which he masturbates, simulating the simulation, Schmidt can’t help his fantasy-self from saying Thank you Thank you to her, for fucking him inside his pathetic imagination, making “him wonder if he even had what convention called a Free Will.” Even his private creation is manipulated by his faith’s absence in his creation against his will. And yet, he ejaculates regardless in the motion of the want of the creation to go on. The act is flesh and not flesh; no child is made.
There is further implication as to Schmidt’s coming fate, outside of the Ricin deathseed, and his sperm-gush. The very act of the method for taking all of this focus group information and whittling it down into something that can corroborate what is needed, the narration describes, “meant doing away with as much as possible of the human element, the most obvious of these elements being the TFG faciliators” (Schmidt), as “with the coming digital era of abundant data… were soon going to be obsolete”). These prongs of the text, bending inward toward no full absolution, suggest for our hypothetical hero, of no hero, to become rendered to the void: separated even from the him of him, unto the ending, regardless of his ploy. Obsolescence rises.
The last reference to the inflation of the climber appears 13 pages before the remainder of the text ends. Though it is not directly stated, the climber has inflated himself into a version of an enormous, air-filled Mister Squishy, “large, bulbous, and doughily cartoonish,” affixed for no apparent reason on the face of the building in the gathering and the light.
There was no coherent response from the crowd, however until a nearly suicidal-looking series of nozzle-to-temple motions from the figure began to fill the head’s baggy mask… the face’s array of patternless lines rounding to resolve into something that produced from 400+ ground-level US adults loud cries of recognition and an almost chlidlike delight.
Recognition: There I am.
Mirrored in, the people behind the glass are never made to realize the occurrence, or respond. Whatever action is detailed by the revelation of the “I” figure, who has been further made, in one of a few sparse footnotes, to be prepared to enact an act of fake barfing onto the research table, an act that never fully plays itself out, despite implication, unto its prognosis in the future of the Felony! or Schmidt or Schmidt’s Ricin or how god knows what god knows, or what will become of what god does. Though one thing, to god, is clear: “We were all of us anxious to get down to business already.” But we don’t: the focus group, despite all the lead in of prognosis method, formality, consensus-making necessity explication, etc., the summit does not occur. Not here.
This story was first published in 2000. Eight years later, now more than two years ago, which I can not believe, that amount of time, being that time, the creator, in his own parlance, demapped, if merely to reconvene in another conference room on this floor, or another floor, or unto the glass.
The future, is, however, given a name. “The market becomes its own test,” the narration states, re: the method of the future of this research, yet to come. “Terrain = Map. Everything encoded.” In this way, “Mister Squishy,” as a map, contains perhaps more of a landscape set outside itself than any particular node of what it concerns itself with so explicitly, confined.
This is how the human is human: this text is not a portrait, nor an equation, nor even a system or device, a sound, but a conglomerate of expressions expressing nothing each beside the other in a syndicate that by its presence alone forms a map. This text’s expression, considered solely, in each instance, is of other hands, ones beyond demapped ones. Wallace, as creator, invokes a terrain that is not even present in itself, that wants to hurt itself, that wants and can not say it, that wants its creator, that wants. Beyond Wallace. Beyond the Mister Squishy Corporation. Beyond Elizabeth Klemm.
“We hadn’t spent that much time with David since he was a small boy,” Wallace’s mother said. “Once they grow up and leave home you see them, of course, and you visit, but you don’t spend hours and hours with them.”
This story ends, in one sense, at its beginning. We close with one of the figureheads of the research circuit elucidating further methods as to the creation of the aura of the object of the dessert, which will perhaps occasionally be a thing some human puts into their mouth, suggesting that the way to rid the corporation of its facilitators, to demap Schmidt, the human element in the data, would be to show them something outside of themselves. To exhibit to them, beyond the inherent way already done day in and day out, that their position is not only potentially workable by any, but also fails to do anything but complicate some truth. An amorphous unrevealed overorchestrated truth in the first place. Ruining the ruin.
To end them on their own will, then, the figurehead says, “All they needed were the stressors. Nested, high-impact stimuli. Shake them up. Rattle the cage.” The figurehead “poked glowing holes in the air above the desk” as he presents this. He presents it to a younger, up and coming CEO, a future one to walk in his airs. The figurehead asks the boy to dream up these false stimuli that will kill the human, to: “Impress the boss.” “Anything at all.” If we want to know the figure inflating into Mister Squishy over the crowds is a product of this, and or the forthcoming implanted fake barf maker is instead or is as well, we must assume. We must assume, too, our own elucidation of the end, as unto this end, the boy can do nothing but look on, “his mind a great flat blank white screen.”
We are left here in the white of the page. At the bottom of the last page of the text a final footnote, Wallace’s little incessant infiltrating thought inside of thought, appears, visually, after the fact, relegating what is essentially, by now, sidebar information. “Mister Squishy”‘s last words, if we read out of order, as would visual narrative, are: “playing with his little pink toes.”
The yellow light at the top of the window now is wholly gone. Though in the sky further than the window through glass the sky itself is still pale and has a light that sits on every inch in one even, dimming way.
What is set up in here after could go on if there were more words, but what is left is from many angles so diffuse, and at the same time so exacting, that what terror wells up, in repetition, is more frightening than any deathblow of summation, illustration, finger to the throat.
If we remove the human element from this story (i.e., Schmidt is let go from employment, unto himself) without a human element the prognosis of the coming day is the replacement of the human with the machine, the human left to pilot himself toward the center of a nothing. What is human about being human is that anything that is human is not human and to say such is the void of the void.
If we do not remove the human element from this story (i.e. Schmidt is not let go, yet, though it is foretold one day comes regardless, and anywhere, in here, he hardly has a head) without a human element the prognosis is, perhaps, Ricin (death). Perhaps time goes on a little longer and the decision becomes not suicide but murder. And what becomes anyway is the same mode: the cake goes on the market, and the cake sells, or does not sell. The cake, regardless, somewhere down the road, ends in the same way it begins: a question that is answered in the instant that it is uttered. A god without a god’s shape. What comes out of this end is any end.
Where this leaves us, post-creator, post-holding the paper open in my lap again until next time, I don’t know. I do know. I don’t want to. I want.