This is a conversation. It is 1:06am MST. We are both HTML Giant contributors. We are also both Asian. This is happening IRL.
Lily Hoang: So, imagine there’s someone sitting at a café, smoking a cigarette, drinking a fucking Americano, reading David Foster Wallace. What do you think?
Jackie Wang: Who is this wienerschnitzel? Lemme guess. A white boy with lots of feelings.
LH: Haha, no, it’s me: I’m in white boy drag!
JW: White boy drag?! That’s an interesting term. What exactly does that mean? You’re not going to kill yourself and make everyone else feel bad about it, are you? Cause that would be taking the performance a little too far!
LH: Well, it’s hard being a white boy, I gotta admit. Like you don’t know how hard it is. The guilt. The burden of genius. All the privileges. It’s hard to balance, keep the head sane, ya know?
JW: You know what I hate about white boys? They’re always complaining about how they can’t get laid, but it seems obvious to me – like – why they can’t get laid. Should someone tell them? Should I be the one to tell them?
Obviously, equivalencies are problematic. The Canadian anything seems to be paler version of the American thing. (Call me nationalistic.) That is, they aren’t really equivalent. And yet, there seems to be some value in these equivalencies, right? (Maybe I’m wrong.)
That being said: Is DFW the American Roberto Bolano?
The recent “Bubble Boy” hoax may be read as an example of how people are, or wish to be, famous for being famous. Think of “New York” (person) from Flavor of Love who got her own show for being an awesome ho, or Octomom, or those bitches from The Hills or The Kardashians. People work on being famous instead of just working. These examples are “lowbrow,” but we are not exempt.
I have a hard time commenting on someone’s blog, or even this website, telling so and so I really liked their post or their story or whatever. If my feelings are very strong, I email them. If I can’t find their email, I say to myself: “This person will do fine in life without getting an email from me,” or “it should not matter to this person if I like their story — they should be writing on behalf of the story, not its reception.” And it all fits perfect in my head: 1) writers write, 2) readers read, and 3) everybody lives a nice modest life, 4) in relative obscurity, and 5) maybe one day, if applicable, a writer may be recognized, however mildly, for their contribution to literature.
Steven Pinker had a piece in the NYT yesterday about John Roberts’ flub of the Oath of Office, and why, from a grammatical standpoint, it doesn’t matter. He argues that the long-standing injunction against infinitive splitting is “a myth.”
Language pedants hew to an oral tradition of shibboleths that have no basis in logic or style, that have been defied by great writers for centuries, and that have been disavowed by every thoughtful usage manual. Nonetheless, they refuse to go away, perpetuated by the Gotcha! Gang and meekly obeyed by insecure writers.
I thought it was a pretty interesting argument, and I’m always glad to see a shibboleth overturned, so I forwarded the link to my friend Amy McDaniel, who of all my friends is probably the most interested in such things, as well as the best at them. (In addition to being an expert grammarian, she’s also an expert on food, and you can/should check out her contributions to the Slashfood blog.) She replied to my message with a one-liner: “Steven Pinker is an enemy of proper usage,” to which I replied that “his insidious claims are deeply seductive.” I imagine at this point she realized I don’t know anything about Steven Pinker–or as much as I should about grammar–and so she sent me a passage of David Foster Wallace’s “Tense Present,” wherein DFW critiques Pinker’s “descriptivist” approach to usage. The essay, which originally appeared in Harper’s in 2001, can be read in its entirety here, or you can find just the part that Amy sent me to settle the matter pasted in after the jump.