Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Morning Reading: "But the modern craving for stimulation is wholly absent"

For one more day, The New Yorker FACEBOOK page makes available "Farther Away," an essay by Jonathan Franzen on David Foster Wallace's last novel, The Pale King - and Daniel Defoe and Robinson Crusoe too.

A funny thing about Robinson Crusoe is that he never, in twenty-eight years on his Island of Despair, becomes bored. He speaks, yes, of the drudgery of his early labors, he later admits to becoming “heartily tir’d” of searching the island for cannibals, he laments not having any pipes in which to smoke the tobacco he finds on the island, and he describes his first year of company with Friday as the “pleasantest year of all the life I led in this place.” But the modern craving for stimulation is wholly absent. (The novel’s most astonishing detail may be that Robinson makes “three large runlets of rum or spirits” last a quarter century; I would have drunk all three in a month, just to be done with them.) Although he never ceases to dream of escape, he soon comes to take “a secret kind of pleasure” in his absolute ownership of the island:

I look’d now upon the world as a thing remote, which I had nothing to do with, no expectation from, and indeed no desires about: In a word, I had nothing indeed to do with it, nor was ever like to have; so I thought it look’d as we may perhaps look upon it hereafter.

Robinson is able to survive his solitude because he’s lucky; he makes peace with his condition because he’s ordinary and his island is concrete. David, who was extraordinary, and whose island was virtual, finally had nothing but his own interesting self to survive on, and the problem with making a virtual world of oneself is akin to the problem with projecting ourselves onto a cyberworld: there’s no end of virtual spaces in which to seek stimulation, but their very endlessness, the perpetual stimulation without satisfaction, becomes imprisoning. To be everything and more is the Internet’s ambition, too.

To read this in its entirety, you need to visit The New Yorker's FACEBOOK page and become a fan.


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