What do you think about Bret Easton Ellis v. David Foster Wallace?

OCTOBER 2, 2012


valgeir asked: What do you think about Bret Easton Ellis v. David Foster Wallace?


Here is a poem about Ellis:

—What are we waiting for, gathered in the agora?

                     The barbarians are arriving today.

—Why is nothing happening in the senate?
Why do the senators sit making no laws?

                    Because the barbarians are arriving today.
                    What laws can the senators make now?
                    When the barbarians come, they will make laws.

—Why did our emperor wake up so early,
and, in the city’s grandest gate, sit in state
on his throne, wearing his crown?

                    Because the barbarians are arriving today,
                    and the emperor is waiting to receive
                    their leader. In fact, he prepared
                    a parchment to give them, where
                    he wrote down many titles and names.

—Why did our two consuls and the praetors
come out today in their crimson embroidered togas;
why did they don bracelets with so many amethysts
and rings resplendent with glittering emeralds;
why do they hold precious staffs today,
beautifully wrought in silver and gold?

                    Because the barbarians are arriving today,
                    and such things dazzle barbarians.

—Why don’t the worthy orators come as usual
to deliver their speeches and say their piece?

                    Because the barbarians are arriving today
                    and they are bored by eloquence and harangues.

—Why should this anxiety and confusion
suddenly begin. (How serious faces have become.)
Why have the streets and squares emptied so quickly,
and why has everyone returned home so pensive?

                    Because night’s fallen and the barbarians have not arrived.
                    And some people came from the border
                    and they say the barbarians no longer exist.

Now what will become of us without barbarians?
Those people were some kind of solution.

Ellis is the kind of citizen who thinks he secretly looks forward to the sacking of his city because in its ruins he will finally be able to satisfy the lusts for murder and respect he has been nurturing in his heart. In reality it is self-flattery for him to think that. He’s no more a warlord than Shelly Duvall. In fact he is bored. Bored with civilization and bored with its compromises. The bored have a fascination with themselves and a phobia about appearing uninteresting. This produces the kind of galloping narcissism that one only finds in the most acutely inflamed of our cultural urethras. Niall Ferguson is another one who comes to mind. Naturally these afflictions make people like Ellis and other bored citizens the real barbarians. That their barbarism happens beneath fashionable clothing only makes them cowards.

Shoving aside the compromises (politeness, graduated income tax, drone warfare) that society has made in the name of your comfort, just because their hypocrisy insults your intelligence or their cruelty inflames your selfrighteousness is pure cowardice. Even though they’re painful or despicable or worst of all boring, every single one of them has to be worn like a crown. I think Wallace understood that. And for all his many vanities and selfindulgences, he was ready to die wearing them.

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