I still haven’t yet finished Infinte Jest (New Year’s resolution), but I’m a big fan of DFW’s essays.  The late writer’s mastery of the English language, as well as his courage to experiment with it, truly puts him in a class by himself (along with Shakespeare, Joyce, and Wordsworth).

I try to keep a notebook by my side while I’m reading (even when it’s trash) so I can jot down words or phrases I like. Listening to DFW read his great (and hilarious) essay on the AVN porn awards, Big Red Son, had me pausing the video and jotting like crazy (and reaching for a dictionary). He’s famous for  his long, but grammatically sound sentences and elaborately constructed footnotes.

Below are some of the juicy bits from Big Red Son (interesting phrases and word choices bolded).

“We pretty much all tune in, despite the grotesquerie of watching an industry congratulate itself on its pretense that it’s still an art form, of hearing people in $5,000 gowns invoke lush clichés of surprise and humility scripted by publicists etc.—the whole cynical post-modern deal—but we all still seem to watch.”

“He contrasts the woeful paucity of his own ejaculate with the concussive orgasms of certain well-known performers, comparing these men’s ejaculations to automatic lawn sprinklers and doing an eerie sonic impression of the same.”

“Treasure Island, with its intricate facade of decks and ringing and mizzens and vang.”

“The Harley-Davidson Cafe, with its tympanum of huge protruding hawg; Bally’s H&C, with its row of phallic pillars all electrified and blinking in grand mal sync.”

“A second-tier Arrow Video starlet in a G-string poses for a photo, forked dorsally over the knee of a morbidly obese cellphone retailer from suburban Philadelphia.”

“Several of the outfits defy basic precepts of modern physics. Coiffures are towering and complex.”

“Not unlike urban gangs, police, carnival workers, and certain other culturally marginalized guilds, the US porn industry in occluded and insular in a way that makes it seem like high school.”

This is ambitious writing that flies in the face of most writing advice, which is one reason why it’s so great. The best writers add to the language, stretch it to infinite possibilities. They also sometimes use adverbs. I’d hate to miss out on forked dorsally.

 

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2 thoughts on “Vocabulary Building with David Foster Wallace

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