DFW thought to the [unhealthy?] limit

The novella-length monologue at the center of Pale King thus tells a story Wallace had told a thousand times before, of an American adolescent attempting to escape his head, and grow up.  Formerly a self-anointed “wastoid,” I. R. S. auditor Chris Fogle recounts having muddled through his youth in the aptly named Libertyville, Illinois, unable to hold down a job and drifting between three different colleges and “four or five different majors.” Fogle, who describes himself as “like many of my generation,” speaks of having led a “crude approximation of a human life.”  he was, he said, “the worst kind of nihilist – the kind who isn’t even aware he’s a nihilist.”  He might have said he was leading a life of quiet desperation, or of conformity, even though it felt to him at the time like a free life of non-conformity.  Many of us are leading such lives, according to Wallace.  Our problem is not that we walk around angry and confused, as in Freedom. Our problem is that we sleepwalk, “choosing to have nothing matter.”

Fogle’s unlikely conversion – which is how he describes his transition to maturity, as if religious in nature – occurs after he stumbles into the wrong classroom at the Catholic DePaul University, where a “substitute Jesuit” holds forth in the waning moments of an advanced accounting class.  Alternately a parody and a paraphrase of Kierkegaard, the Jesuit delivers a peroration on the necessity of the “leap outward” into adulthood -a leap bound to look, from the point of view of the ego’s Eden that is childhood, like the “first of many deaths.”  The speech impresses on Fogle the negative aspect of his seemingly limitless freedom.  “If I wanted to matter – even just to myself,” he explains, “I would have to be less free, by deciding to choose in some kind of definite way.”

– from this essay by one Jon Baskin.

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