Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself

Image for post
Image for post

Good morning!

Today’s book is Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, by David Lipsky, one of the absolute best books I’ve read so far in 2020.

And I’m at 68 right now!

Just finished Limitless, by Jim Kwik, The Iliad, by Homer, and The People Look Like Flowers at Last, by Charles Bukowski.

My apologies if today’s discussion is longer than anything you’d want to read.

I just think Wallace’s Infinite Jest is SUCH a spectacular book, and Lipsky’s book came about due to his 5-day stint on book tour with Wallace promoting Infinite Jest in 1996.

As you might know, Wallace ended up hanging himself in 2008, two years before Although of Course came out. I didn’t even know who he WAS in 2008, but I feel like someone very special to me was ripped away, even now.

Anyway, some of my notes are below, and then we get into some discussion (not sappy, because that’s not really my style) about writing, finding purpose in life, and making an effort to really see each other as people.

Read on!

Oh yea, and I posted a new YouTube video to my channel on 1984, by George Orwell, one of the most horrifying dystopian novels of all time. Enjoy!

Today’s Book on Amazon: Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, by David Lipsky

Image for post
Image for post

FROM MY NOTES:

“How could he write what he wrote if he wasn’t looking at everything all the time?”

“Most bright people, something happens in your late twenties, where you realize that this other, that how other people regard you does not have enough calories in it, to keep you from blowing your brains out. That you’ve got to find, make some other detente.”

“I just think to look across the room and automatically assume that somebody else is less aware than me, or that somehow their interior life is less rich, and complicated, and acutely perceived than mind, makes me not as good a writer. Because that means I’m going to be performing for a faceless audience, instead of trying to have a conversation with a person.”

“To the extent that I think of myself as different from other people, then I’m not gonna be having a conversation with the reader.”

“But now maybe now you can understand. That period, nothing before or since has ever been that bad for me. And I am willing to make enormous sacrifices never to go back there.”

“It’s just much easier having dogs. You don’t get laid; but you also don’t get the feeling you’re hurting their feelings all the time.”

Don DeLillo: “If serious reading disappears in this country, it will mean that whatever we mean by the term identity has ceased to exist.”

David Foster Wallace said he went to go see the movie Braveheart: “four times so I could see guys in kilts going ‘Wal-lace! Wal-lace!’”

“I think the reason why people behave in an ugly manner is that it’s really scary to be alive and to be human, and people are really really afraid.”

THE WISDOM:

“I’ve decided that I need, I really need to find a few things that I believe in, in order to stay alive. And one of them is that this is — that I’m extraordinarily lucky to be able to do this kind of work. And that along with that luck comes a tremendous obligation to do the best, to do the very best I can.

Which means that I have to structure my life, you know, sort of like anybody who’s dedicated to something. To maximize my ability to do good stuff. And it’s just like, and it doesn’t make me a great person.

It just makes me a person that’s really exhausted a couple other ways to live, you know? And really taken them, taken them to their conclusion. Which for me was a pink room, with no furniture and a drain in the center of the floor. Which is where they put me for an entire day when they thought I was going to kill myself. Where you don’t have anything on, and somebody’s observing you through a slot in the wall. And when that happens to you, you get tremendous — you get unprecedentedly willing to examine other alternatives for how to live.”

— -

Nearing the end of Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself — which is told from David Lipsky’s perspective as the two of them toured the eastern United States on a publicity tour for Wallace’s book, the monumentally impactful Infinite Jest — I didn’t want to see either of them go.

I just wanted them to keep talking, even though I knew they couldn’t go on forever, even though I knew that Wallace would eventually hang himself in 2008, a fact that I think gets played up too much when people speak of the guy. He was so much more than just a famous writer who offed himself.

Not even to scratch the surface, I learned from him that the primary obligation of the writer is to the reader. Write interesting shit. Write something that people want to read, and that teaches them things that they already knew, but didn’t know that they knew.

Readers are smarter than they think they are, and they won’t read anything that feels condescending or contemptuous. Basically, you don’t wanna be Harold Bloom.

I’m not the first one to notice this of course, but intellectuals tend not to believe that the interior lives of “the masses” is as rich and full as their own. As though anyone who hasn’t read The Iliad in the original Greek couldn’t possibly appreciate being alive as much as the ‘high-minded’ intellectual.

Truth be told, I used to think along those same lines, before I grew up.

Here, read this; it’s Wallace again:

“I just think to look across the room and automatically assume that somebody else is less aware than me, or that somehow their interior life is less rich, and complicated, and acutely perceived than mind, makes me not as good a writer. Because that means I’m going to be performing for a faceless audience, instead of trying to have a conversation with a person.”

Wallace and Lipsky cover an awful lot of ground in this extended conversation, and due to the massive, unqualified success of Infinite Jest (one of my absolute favorite books of all time), everyone in the literary world was pretty much raising Wallace on their shoulders and praising Infinite Jest as like the apotheosis of contemporary U.S. fiction.

In my opinion, every last bit of this praise is well-deserved, and I have nothing in common with anyone who didn’t like Infinite Jest.

We are like Montagues and Capulets, as far as I’m concerned.

It’s objectively a masterpiece. But I love how Wallace thought about it, as something incredibly intellectually demanding, and brutally hard to finish, something that demanded every last bit of his attention and focus to bring forth:

“But what I really remember is the times when working on that book was really hard. And I just gutted it out, you know? And I finished something. And I did it for the book, not trying to imagine whether David Lipsky would like it, or Michael Pietsch would like it. And that I feel like I’ve built some muscles inside me that I can now use for the rest of my life. And I feel like, ‘All right, like I’m a writer now.’”

Having people love your writing is a great feeling. But that’s not really anything you can control. I wasn’t actually serious above when I said, in effect, that anyone who doesn’t love Infinite Jest doesn’t know what they’re talking about. Obviously, tastes differ and I know people who hated it. But the level of vision, and tenacity of focus that creating something like that requires?!

It’s crazy.

Anyway, moving on…

Watching people is what writers do. Sometimes we are on the outside looking in, other times we’re right in the middle of the action, but we notice things that many people are too busy to notice.

We notice, for instance, that behind much of ‘man’s inhumanity to man’ lies fear, even a terror of being alive and essentially alone.

Wallace says as much here:

“I think the reason why people behave in an ugly manner is that it’s really scary to be alive and to be human, and people are really really afraid.”

They’re afraid of death, afraid of life, afraid of going into debt, afraid of ending up alone, afraid of becoming a social outcast, afraid of getting sick, afraid of being too happy, afraid of success, afraid of trying their best only to end up failing.

When you have people torn apart inside by these (mostly) irrational fears, and then you throw billions of them together on a tiny planet, a planet whose habitable lands are getting swallowed by the oceans at an alarming rate, you’re going to wind up with the sort of open-air lunatic asylum that we have now.

So how do you deal with that? How do you overcome such deeply embedded fears?

I think you start with yourself.

I mean, have you ever tried changing someone else? How’d that go for you?

There are many more fears than the ones I mentioned (I think mine used to be “fear of success,” as strange as that sounds), but they can’t stand up to the light of day. They can’t stand up to someone who treats themselves like they would treat a really good friend.

In the end, Wallace couldn’t do it. As I said, he killed himself in 2008. He went off all his antidepressants and tried to make a fresh start, tried to face the world unafraid, and chemically unaided, but he didn’t quite make it, which is just crushing in so many ways.

But in Although of Course, he and Lipsky end up talking about the extremely important stuff that people often don’t know that they know:

“It’s more like, if you can think of times in your life that you’ve treated people with extraordinary decency and love, and pure uninterested concern, just because they were valuable as human beings.

The ability to do that with ourselves. To treat ourselves the way we would treat a really good, precious friend. Or a tiny child of ours that we absolutely loved more than life itself.

And I think it’s probably possible to achieve that. I think part of the job we’re here for is to learn how to do it. I know that sounds a little pious.”

All the best,

Matt Karamazov

Today’s Book | My Complete Notes from Today’s Book | More Book Recommendations | My Full Reading List | Hit the Books (Online Course)

MOST IMPORTANTLY: I’ve produced a FREE video masterclass that’s designed to help you read AT LEAST 52 books this year, and to take your reading skills to the highest peak. You can view it here.

Written by

Top Writer in Books and Reading. Physique Competitor. Nonprofit Leader. Best Books: https://cutt.ly/hhmTASC

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store