DFW Part III

Travelling is one thing; tourism is a completely different. We are sold on the idea that American tourists are something like this:

But we’re all familiar with what tourists actually look like. In 1988, the sculptor Duane Hanson brought to life a more realistic vision in his piece with the self-explanatory title Tourists II:

A quick image search, or a jog through your own life experiences, will provide you with which depiction is more accurate.

What follows are excerpts from David Foster Wallace’s 97 paged perspective on tourism.

In the early Spring of 1995, Harper’s offered DFW an assignment covering a seven-night Caribbean cruise aboard the m.v. Zenith (which is owned by Celebrity Cruises Inc. and he cheekily decides to call the Nadir).

The essay was first published in Harper’s as “Shipping Out,” then became the title essay of the book A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again.

First of three series of excerpts from A Supposed Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again:

The meat from the introductory chapter-

I have learned that there are actually intensities of blue beyond very, very bright blue. I have eaten more and classier food than I’ve ever eaten, and eaten this food during a week when I’ve also learned the difference between “rolling” in heavy seas and “pitching” in heavy seas. I have heard a professional comedian tell folks, without irony, “But seriously.” I have seen fuchsia pantsuits and menstrual-pink sportcoats and maroon-and-purple warm-ups and white loafers worn without socks. I have seen professional blackjack dealers so lovely they make you want to run over to their table and spend every last nickel you’ve got playing blackjack. I have heard upscale adult U.S. citizens ask the Guest Relations Desk whether snorkeling necessitates getting wet, whether the skeetshooting will be held outside, whether the crew sleeps on board, and what time the Midnight Buffet is.

Conclusion of Chatper 2

The fact that contemporary adult Americans also tend to associate the word “pamper” with a certain other consumer product is not an accident, I don’t think, and the connotation is not lost on the mass-market Megalines and their advertisers. And there’s good reason for them to iterate the word, and stress it.

Chapter 3, the ocean as a metaphor of death, decay, void.
A few weeks before DFW boarded his ship, an adolescent male committed suicide on a Megaship and everyone chalked it up to a “romance gone bad.”

I think part of it was something else, something there’s no way a real news story could cover.

There is something about a mass-market Luxury Cruise that’s unbearably sad. Like most unbearably sad things, it seems incredibly elusive and complex in its causes and simple in its effect:  on board the Nadir– especially at night, when all the ship’s structured fun and reassurances and gaiety-noise ceased- I felt despair. The word’s overused and banalified now, despair, but it’s a serious word, and I’m using it seriously. For me, it denotes a simple admixture- a weird yearning for death combined with a crushing sense of my own smallness and futility that presents as a fear of death. It’s maybe close to what people call dread or angst. But it’s not these things, quite. It’s more like wanting to die in order to escape the unbearable feeling of becoming aware that I’m small and weak and selfish and going without any doubt at all to die. It’s wanting to jump overboard.

DFW elaborates how he has ALWAYS associated the ocean with death. Fictional passages about being lost at sea terrified him and he knows shark-fatality facts by heart.

I don’t think it’s an accident that 7NC (Seven Night Caribbean) Luxury Cruises appeal mostly to older people. I don’t mean decrepitly old, but I mean like age- 50+ people, for whom their own mortality is something more than an abstraction. Most of the exposed bodies to be seen all over the daytime Nadir were in various stages of disintegration. And the ocean itself (which I found to be salty as hell, like sore-throat-soothing-gargle-grade salty, its spray so corrosive that one temple-hinge of my glasses is probably going to have to be replaced) turns out to be basically one enormous engine of decay. Seawater corrodes vessels with amazing speed- rusts them, exfoliates paint, strips varnish, dulls shine, coats ships’ hulls with barnacles and kelp-clumps and a vague ubiquitous nautical snot that seems like death incarnate. We saw some real horrors in port, local boats that looked dipped in a mixture of acid and shit, scabbed with rust and goo, ravaged by what they float in.

A few paragraphs later.

Here’s the thing. A vacation is a respite from unpleasantness, and since the consciousness of death and decay are unpleasant, it may seem weird that Americans’ ultimate fantasy vacation involves being plunked down in an enormous primordial engine of death and decay.

And sine DFW’s articles are prone to internalize something as trivial as looking over the ship’s planned activities…

I am now 33 years old, and it feels like much time has passed and is passing faster and faster every day. Day to day I have to make all sorts of choices about what is good and important and fun, and then I have to live with the forfeiture of all other options those choices foreclose. And I’m starting to see how as time gains momentum my choices will narrow and their foreclosures multiply exponentially until I arrive at some point on some branch of all life’s sumptuous branching complexity at which I am finally locked in and stuck on one path and time speeds me through stages of stasis and atrophy and decay until I go down for the third time, all struggle for naught, drowned by time. It is dreadful. But since it’s my own choices that’ll lock me in, it seems unavoidable- if I want to be any kind of grownup, I have to make choices and regret foreclosures and try to live with them.

———-end.

This first series of excerpts did focus on big picture issues, rather than how constantly being around tourists and professionals in the tourism industry affected Wallace, but that is soon to come.

Read Rickstate’s first DFW post here. Second DFW post here.

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