Friday, February 05, 2010

Not-so-brief an Interview with not-so-hideous a Man

David Foster Wallace didn't give out interviews generally; and most of the ones he did end up giving were either print or radio. (Two notable exceptions are the interviews he gave to Charlie Rose.) So to see him respond to questions on screen was a rare privilege. (However, such intimate/direct knowledge of people whom you love/idolize in a somewhat blind, larger-than-life way can sometimes be a rather jarring experience. After having joined the abject-fans-of-Nirmal-Verma cult, Nanga Fakir was jolted to hear his voice reading a passage from one of his books. His voice was weak, pathetic and old-womanish - not the rich Gulzarish baritone NF had hoped it would've been.)

So when Nanga Fakir came across the 84 minute youtube interview of the (erstwhile) saddest person on earth, he watched it with a little hesitation. Let's just say that he was not in the least disappointed.

The interview is conducted by a German team and the interviewer is a girl with a thin, squeaky voice (who gives the impression of being blonde, thin, studentsy and a little on the plainer side) and is overawed by the interviewee. The interviewee is a nerdy/geeky looking mental titan, incredibly shy and self conscious and nervous and mindful of his own self consciousness and obvious unease that he exudes in front of the camera. He's also very honest and earnest and is very much uneasy when the interviewer asks him big, grand philosophical questions (Cf. first question: "Do you think humor comes out of something sad or is it a cliché?"). DFW's is aghast that such questions are being put to him. He twitches, bares his fangs and grits his teeth. Intense surprise contorts his face and yet, to his credit, he decides to answer such questions in all seriousness0.

To see for yourself, here's the screenshot of the guy when this question's put to him:

The screenshot above is funny. DFW's face gives the impression of a deflated balloon. And yet, time and again, as these questions are put to him, and as he gets ready to answer them honestly and in detail, a spasm of painful contortion zaps his face. He repeatedly asks, full of self doubt and misgiving after each such answer: "Does that make any sense to you?", "You're not going to use that for the interview are you?", "I doubt if it makes much sense." and "I can hear in my head a voice making fun of this stuff.". It is clear that the problem of meaningful communication among humans comes to the fore here - something that David Foster Wallace has written about numerous times. He refers to it in the interview also when talking about the purpose of good art and how it helps one consciousness transcend its being trapped in a body and reach and enter another, howsoever fleetingly. Hence his response "Since it can't be talked about directly, we need to make up stories about it."

However, the best thing about the interview (apart from the fact that it is one of the really rare pictures/video of the man without a bandanna and long hair) is that it is uncut. So you can see the microphones being set and the off camera crew passing off-hand comments on DFW's on-screen persona (in one such encounter an off camera voice jibes - "You're pontificating" to which DFW rolls his eyes over and says "Yeah, yeah") and the clear discomfort of David Foster Wallace at being treated like an important "writer".

Here's the first part (of ten) of the interview on youtube.

One wishes the son of a bitch hadn't killed himself!




DFW's (eventual) response to this question:

"I know that Wittgenstein believed that the most serious and profound problems and questions can be discussed only in the form of jokes.", and

"There are forms of humor that offer escape from pain and there are forms of humor that...transfigure pain. Does that make any sense?"