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September 18, 2008 - Image 12

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 2008-09-18

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4B - Thursday, September 18, 2008
Infinitely missed

The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

DailyArts Writer
Early on in his masterful 1999 essay "Authority
and American Usage," David Foster Wallace breaks
from his explanation of the Descriptivist-vs.-Pre-
scriptivist Usage Wars of modern linguistics (this is
already a departure from the essay's primary task of
reviewing Bryan A. Garner's A Dictionary of Mod-
ern American Usage for Harper's magazine) to dis-
cuss, of all things unrelated, abortion.
In a typically Wallace-esque footnote, running
468 words long in the kind of fine print normally
reserved for check-cashing service ads, the author
explains that "the only really coherent position on
the abortion issue is one that is both Pro-Life and
Pro-Choice." Though at first perplexing, he soon
proves why this position is, in fact, the only one that
makes any sense. And just as quickly as he veered
off into the Culture Wars, DFW steers us back to
the Usage Wars, crafting in the essay's remaining
44 pages an illuminating, gripping and accessible
description of the "seamy underbelly" of American
Wallace, who tragically committed suicide last
week at age 46, was quite frankly, a genius. In his
writing, a dizzyingly complex and brilliant mind is
let loose on the page. Often an essay or story of his
will, mid-page, careen off into a page-length foot-
note or endnote - a meditation on Balthazar Getty
on the set of David Lynch's "Lost Highway," per-
haps, or a quick description of the "Bizarro-Sleaze"
porn film genre - but this adventure is involved in
reading his work. A piece of writing might begin in
Arad other Enys
David Foster Wallace

a certain direction (on a cruise liner, or walking the
grounds of the Illinois State Fair), but it certainly
never ends there. And though at first we might feel
sidetracked choosing to follow his footnotes, inter-
polations, etc., we soon recognize that with Wallace,
the final destination doesn't matter. The fun is in the
Yet for Wallace, who often seemed uncomfortable
in his own skin, the footnotes, endnotes and detours
are there to guard against condescension or elitism.
To avoid sounding patronizing, he instead scruti-
nized himself, whether in comparison to the sub-
jects of his non-fiction or through the characters in
his novels and stories. Neil, the deceased narrator of
"Good Old Neon," one of Wallace's finest short sto-
ries, painfully illustrates this scrutiny when he tells
He staggered under the
weight of American
culture - and made
sense of it
us, "My whole life I've been a fraud." Neil explains
his suffering in trying to impress everyone around
him, a suffering that ended only when he kills him-
self. Like much of his fiction, Wallace's prose in
"Good Old Neon" is cerebral and staggering, and
resembles the unceasing thoughts that are always
running through our heads.
Wallace won awards for both his fiction and non-
fiction, and was equally regarded in both genres.
Nonetheless, arguments rage over whether he was
better crafting imagined worlds or wrapping his
mind around the real one. Many cite his magnum
opus, the 1,079-page "Infinite Jest," as evidence
supporting the former, arguing that the book is one
of the Great American Novels of the postmodern
1990s, or ever, and making Wallace an heir to novel-
ists like DeLillo and Pynchon. Yet others argue that
when untethered to reality, Wallace's imaginative
fiction overwhelms and leaves readers lost in his
staggering prose.
Reality is already surreal enough. Porn conven-
tions, presidential campaigns, Caribbean cruises,
lobster festivals - allace's dispatches from the
more bizarre fringes of our culture are some of the
best American nonfiction writing in decades. To
watch Wallace grapple with the "zeppeli-nesque"
breasts of the 1998 Adult Video News Awards, or to
experience the week he spent on the campaign trail
with John "anticandidate" McCain, circa 2000, is
to witness the most brilliant among us plunged into
what he described as this country's "Total Noise"
culture - "a culture of info and spin and rhetoric
and context" - and make sense of it.
Which is in part why the loss is so gutting.
See WALLACE, Page 6B

Nas-Luda'08. Or Luda-Nas'08?


Lots of rap,
little talk

Nas, Ludacris
and Young Jeezy
endorse Obama for
the wrong reasons
Daily Arts Writer
I'm officially tired of "Black
President" songs. Incidentally,
I also happen to be a right-lean-
ing moderate. Though, as some
mightsuggest, my distaste for the
recent outcropping of politically-
charged, and primarily hip-hop,
activist tracks has absolutely
nothing to do with my political
affiliations. In most regards, I'd
be perfectly content if Barack
Obama wins this year's presiden-
tial election, but the uprising of
Obama support tracks - spear-
headed by the always-outspoken
Nas and frequent cultural con-
trarians Ludacris and Young
Jeezy - are an incredibly inter-
esting intersection of politics and
art, if also forehead-slappingly
The most obvious issue to be
filed against these songs is the
sheer societal ignorance of the
artists presenting them. Not to
say that Nas hasn't always been
a cultural sounding board, but
rather these rappers are ignoring

the 20 years of work that legiti-
mate organizations like Rock
the Vote and the more recent,
Diddy-led Vote or Die campaigns
have done. Both organizations,
started and run by notable musi-
cians and socialites, have been
attempting to motivate America's
youth to vote.
As such, these songs (both Nas
and Jeezy's own "Black Presi-
dent" and Ludacris's "Politics As
Usual") boil down to one mes-
sage: Vote for the black guy. Not
that I don't understand where
this sentiment stems from -
obviously, these artists have an
invested interest in'the country
and feel Obama is the better can-
didate. But Obama himself has
even spoken out against this con-
cept as something that is not only
somewhat inept, but also not par-
ticularly palatable and profitable
for the United States.
Moreover, each of these songs,
save for .the somewhat respect-
able Nas cut, are incredibly
parochial and, at times, wildly
offensive. Ludacris, on his DJ
Drama-produced mixtape The
Preview - a record in which he
colloquially calls Obama, Barack
O-Drama -actually utters the
line, "Hillary hated on you so
that bitch is irrelevant," with
the word "bitch" being overpow-
ered by the sound of a silenced
pistol. Surely, the implication of

a violent oligarchy is the kind
of support Obama needs in his
campaign and the real way to
persuade young voters to get out
to the polls. Luda continues to
repeat, "Get off your ass, black
people, it's time to get out and
vote," a line that implies, unless
there is a black candidate run-
ning, there's no reason for blacks
to vote.
Jeezy's track disappoints on
even more -levels. The chorus,
which hardly sounds like a polit-
ical statement, is reminiscent of
his typical thugs-to-riches fare:
"My president is black, my Lam-
bo's blue /And I'll be goddamned
if my rims ain't too." The prob-
lems with this line are nearly
innumerable: Your president is
not black even if your candidate
is? How does Obama relate to
your cars? Your rims are blue? Or
black? No one ever accused Jeezy
of being intelligent because he
never tried to be. Now we can all
see why.
Nas, who samples an Obama
speech in an old-school break-
beat style, flows - whether
appropriately or not - more on
the struggles of African Ameri-
cans than about Obama, save for
a few lines in the second chorus
(".What's the black prez think-
ing on election night / Is it how
I can protect my life, protect my
wife, protect my rights?"). But
where Nas's slipup occurs is in
his portrayal of Obama as, essen-
tially, the black savior. His lines
about African American strug-
gles become more depressingly
idealistic, as Nas seems to truly
believe that Obama will miracu-
lously solve all these issues; the
stock he places in the candidate
is mindlessly utopian and, frank-
ly, a little disturbing: "If he dies
we die too." The irony of closing
the track with a sample of Nas's
own, "The World Is Yours"/
Jay-Z's "Dead Presidents II," is
apparently lost on Nas.
Even more bothersome than
a few poorly-conceived tracks,
though, is the way in which
politics seem to be dictating art
rather than simply coloring it.
In a somewhat disturbing argu-
ment I had with a fellow critic,
he revealed to me that he only
listens to music that appeases his
political inclinations, allowing
the artist's political views decide
what music he listens to. He cited
Sly & the Family Stone, Jimi Hen-
drix, U2 and Funkadelic, among
others, that never would've made
the albums they had were it not
for their politics. But what he,

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Special thanks to g 1*tId I4f1iU EkiIi

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