Consider the Lobster: And Other Essays (book)

Consider the Lobster: And Other Essays (Written by David Foster Wallace)/2005

I think it is time to admit to myself that I just do not enjoy David Foster Wallace’s (DFW) novels that much. I tried to read Infinite Jest twice and both times picked up another book about a third of a way through. My kindle tells me I have read 68% of Pale King, but I feel I have had enough of that too.

DFW’s novels do not follow the usual temporal course: they bounce between characters and times in history, creating a feeling of a time and place rather than following a character through the temporal flow of past moving into future. They are novels that create a feeling and make a moral statement through a buildup of people and events: we, as readers, become immersed in the atmosphere rather than the story.

I think at a certain point in these novels I had absorbed the message DFW was trying to make and didn’t need any more evidence. As I was pretty sure there would be no grand conclusion or surprise ending I did not feel the need to read any more. Maybe that is OK: maybe his novels should be approached more like a set of short stories and essays grouped together around a central theme, which the reader can pick up and put down when the desire strikes.

In contrast to his novels, I really enjoyed his collection of essays. I find he is at his best in them: funny, detailed without being tedious, and confined to the necessary space to make his point.

Consider the Lobster is a good place to start for someone interested in DWF. We find in this collection of essays a person with a deep curiosity about many things and an uncanny ability to move from the seemingly unimportant to the deeply philosophical.

The collection opens with DFW exploring the Adult Movie Awards. I laughed my way through this piece as the quirky, curious DWF rubs shoulders with famous porn stars and becomes acquainted with the lingo. In one scene he goes to a party filled with porn stars; he notes his irrational expectation to find them suddenly stripping off into a massive orgy, when in actuality they sit after a tiring day "at the office" watching re-runs of Seinfeld. In the usual DFW turn of mind, he uses all this to reflect on the role of entertainment in American society, and compares the AMAs with the Academy awards in an insightful manner.

In ‘Up Simba’ we find DFW on the campaign trial with John McCain. This essay is interesting due to his fascinating observations of all the different types of people that are involved in the campaign. Moreover, it focuses on modern cynicism towards politics, and DFW’s attempts to interpret the enigmatic McCain: an actual prisoner of war that wants to run an anti-political campaign that is equally political in its own way (or is it?). DFW throughout this essay is genuinely struggling to ascertain whether a modern political candidate can be authentic, and to what extent the contemporary cynicism towards politics is justified or a manifestation of a misguided mind set.

The main essay in this collection is the title piece ‘Consider the Lobster’. Here DWF travels to the Maine Lobster festival. Like all of his essays, he entertains the reader with his observations of people and the effects the things around him have on his sensitive disposition. Ultimately, we find a man struggling with different arguments raised in regard to animal rights and the spectrum where a being becomes deserving of these rights. How can we watch lobsters being tipped into huge hot pots of water to be cooked alive when in dropping them into the water they are desperately trying to escape? Surely, the desperation to escape indicates some awareness of the extreme pain that awaits them. DFW does not pontificate, but is clearly someone struggling with the notion of what a good person should do in a world without clear moral truths.

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