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Retired publishing executive ecstatic with the idea of spending most of his time on the coast of Maine

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Consider the Lobster

A very odd curio in the history of publishing is David Foster Wallace's essay on the Maine Lobster Festival. He visited in 2003 and published his account in, of all places, Gourmet magazine. Here's the link: http://www.gourmet.com/magazine/2000s/2004/08/consider_the_lobster?currentPage=1

The Festival got a lot of press that year, from CNN, from travel magazines and from a rival eating mag, but Gourmet's motivation in asking DFW (or did he propose?) to write completely escapes me. True to form, Wallace delivers a long thing (10 screens worth, including 3 of footnotes, which, by the way, are pretty cumbersome on a website) that starts out with the usual facts about the lobster, rather pedestrian, and then veers off and fixes on the issue of a lobster's pain, or not, upon being boiled, complete with neuropsychopharmacology.

So: was he in a joshing, ironic, metaphysical mood? Did he toss this off for money? Why did he raise a hundred questions and answer none of them? Half reporter, half metaphysician, he struggled hard with his life and his art, was obsessed with the overlap of detail and meaninglessness, and in retrospect, considering his suicide last year, this curious essay and its venue form a disturbing exemplar of his tortured mind.

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