“Brief Interviews with Hideous Men”

“Brief Interviews with Hideous Men” – David Foster Wallace vs John Krasinski

Adriana Prodeus

Two young fish are swimming and meet an older fish, swimming in the opposite direction. He nods and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?”. The two fish don’t respond and swim on, until, eventually, one looks at the other and asks, “What the hell is water?”.
This famous joke told by David Foster Wallace during a commencement speech given at Kenyon College in 2005 became the writer’s most recognizable quote (although its role was meant to be quite different!) and was the path by which many readers were led to his prose: stories, novels, tracts, essays and reportage. The author died four years ago, but he left behind some of the most fascinating texts in contemporary literature. His style was always perfectly matched to the content, his intellect hyperactive, his language packed with specialized terms (like the slang of tax officials), his metaphors mathematically constructed, and his attention to detail keen. His prose expressed a sensitivity to human misery and weakness, and the terror of feeling like an outsider, and above all, displayed a disarming sense of humour.
Still unknown in Poland, he is one of today’s most widely read authors. His non-fiction: a report from a lobster festival for Gourmet magazine, in which he unexpectedly reveals the enormity of the suffering of these animals, a study of the tennis tournament at Wembley , an analysis of the films of David Lynch, including several days on location on the set of Lost Highway, reporting from an agricultural fair in Illinois, written with such freshness that we have the impression we’re hearing about a pig, a horse, and wheat for the first time in our lives. His work on mathematics: Everything and More. A Compact History of Infinity, his collections of short stories Oblivion and Brief Interviews With Hideous Men, the film version of which we will be seeing now. These works take your breath away, and set the bar for the writing of documentaries, poetry, novels, higher than anyone today might suppose. Finally, there is Infinite Jest – a book/legend which readers/fans got so caught up in reading they sometimes did not go to work or school for months. Infinite Jest has a cult following, and a reputation for being the “book of books”. Wallace’s magnum opus is both a symbol of and evidence for his diagnosis of culture as being based on an addiction to pleasure.
Wallace was a great moralist, a stylist, and a mind greater than literature. He provided an antidote for the technical anaesthesia offered by television that releases us from responsibility for our lives. Like a psychotherapist, he studied boredom as a postmodern attempt to avoid directly experiencing reality. He revealed the desire to be loved as a major creative stimulus (leading, moreover, in his opinion, to bad literature). He stubbornly looked for the water that the fish could not see, and this is what he wanted to harness in his prose. “This is water. This is water”, he told the students at Kenyon College to keep repeating to themselves, while he himself was in the midst a life-or-death struggle, as a result of which, after years of psychiatric treatment, he finally died. His work is proof of that struggle, an attempt to hold onto the one thing we possess, because “now it’s your turn to jump, and you need to think about that, you need to wonder about that”, although “it’s incredibly difficult to live consciously in the adult world, every day, without exception.”
John Krasinski’s movie is a pretext, an attempt to engage this literature. Brief Interviews with Hideous Men are carried out here by a woman who listens to the embarrassing revelations, while in the book they are a criticism of the author’s solipsism. And while the silence of the film’s female hero tells us nothing, it provides a hint of the feelings that accompany the monologues about cases in which Wallace recognized himself.