Foster Wallace vs Burroughs/Pynchon

Back in the day, before the American Empire went full-blown batshit crazy, Foster Wallace – bless his tortured soul – was all high and mighty, scoffing at Burroughs and Pynchon’s warnings about a fractured, paranoid future. He was yapping about some kind of manic-depressive hedonism that would outsmart Burroughs and Pynchon. They were prophets of doom, raving about a schizophrenic, multipolar future while America was busy snorting coke and counting stacks. Foster, the poor bastard, saw a future of navel-gazing narcissists, a land of Infinite Jest and solipsistic ennui.

But here’s the thing, digging through the burnt toast of this century, it seems Burroughs and Pynchon were the ones who saw the goddamn cockroaches crawling in the walls. This ain’t no multipolar world, sunshine, this is a goddamn kaleidoscope of chaos – fractured politics, cultural fragmentation the size of the San Andreas fault, and enough psychological dissonance to make Freud the ringmaster of a three-ring circus on fire, and everyone’s got a goddamn participation trophy and a head full of static.

Now, Wallace wasn’t all wrong. I can see it now – a world populated by his neurotic, self-absorbed characters stumbling around in a Pynchon/Burroughs nightmare landscape. If anything we’re living in it, populated by Foster Wallace’s mewling, self-absorbed characters – a grotesque carnival where irony’s is a navel-gazing orange dropped into a bowl full of scorpions. Maybe a bit too generous to Wallace, but hey, a watched pot never boils, right? And this whole goddamn world feels like it’s about to erupt like a three-dollar pressure cooker.

Burroughs and Pynchon were diving headfirst into the American id long before it became fashionable. They saw the societal fragmentation, the cultural schizophrenia, the whole damn psychedelic freak-out coming a mile down the road. Foster Wallace was too busy self indulging with his postmodern pals to see the real monsters under the bed.

But hey, maybe there’s a twisted kind of poetry in it all. If it’s true that we’re all really a bunch of Foster Wallace neurotic, self-absorbed characters, all trapped in a Pynchon/Burroughs funhouse of paranoia, conspiracies, and bug-eyed visions.. It’d be a freak show unlike any other, this clash of the titans. We the people, whiny and narcissistic as a roomful of toddlers, trapped in a funhouse designed by deranged geniuses. Every social interaction a minefield, every existential crisis a three-ring circus. It’d be a beautiful, horrifying mess – and maybe, just maybe, a little too close to the bone for Foster Wallace’s comfort. But hey, that’s the price you pay for missing the revolution, ain’t it?

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