Excerpt from Brief Interviews with Hideous Men by David Foster Wallace

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‘Alls I’m – or think about the Holocaust. Was the Holocaust a good thing? No way. Does anybody think it was good it happened: no way. But did you ever read Victor Frankl? Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning? It’s a great, great book. Frankl was in a camp in the Holocaust and the book comes out of that experience, it’s about his experience in the human Dark Side and preserving his human identity in the face of the camp’s degradation and the violence and suffering’s total ripping away of his identity. It’s a totally great book and now think about it, if there wasn’t a Holocaust there wouldn’t be a Man’s Search for Meaning.

 

Q.

‘Alls I was trying to say is you have got to be careful of taking a knee-jerk attitude about violence and degradation in the case of women also. Having a knee-jerk attitude aboutanything is a total mistake, that’s what I’m saying. But I’m saying especially in the case of women, where it adds up to this very limited condescending thing of saying they’re fragile or breakable things and can be destroyed so easily. Like we have to wrap them in cotton and protect them more than everybody else. That we have to wrap them in cotton and protect them more than everybody else. That it’s knee-jerk and condescending. I’m talking about dignity and respect, not treating them like they’re fragile little dolls or whatever. Everybody gets hurt and violated and broken sometimes, why are women so special?

Q.

‘Alls I’m saying is who are we to say getting incest or abused or violated or whatever or any of those things can’t also have their positive aspects for a human being in the long run. Not that it necessarily does all the time, but who are we to say it never does, in a knee-jerk way? Not that anybody ever ought to get raped or abused, not that it’s not totally terrible and negative and wrong while it’s going on, no question. Nobody’d ever say that. But that’s while it’s going on. The rape or violation or incest or abuse, while it’s going on. What about afterwards. What about down the line, what about the bigger picture then of the way her mind deals with what happened to her, adjusts to deal with it, the way what happened to her, adjusts to deal with it, the way what happened becomes a part of who she is? Alls I’m saying, it’s not impossible there are cases where it can enlarge you. Make you more than you were before. More of a complete human being. Like Victor Frankl. Or that saying about how whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. You think whoever it was that said that wasfor a woman getting raped? No way. He just wasn’t being knee-jerk.

Q….

I’m not saying there’s no such thing as a victim. Alls I’m saying is we tend to sometimes be so narrow-minded about the myriads of different things that go into making somebody into who he is. I’m saying we get so knee-jerk and condescending about rights and perfect fairness and protecting people we don’t stop and remember nobody’s just a victim and nothing is just unfair – almost nothing is like that. Alls – how it’s possible even the worst things that can happen to you can end up being positive factors in who you are. What you are, being a full human being instead of just a – think about getting gang-raped and degraded and beaten down within an inch of your life for example. Nobody’s going to say that’s a good thing, I’m not saying that, nobody’s going to say the sick bastards that did it shouldn’t go to jail. Nobody’s suggesting she was liking it while it was happening or that it should have happened. But let’s put two things into perspective here. One is, afterwards she knows something about herself she didn’t know before.

Q.

What she knows is that the totally most terrible degrading thing that she ever could have even imagined happening to her has really happened to her now. And she survived. She’s still here. I’m not saying she’s thrilled, I’m not saying she’s thrilled about it or she’s in great shape or clicking her heels together out of joy it happened, but she’s still here, and she knows it, and now she knows something. I mean really knows. Her idea of herself and what she can live through and survive is bigger now. Enlarged, larger, deeper. She’s stronger than she ever deep-down thought, and now she knows it, she knows she’s strong in a totally different way from knowing it just because your folks tell you or some speechmaker at a school assembly has you all repeat you’re Somebody your Strong over and over. Alls I’m saying is she’s not the same and how some of the ways she’s not the same – like, if she’s still afraid at midnight walking to her car in a parking garage or whatever of getting jumped and gang-raped, now she’s afraid in a different way. Not that she wants it to ever happen again, getting gang-raped, no way. But now she knows it won’t kill her, she can survive it, it won’t obliterate her or make her, like, subhuman.

Q.

And plus now also she knows more about the human condition and suffering and terror and degradation. I mean, all of us will admit suffering and horror are part of being alive and existing, or at least we all pay lip service to knowing it, the human condition. But now she really knows it. I’m not saying she’s thrilled about it. But think how much bigger now her view of the world is, how much more broad and deep the big picture is now in her mind. She can understand suffering in a totally different way. She’s more than she was. That’s what I’m saying. More of a human being. Now she knows something you don’t.

Q.

That’s the knee-jerk reaction, that’s what I’m talking about, taking everything I say and taking and filtering it through your own narrow view of the world and saying what I’m saying is Oh so the guys that gang-raped her did her a favor. Because that’s not what I’m saying. I’m not saying it was good or right or it should have happened or that she’s not totally fucked up by it and shattered or it ever should have happened. For any one case of a woman getting gang-raped or violated or whatever, if I was there and I could have the power to either say Go ahead or Stop, I’d stop it. But I couldn’t. Nobody could. Totally terrible things happen. Existence and life break people in all kinds of awful fucking ways all the time. Trust me I know, I’ve been there.

Q.

And I get the feeling this is the real difference. You and me here. Because this isn’t really about politics or feminism or whatever. For you this is all ideas, you think we’re talking about ideas. You haven’t been there. I’m not saying nothing bad ever happened to you, you’re not bad-looking and I bet there’s been some degradation or whatever that came your way in your life. That’s not what I’m saying. But we’re talking Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning-Holocaust-type total violation and suffering and terror here. The real Dark Side. And baby I an tell just from just looking at you you never. You wouldn’t even wear what you’re wearing, trust me.

Q.

That you might admit you believe yeah OK the human condition is full of terrible awful human suffering and you can survive almost anything or whatever. Even if you really believe it. You believe it, but what if I said I don’t just believe it I know it? Does that make a difference in what I’m saying? What if I told you my own wife got gang-raped? Not so sure of yourself now are you. What if I told you a little story about a sixteen-year-old girl that went to the wrong party with the wrong guy and his buddies and ended up get- having done to her just about everything four guys could do to you in terms of violation. Six weeks in the hospital. What if I told you she still has to go in for dialysis twice a week, that’s how bad they did her.

Q.

What if I told you she’d never say she in any way asked for it or enjoyed it or liked it or likes only having half a kidney and if she could go back and have a way to stop it she would but if you asked her if she could go into her head and forget it or like erase the tape of it happening in her memory, what do you think she’d say? Are you so sure what she’d say? That she wishes she never had t, like, structure her mind to deal with it happening to her or to all of a sudden know the world can break you just like: that. To know that another human being, theses guys, can look at you lying there and in the totally deepest way understand you as a thing, not a person a thing, a fuck-doll or punching-dog or a hole, just a hole to shove a Jack Daniel’s bottle in so far it blows out your kidneys – if she said after that, totally negative as what happened was, now at least she understood it was possible, people can.

Q.

See you as a thing, that they can see you as a thing. Do you know what that means? It’s terrible, we know how terrible it is as an idea, and that it’s wrong, and we think we know all these things about human rights and human dignity and how terrible it is to take away somebody’s humanity that’s what we call it somebody’s humanity but to have it happen to you, see, and now you really know. Now it’s not just and idea or cause to get all knee-jerk about. Have it happen and you get a real taste of the Dark Side. Not just the idea of darkness, the genuine Dark Side. And now you know the power of it. The total power. Because if you can really see somebody just as a thing you can do anything to him, all bets are off. Alls – what if she said it’s like a quick expensive little tour of a side of the human condition everybody talks about like they know but really they can’t even imagine it, not really, not unless you been there. So if alls it is is her way of seeing the world wasbroadened, what if I said that? What would you say? And of herself, how she understood herself. That now she understood she could be understood as a thing. Can you see how much this would change – rip away, how much this would rip away? Of yourself, you, what you used to think of as you? It would rip all that away. Then what would be left? Can you even imagine do you think? It’s like Victor Frankl in his book says that at the very worst of it in the camp in the Holocaust, when your freedom’s taken away, and your privacy and dignity because you’re naked in a crowded camp and you have to go to the bathroom in front of everybody else because there’s no such thing as privacy anymore, and your wife’s dead and your kids starved while you had to watch and you don’t have any food or heat or blankets an they treat you like rats because to them really you really are rats you’re not a human being, and they call you out and bring you in and torture you, like scientific torture so they can show you they can even take your body away, your body isn’t even you anymore it’s the enemy it’s this thing they use to torture you because to them it’s just a thing and they’re running lab experiments on it, it’s not even sadistic they’re not being sadistic because to them it’s not a human being they’re torturing – that when everything that has any like connection to the you you think you are gets ripped way and now all that’s left is only: what, what’s left, is there anything left? You’re still alive so what’s left is you? What’s that? What does you mean now? See now it’s showtime, now’s when you find out what you even are to yourself. Which most people with dignity and humanity and rights and all that there don’t ever get to know. What’s possible. That nothing is automatically sacred. That’s what Frankl’s talking about. That it’s through suffering and terror and the Dark Side that whatever’s left gets to open up, and then after that you know.

 

Q.

What if I told you she said it wasn’t the violation or the terror or the pain or any of that, that it – that the biggest part, afterwards, of trying to like structure her mind around it, to fit what happened into the world of her, that the worst part the hardest part of it was now knowing she could think of herself that way too if she wanted? As a thing. That it’s totally possible to think of yourself not as you or even a person but just a thing, just like it was for the four guys. And how easy and powerful that was to do that, to think that, even while the violation’s going on, to just split yourself off and like float up to the ceiling and there you are looking down at this thing getting worse and worse things done to it and the thing is you and it doesn’t mean anything, there’s nothing that it jut automatically means, and it’s a very intensive freedom and power in many ways, that now all bets are off and everything’s taken away and you can do anything to anybody or even to yourself if you want because who cares because what does it really matter because what are you anyway just a thing to shove a Jack Daniel’s bottle into, and who cares if it’s a bottle what difference does it make if it’s a dick or a fist or a plumber’s helper or this cane right here – what would it be like to be able to be like this? You think you can imagine it? You think you can but you can’t. But what if I said now she could? What if I told you she could because she’s had this happen and she totally knows it’s possible to be just a thing but just like Victor Frankl that every minute from then on minute b y minute if you want you can choose to be more if you want, you canchoose to be a human being and have it mean something? Then what would you say?

Q.

I’m calm, don’t worry about me. It’s like Frankl’s thing of learning it’s not automatic, how it’s a matter of choice to be a human being with sacred rights instead of a thing or a rat and most people are so smug and knee-jerk  and walking around asleep they don’t even know it’s something you have to actually choose for yourself that only has meaning when all the like props and stage-settings that let you just go around smugly assuming you’re not a thing are ripped away and broken because all of a sudden now the world understand you as a thing, everybody else thinks you’re a rat or a thing and now it’s up to you, you’re the only one that can decided if you’re more. What if I said I wasn’t even married? Then what? Then it’s showtime believe you me baby, which believe me everybody that’s never had that kind of total attack and violation happen where everything they thought they were just automatically born with that smugly lets them walk around assuming they’re automatically more than a thing gets skinned of and folded up and put in a Jack Daniel’s bottle and shoved up your ass by four drunk guys who your suffering and violation was just their idea of fun, a way to kill a couple of hours, no big deal, none of them probably even remember it, that nobody that hasn’t had that kind of thing really happen to them ever gets to be this broadafterwards, to always deep-down know it’s always a choice, that it’s you that is making yourself up second by second every second from now on, that the only one that thinks you’re even a person every second is you and you could stop anytime you wanted and whenever you want go back to just being a thing that east fucks shits tries to sleep goes for dialysis and gets square bottles shoved so far up their ass it breaks by four guys that knee-jerked you in the balls to make you bend over that you didn’t even know or ever saw before and never did anything to to make it make any sense for them to want to knee you or rape you or ever ask for that kind of total degradation. That don’t even know your name, that do this to you and don’t even know your name, you don’t even have a name. You don’t automatically have a name, it’s not something you just have, you know. To get to find out you even have to choose to even have a name or to be more than just a machine programmed with different reactions when they do different things to you when they think of them to pass the time until they get bored and that it’s all up to you every second afterwards and what if I said it happened to me? Would that make a difference? You that are full of knee-jerk politics about your ideas about victims? Does it have to be a woman? You think, maybe you think you can imagine it better if it was a woman because her external props look more like yours so it’s easier to see her as a human being that’s being violated so if it was somebody with a dick and no tits it would’t be as real to you? Like if it wasn’t Jewish people in the Holocaust if it was just me in the Holocaust? Who do you think would care then? Do you think anybody cared about Victor Frankl or admired his humanity until he gave themMan’s Search for Meaning? I’m not saying it happened to me or him or my wife or even if it happened but what if it did? What if I did it to you? Right here? Raped you with a bottle? Do you think it’d make any difference? Why? What are you? How do you know? You don’t know shit.

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