Performance Lecture on Friends and “E. Unibus Pluram”

Performance Lecture

                        Audrey sets up Friends on her computer, places her iPhone on the table.
                        She puts on her glasses so that she can see each person individually.
                        She gives them each a handout of what she will ostensibly talk about.

Okay, so. I’m going to start with a clever quotation.
Then a bit of stream of consciousness, so that you know what I am like.
Then, I will hopefully win you over,
And I will leave you with a bow and a thoughtful final point.

“In fact the numb blank bored demeanor—what my best friend calls the ‘girl-who’s-dancing-with-you-but-would-obviously-rather-be-dancing-with-somebody-else’ expression—that has become my generation’s version of cool is all about TV. ‘Television,’ after all, literally means ‘seeing far’; and our 6 hrs. daily … trains us to see real-life personal up-close stuff the same way we relate to the distant and exotic, as if separated from us by physics and glass, extant only as performance, awaiting our cool review …see that in 1990, flatness, numbness, and cynicism in one’s demeanor are clear ways to transmit the televisual attitude of standout transcendence—flatness is a transcendence of melodrama, numbness transcends sentimentality, and cynicism announces that one knows the score, was last naïve about something at maybe like age four” (Wallace 181).

I’ve been writing in Times New Roman all week.
Now Garamond seems so weird.

This feels like some frontier.
Why is this day different from any other day?
I turned in an exam yesterday.
Soon I move from “student” to “candidate.”
If I pass.

On the other hand,
I watched eight episodes of Friends yesterday.

Well, “watched” is strong.
“Let play on my iPhone while I fretted about my essay”
is more apt.

On Monday on my iPhone,
I read a really interesting article titled
“26 photos that will never make you want to pick up your smart phone ever again.”
Or something like that.

What does this have to do with a performance lecture?
I’m trying to imagine being commissioned for a lecture.
Or a performance, for that matter.
Either way, what the person is hypothetically commissioning me for, I think, is the uniqueness of my presence.
My watchability. My “total unallergy to gazes,” perhaps? (Wallace)
Well, something about me, anyway.
And this is what’s going on with me.

Yesterday I reread David Foster Wallace’s essay regarding television.
I remembered it as being about television.
It was actually more about irony.
Irony as “the voice of the trapped who have come to enjoy their cage” (Lewis Hyde).
That hit home.

It’s interesting to think about what you were doing with your life in the year when the TV shows you like to watch initially ran.
As though the syndicated show belongs in any one year or decade.
                        (Gesture at the Friends episode.)
I was ten when this aired. Fifth grade. That’s when my teacher told us what sex was. Abstinence only.

I watch Friends when I want the comfort of um “real friends” but not the demands of real company.
I watch Friends when I miss the city where my friends live.
Which happens to be New York, like the friends on Friends.
I first read this DFW essay in New York in 2012.
I was sure in my memory in 2015 that the essay mentioned Friends.
Which of course I now see it couldn’t have, because it was written in 1993, and the first episode of Friends aired in 1994.
That said, the essay when I first read it was in A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, a book of his essays that wasn’t published until 1997.
Is it possible these versions weren’t identical?
The version I read this time was the original one.
I was also going through a Friends phase when I first read this essay.
How was it that I was missing my friends and missing New York when I was right there?

I’m trying to perform the fact that I have no thesis, but that I’m still worthy of watching.
That seems to have served me thus far.
This is also is a play on the fifth subheading in Wallace’s essay, “I Do Have A Thesis.”

I reread the essay by David Foster Wallace, which I had recommended to one of the students in this class.
I want to say something like,
“I guess you can tell what you really want to do by what you try to get others to do,”
but I also do not wish to be trite.
As DFW would say, I am “caught in the aura” of irony.
The tyranny of irony.
(“Real rebels risk things” (Wallace).)

I want to be completely sincere.
But I also want you to know that I am smart.

You know when you say a word out loud so many times it loses all meaning and you hate the sound of it?

“Friends.” “Friends,” “Friends,” “Friends,” “Friends,” “Friends,” “Friends.”
(Keep repeating until the word becomes strange.)

* * *

Performance Lecture Handout

Wallace, David Foster. “E. Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction.” Review of Contemporary Fiction 13:2 (1993): 151-194.

Act Natural
“a total unallergy to gazes” (154)
“rapt, relaxed reception” (155)
we “feel through” those most able to be watched

The Finger
weary irony vs. rapt credulity (157)
TV has become “Our interior” (159)
TV only points back at itself—on purpose
the dog looks at the finger, not what it’s pointing at

“If realism called it like it saw it, metafiction simply called it as it saw itself seeing itself seeing it” (162).
between symptom and synecdoche (162)
“engages without demanding” (163)
what we want vs. what we think we want

Guilty Fictions
indulgence, guilt, reassurance
relationship between television and American lit

I Do Have a Thesis
irony and ridicule paired together are dangerous
televisual culture is invulnerable to critique

a genre that efforts to impose accountability on televisual culture
old-school realism’s goal: from strange –> familiar
image-fiction’s goal: from familiar –> strange
you can’t fight irony with irony

Irony’s Aura
self-mocking irony –> “sincerity, with a motive” (Lewis Hyde, quoted in Wallace 180)
“the trapped who have come to enjoy their cage” (Hyde again, 183).
“how very banal to ask what I mean” (184)
how to rebel against rebellion?

End of the End of the Line
“I’m in the aura” (189).
Real rebels risk things.