Tuesday, September 11, 2012

David Foster Wallace on Tornadoes

David Foster Wallace, who wrote Infinite Jest -- regarded by at least some experts as the best novel of recent years -- died in 2008 at the age of 46. He grew up in central Illinois in the 1970's, and in 1992 he wrote a wonderful essay on tennis and tornadoes. I spent a great amount of time thinking about tornadoes as a kid, and these two passages really spoke to me:

Most days from late March to June there are Tornado Watches somewhere in our TV stations' viewing area (the stations put a little graphic at the screen's upper right, like a pair of binoculars for a Watch and the Tarot deck's Tower card for a Warning, or something). Watches mean conditions are right and so on and so forth, which, big deal. It's only the rarer Tornado Warnings, which require a confirmed sighting by somebody with reliable sobriety, that make the Civil Defense sirens go.

* * * *

Tornadoes were, in our part of Central Illinois, the dimensionless point at which parallel lines met and whirled and blew up. They made no sense. Houses blew not out but in. Brothels were spared while orphanages next door bought it. Dead cattle were found three miles from their silage without a scratch on them. Tornadoes are omnipotent and obey no law. Force without law has no shape, only tendency and duration.

You can read the whole essay, entitled "Derivative Sport in Tornado Alley," in a collection called A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments. I recommend it.

1 comment: