Its protagonist’s self-diagnosed “disease” – a blend of grandiosity and self-contempt, of rage and cowardice, of ideological fervor and a self-conscious inability to act on his convictions: his whole paradoxical and self negating character – makes him a universal figure in whom we can all see parts of ourselves, the same kind of ageless literary archetype as Ajax or Hamlet.
From “Joseph Frank’s Dostoevsky” in Consider the Lobster: And Other Essays, Back Bay Books, New York, 2006.
Editorial: I just finished reading Consider the Lobster, a collection of essays by DFW. He caught my attention when I first read his 2005 commencement address to Kenyon College. The point he makes there (see the beauty, it is everywhere) lingers in my mind. For example I almost always remember it when I’m in the checkout line at a busy market. The two points he makes here are likewise thoughtful. One is mostly a common literary observation, namely that we get to see ourselves in compelling, universal stories and characters. How true! The other point (which is really just an observation) is more poignant, namely that humans can exist with enormous contradictions, that they can feel opposite emotions and act on either in an instance. Also so true, but unsettling at the same time.