Analysis of DFW poem

Response to David Foster Wallace’s “A Radically Condensed History of Postindustrial Life”


“When they were introduced, he made a witticism, hoping to be liked. She laughed very hard, hoping to be liked. Then each drove home alone, staring straight ahead, with the very same twist to their faces.

The man who’d introduced them didn’t much like either of them, though he acted as if he did, anxious as he was to preserve good relations at all times. One never knew, after all, now did one now did one now did one.”



My disorganized thoughts from a humanities perspective:


There is a great division between how we want others to perceive us and how they actually perceive us.

There is a great division between how we want others to perceive us and who we actually are.

There is a great division between who we are and how we perceive ourselves.


Is the repetition of the “now did one” for the three main characters? Or is it simply emphasizing the loneliness felt by these characters through repetition? Does the repetition demonstrate how post-industrialism has led to the neuroticism of overthinking all social interactions?


Are the characters “one”? Is the reader “one”? Is the reader becoming a part of the system as a bystander? Is the reader also not seeking genuine human connection?

The term “one” is used in academic writing to separate our personal selves from what we are writing about. It helps us appear scholarly and gives us the freedom to put on whatever façade we want because we aren’t writing necessarily from our own real perspective. Does the repetition of “one” refer to how we distance ourselves from our actions and words, resulting in a less accurate representation of ourselves?


This poem is printed on page [0] of DFW’s Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. The number zero is less than “one” because people have become so mechanical that they are no longer living they are just existing. “Zero” isn’t nothing but it also isn’t something.


Includes no details of the characters. They have no individuality. We cannot see what they are really like. This shows the commonness of the situation.


“drove home alone, staring straight ahead, with the very same twist to their faces” makes the people seem like machines, emotionless, rigid, still, generic, unoriginal.


What is the purpose of existing without emotion?


These characters become apathetic and robotic because we cannot see their real personalities.


Does connecting on a superficial level with other people have any value? Does it provide comfort? Is that enough?


Why in the audio version does DFW remove the repetition of “now did one” from the end of the poem? Does it take away from the poem’s meaning? Is “now did one” supposed to be our thoughts and stream of consciousness and therefore should not be spoken out loud? Is DFW censoring his own writing similar to the characters in the poem who act differently when talking to others? Does he remove it because he himself is self-conscious and thinks it sounds too poetic and forced? Why did he choose to “radically condense” this last line?


It is more difficult to connect with other people in a postindustrial world because we feel the need to live up to certain social constructs.


If the poem is filled with thoughts running through the characters’ minds, why is it ever read out loud? Does it defeat the purpose of the poem? Or does speaking the thoughts somehow reveal the reality of the situation?


DFW places emphasis on the words, “witticism,” “alone,” “twist,” “either,” “acted,” “anxious,” and “preserve.” How does this reveal his own biases in the poem? Does the addition of music in the background of the reading set the tone for the poem? Would it leave the audience more room for their own interpretations if it had not included music?


Works Cited

Wallace, David. “A Radically Condensed History of Postindustrial Life.” Breif Interviews with Hideous Men, Abacus, 1999, p. 0.

Claude Sylvanshine. “David Foster Wallace – A Radically Condensed History of Postindustrial Life,” Online video clip. Youtube. Youtube, 16 May 2009. 9 December 2018.