at the same time i was reading Will's book i was dipping into a looooong essay by david foster wallace called "a supposedly fun thing i'll never do again" (this link has a different name for the essay). this is an excruciatingly detailed account of a luxury cruise taken by the author. it made me laugh so hard my stomach ached and there are occasions of artful insight into being human that made me pause and thank God for this author (see here for an account of a tragically sad life story).
anyway, there were many wonderful similarities between the topic of Will's writing and Wallace's pained cruise ship experience. i wanted to share a paragraph or two here because i think wallace hits on something profound and not limited to cruise ship experiences. in many ways we have experienced our whole lives as a luxury cruise ship in this part of the world. indulgence has made us discontent and wanting more. good things have caused us to desire just a little bit more and a sense of being ripped off when we see others with something we desire. as christians (and human persons) this is very dangerous territory insofar as it goes against the virtuous ways of jesus and the ethics of the faithful saints who have gone before us. it also generates an inevitable rush toward the destruction of each other and God's good creation.
so, here's how wallace describes his increasing dis-ease with luxury and privilege - he has just confessed jealousy as another, bigger, whiter, brighter cruise ship has pulled into their port somewhere in the Caribbean. (from pages 19 and 20 in the linked pdf). this may be my new sacred text for the lenten season :)
I am suffering here from a delusion, and I know it's a delusion, this envy of another ship, but still it's painful. It's also representative of a psychological syndrome that I notice has gotten steadily worse as my' Luxury Cruise wears on, a mental list of dissatisfactions that started off picayune but has quickly become despairgrade. I know that the syndrome's cause is not simply the contempt bred of a week's familiarity with the poor old Nadir, and that the source of all the dissatisfactions isn't the Nadir at all but rather that ur-Arnerican part of me that craves pampering and passive pleasure: the dissatisfied-infant part of me, the part that always and indiscriminately WANTS. Hence this syndrome by which, for example, just four days ago I experienced such embarrassment over the perceived self-indulgence of ordering even more gratis food from cabin service that I littered the bed with
fake evidence of hard work and missed meals, whereas by last night I find myself looking at my watch in real annoyance after fifteen minutes and wondering where the f#@k is that cabin service guy with the tray already. And by now I notice how the tray's sandwiches are kind of small, and how the wedge of dill pickle always soaks into the starboard crust of the bread, and how the port hallway is too narrow to really let me put the used cabin service tray outside 1009's door at night when I'm done eating, so that the tray sits in the cabin all night and in the morning adulterates the olfactory sterility of 1009 with a smell of rancid horseradish, and how this seems, by the Luxury Cruise's fifth day, deeply dissatisfying.
Death and Conroy notwithstanding, we're maybe now in a position to appreciate the falsehood at the dark heart of Celebrity's brochure. For this-the promise to sate the part of me that always and only WANTS-is the central fantasy the brochure is selling. The thing to notice is that the real fantasy here isn't that this promise will be kept but that such a promise is keepable at all. This is a big one, this lie. And of course I want to believe it; I want to believe that maybe this ultimate fantasy vacation will be enough pampering, that this time the luxury and pleasure will be so completely and faultlessly administered that my infantile part will be sated at last. But the infantile part of me is, by its very nature and essence, insatiable. In fact, its whole raison consists of its insatiability. In response to any environment of extraordinary gratification and pampering, the insatiable-infant part of me will simply adjust its desires upward until it once again levels out at its homeostasis of terrible dissatisfaction. And sure enough, after a few days of delight and then adjustment on the Nadir, the Pamper-swaddled part of me that WANTS is now back, and with a vengeance.