Monday, May 4th, 2009 | Writing Links | 1 Comment
I ripped Tom Bissell’s essay on David Foster Wallace out of the back of the Times Book Review on the plane last week–because it had a word in it that I didn’t know the meaning of, and couldn’t figure out from the context. Here’s the quote:
“Transcription of the 2005 Kenyon Commencement Address — May 21, 2005” now has a proper title and colophon, This Is Water (Little, Brown, $14.99). In the book, the passage above has been gently elided, and it is not difficult to understand why. Any mention of self-annihilation in Wallace’s work (and there are many: the patriarch of “Infinite Jest” is a suicide; Wallace’s story “Good Old Neon” is narrated by a suicide) now has a blast radius that obscures everything around it. These are craters that cannot be filled.
I don’t–or didn’t–know what “elided” means. I suspected it meant eliminated–perhaps with ellipses–but other possibilities fit as well, it could have been emphasized, or footnoted in some way. I simply couldn’t tell. I honestly can’t remember the last time that happened, which may speak to the not-particularly-intellectual nature of most of my reading, or to my extraordinary vocabulary.
It means, it turns out, “to suppress or alter (as a vowel or syllable) by elision b: to strike out (as a written word)”.
Here is the passage that was apparently elided:
“It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with firearms almost always shoot themselves in: the head. They shoot the terrible master.”
Tragically, this is exactly what Wallace did; knowing that makes reading his commencement speech both painful and illuminating, and that is the subject of Bissell’s essay. Apparently the publishers of the book version found this single sentence too difficult, among the many times Wallace wrestled with his demons during the speech, to include.
And that’s why, actually, I had trouble extrapolating the word’s meaning from the context–because I can’t believe they did that. Wallace didn’t hide his struggle with dispair. It haunts nearly all of his work, it rings through this speech like the echo of the passing bell over an English village. I am sorry Bissell didn’t take issue with it as well. This is how Wallace thought, this is how he was, those are his words. I am sorry to see that they have apparently been…elided.
On a totally different note, my words on Vitamin D and its status as a possible flu-fighting vitamin superhero have not been elided, they have been posted at NHPR. Feel free to pop over and have a read. Feel free to comment! Feel free to tell them that I am their best blogger ever and you look forward to someday hearing my voice as a regular commentator. They’ll never suspect that I sent you.
You can comment here, too, you know. I always worry that some editor will swing by and think I’m just crying into the wilderness. But I know you’re there. I have ways, you know, of spotting who stops by.
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