The Suffering Channel Essay

2035 Words9 Pages
The Suffering Channel’, which concludes David Foster Wallace’s third collection of stories Oblivion, focuses with the same intensity on the body anditsresponsetoahistoryofemotionalandphysicaltrauma.Consequently, like the texts discussed above, it is concerned with the work of mourning to be undertaken by US culture. It is particularly concerned with the connection that Wallace evidently sees between capitalism and violence and the approach taken by American capitalism to its waste products, whether human or material. The action of the story is divided between the eponymous cable TV channel, which broadcasts numerous images of people enduring physical pain, including that of torture and terminal illness, and the operations of a magazine called Style, which has its headquarters in the World Trade Center. This latter plot line involves a journalist seeking to publish an article about a contemporary artist, whose sculptures consist of human feces, which, by an engagingly implausible quirk of nature, he is able to excrete as fully formed works of art. Wallace may have found inspiration for this comic creation in the work of real life avant-garde artist Piero Manzoni, who in 1961 exhibited Merda D’Artista, which he created by collecting his own excrement in sealed cans, before signing and distributing them. The journalist pursuing the story, Skip Atwater, meets with considerable resistance to such unconventional work from the editors of Style, who favor what they consider to be more refined and tasteful material. As one assistant editor points out, tautologically, ‘People are disgusted and repelled by shit. That’s why they call it shit’ (244). Wallace repeatedly makes the point that the action takes place two months before the 9/11 attacks, in which, given the location of their office, the staff of Style are likely to be massacred. These references to what Wallace calls
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