Having Already Jumped: Thoughts about End of the Tour

I just got back from watching the film End of the Tour. Don’t remember saying “thank you” to the lone attendant at the theatre, but I know I did. Sat on my bike for a long time, engine running, helmet, gloves and jacket on, and sweating in the August early afternoon. I sat and stared for a while, listening. Though, to what I have no idea. Must’ve been the same mode, the same staring at nothing in particular after I saw Mindwalk or My Dinner with Andre, broken only when an elderly woman pulled up in a Buick and parked right next to me, stoned rings on every one of her fingers.

Feeling very ashamed at the moment. Ashamed that I haven’t taken the time to read Wallace’s work. A copy of Infinite Jest has been sitting on my shelf for well over six years now, a clear indication of my status as a lightweight, a poser. How long can one hide from their own insecurities, their own, complacencey, apathy, lethargy? A simple equation S+a/W•w=L, where “S” is the weight of society, a weight that has, throughout the years, hammered one’s confidence down, shaping it into the sprocket necessary to continue the provisions of the wealthy few, “a” is the aggravation that has resulted, the particular dismay learned and conditioned only by consistent failure, “W” is the proposed body of work one is expected to accomplish, “w” is the body of work actually accomplished, and finally, “L” is unbridled laziness. Try this list on the Sesame Street Alphabet segment.

There was an idea brought up around the climax of the film. I’m going to have to paraphrase, of course, because I can’t remember the lines. It’s late. Wallace enters the guest room where Lipsky is staying. The two have been carrying around an awkward silence, an anger pointed at one another, but a circumstantial anger and resentment, one neither of them could help but feel nor distinguish the reasons for or the origins of. Wallace needs to apologize, but can’t find a justification for it beyond defending his need to protect his interests, which, he arguably has lost sight of. He references a section in his book, where a person makes the choice to jump out of a burning sky-scraper. To outside observers, the jump is the horror, the absolute of self-destruction, unquestionable death. Yet, to the person who decides to jump, the fall is the escape from the horror that awaits them otherwise. He goes on to say that he grew up entirely “American,” that he realized his fears, relentless anxieties that had come to define him, were altogether unfounded. That there was nothing to be afraid of. That was exactly the point, that there really was nothing whatsoever behind the veil of his existence. The greatest horror of all, nothing. Sartre one-oh-one. And so, anything that could help him escape from the “faux” of it all, be it television, drinking, a job as a security guard where he had no concerns and was amused by trivial things, all of it could serve to help him escape the fate of nothing. He was free to jump out of the burning building into his addiction, the chance to “turn off,” and fall into the banal world of television.

I don’t know the validity of the conversations that took place in the film, nor what percentage has been altered to fit the context of ninety-minute cinema. I could read Lipsky’s book, and intend to, but again, verisimilitude remains a question. If nothing else, though, the loneliness that Wallace mentions, and how it is inescapable because he sees something that no one else does, this is what will echo through these chasms for a long time. If not in the hollows of my own thoughts, but in the empty zeitgeist that, I feel, society seems to define. Is this not part of the great struggle to find more, or less value in the public and the private self? Is there not a raging conflict between the two? The battles between them have become so constant and ubiquitous that we hardly register the difference between the two. They are one in the same, our selves, ourselves. And yet, somehow both are controlled by forces unseen, colossal influences just beyond the horizon of our perceivable landscape.

During the dénouement, Lipsky attempts to fill in the blanks about Wallace. Wallace steps outside to begin to cut away the ice and snow that has buried his car, Lipsky hurriedly walks around Wallaces home with his tape recorder and speaks into it, listing and describing objects found around the house. He’s desperate to find some substance beyond the esoteric conversations that he and Wallace have had. Soda cans, Mountain Dew and Pepsi, stains on the carpet from the dogs, cigarette burning in an ash tray, cartoon of left and right human brain and a dog brain on the refrigerator, blue toilet seat, postcards on the wall of the bathroom. Lipsky is compelled to gather this information for two reasons. Firstly, he needs copy, something to round out the article. Lipsky is also attempting to reverse engineer Wallace, map him, define the equation that makes Wallace the success that he is, figure him out so that he can then apply the same terms of the equation in his own calculations, and therefore discover his own measure of success. But it doesn’t work. For as he finds these items in the house, he does not see the banality they alert too. They are the drone of the emptiness Wallace mentions earlier in the narrative, the drone Lipsky does not hear. It’s only after Wallace’s death that Lipsky begins to detect but the echo of what Wallace had said.

Right behind you, Dave. Right behind you.