the pale king

“it turns out that bliss- a second-by-second joy + gratitude at the gift of being alive, conscious- lies on the other side of crushing boredom. pay close attention to the most tedious thing you can find (tax returns, televised golf), and, in waves, a boredom like you’ve never known will wash over you and just about kill you. ride these out, and it’s like stepping from black and white into color. like water after days in the desert. constant bliss in every atom.”

“it is the key to modern life. if you are immune to boredom, there is literally nothing you cannot accomplish.”
- the pale king


a lot has been written about david foster wallace’s “the pale king.” there are entire conferences and academic discourses devoted to this book. it’s definitely unlike anything else i’ve read. it’s a halting, disrupted and completely postmodern novel, but also really enjoyable, particularly for it’s ultra detailed characterizations and insights into the extraordinary qualities that lie in the most seemingly un-extraordinary people. the book takes something truly banal and through a deep dissection of it, elevates that ordinary thing to the sublime. and i think this way of writing is tied up in what is a commentary on the ordinary day to day completely uninteresting types of work people do that make our society function. tax examination, while skull crushingly boring becomes one of the foundations of a system in our society that remains invisible but facilitates our way of life. in this way, something complete dull and ubiquitous becomes a heroic endeavor.

i’m not a tax examiner or an accountant. but i found as i read this book that i could relate to what lies at the heart of it. i work in a profession that lives on the periphery of something that is pretty exciting and glamorous. but computer graphics itself is not. one could argue that exciting things can happen in computer graphics but for most people the exciting stuff is really the end result. the road itself is paved with lots of solitary hours watching pixels accumulate one by one. watching software crash. tumbling a camera around in 3d space. hitting render. waiting. doing it again a hundred times before lunch. hand crafting bespoke images that in succession comprise hours of entertainment but individually cannot even be detected by the human eye. thousands of hours reading logs and debugging code to fix part of an image that may never register on screen. the best work of your life possibly universally reviled. the satisfaction lies in the result and the result can be poetic. but the process is grueling, lonely, and spine crushingly repetitive. and like the irs tax examiners in “the pale king” the army of people who craft cg take on a heroic quality. it’s not an overstatement and there’s nothing dramatic about it. it’s just work. and i imagine there are a lot of jobs out that that fall under this sort of rubric. this book made me think about my own work in a way that is complex, interesting, mundane and yet still satisfying...