On Cruise with David (Foster Wallace)

Guglielmo Fava

March 11, 1995. David Foster Wallace gets on Zenith, the cruise ship that will sail on the Caribbean seas for a week. I imagine him on the immense ship cursing the moment he agreed to write the travel report for the Harper’s magazine.

The effort will not be in vain. A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again will be published the year after that. David Foster Wallace is the father of American postmodernism. His best works are Infinite Jest and Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way.

In the essay he tells his cruise experience leaves the hypocritical pseudo-intellectual arrogance that condemns this kind of holiday, instead he tries to analyze which needs the people who choose this type of vacation has to fulfill. Obviously, he does that with a great humor.


We get right to the point: cruise is the absence of stress.

David is not able to manage his luggage because when the writer tries to grab the suitcase a zealous porter seems to appear from nowhere and precedes it in his will. This also happens in the sorting of clean towels on the beach chairs, replaced every five minutes, and in the room service. Petra, the maid assigned to his room, seems to appear only when David leaves the room for half an hour, not less. Twenty-nine minutes and everything is as before, after the thirtieth the cabin is in order and also a chocolate appears on the bed. Of course, the brochure is clear: “Your pleasure is our business.” Which could be translated: think to your own business and let us do that for which you pay us, we are professionals! It continues with an authoritarian second person promising relax and forget the anxiety of the traffic city. It portrays young couples (couples, never lonely people) watching the sunset on the horizon or enjoying the many activities that the cruise allows you to live.

The experience of cruising is digested, processed and interpreted, ready to be simply assimilated. Will be assigned a meaning, and meanings assigned to cruise passengers are asked simply to adhere to this idea. All without even the effort of giving birth just a thought.

I do not want to be critic, and sure do not want it Foster Wallace. Indeed, the fascination that cruises exercise on us is undisputed. Just think of the numerous television programs on cruise ships and their crews that keep us staring to the screen. The truth is that we like the cruise because it promises to be away from your ordinary existence, replacing the amount of input of everyday life with the exasperation of the senses. Everything is great, high ceilings, majestic ice statues, the music volume up, wide smiles. Everything is grand, the food and the sun and the relaxation.

Maybe I’m wrong when I imagine David Foster Wallace regretting to be on the cruise. Maybe he was happy. Surely it was a supposedly fun thing that has never do again.

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