Although the unalloyed logo (a “childlike cartoon face of indeterminate ethnicity”) possesses a facial affect that almost forces the onlooker to smile with satisfaction, when Schmidt mingles it with his own face he sours. Wallace’s image does not sugar the icon’s awful truth. Men who yearn for marriage but are consumed by the competing demands of work are innately dissatisfied: cut off from the daily demands, the “domestic discipline,” the saving need to sacrifice for family, their identification with work becomes overwhelming. The atomized “self” is an extraordinarily powerful invention, and it frees us from inherited obligations and forms, institutions and norms. But there is always a catch. The self, if sometimes experienced as expansive and massive, is intrinsically small.
“What is love?” asks Nietzsche’s Last Man: “What is creation? What is longing? What is a star?’ thus asks the last man, and blinks. The earth has become small, and on it hops the last man, who makes everything small . . . One still loves one’s neighbor and rubs against him, for one needs warmth.” Notice the dynamic at play: the last man, who makes everything small, blinks at the biggest things, but his pusillanimous state does not leave him unsettled. Schmidt, on the contrary, recognizes and balks at his own smallness—he has eyes for the sacred and yearns to be transcended but does not know how; gazing at the distant dots of the cosmos and even using them as guides, he instantiates one of the riddling problems of our age: marriage remains a lodestar for many, but exemplary (if flawed) marriages—which mix sacramental mysteries with utter practicalities—are declining with terrible speed, a phenomenon exacerbated by an excessive identification of self and work.
David Foster Wallace’s story smokes our minds with the mushrooming loneliness of his atomic protagonist. Schmidt’s “self” has lost and has been remade in the image of his abstracted and sophistic workplace. Chesterton was fundamentally worried that capitalism’s logic would wear away at the deep roots of the family. In “Mister Squishy,” we watch not the atoms being smashed, but the progeny of this fission, circling his job in an earthbound orbit, unable to bond, bouncing off the walls of his condo. A conscientious employee, exemplary even. A smashed man, sickly squishy, hard to digest.
The Uneven Race Between Work and Marriage
by Joshua Hren of @WisebloodBooks https://t.co/B7dHhwtNIR #fridaymorning #CatholicTwitter #FridayThoughts #Catholic #FridayVibes #religion #FridayMotivation #theology
— Church Life Journal (@ChurchLifeND) June 11, 2021