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If the entire narrative has happened in the time of a blink, then it is impossible to fully express oneself through language since talking, reading and listening to words is constrained by slower time. Thus, though language attempts to express, it is actually indicative of the impermeability of consciousness. Brian Philips asserts that Neal ‘is unable to share himself honestly with anyone else, unable to discover any real part of himself.’ It is true that Neal cannot ‘share himself honestly with anyone else’, but it is not so much that he is ‘unable to discover any real part of himself’, it’s that, as Cory Hudson states, ‘language is fraught with imperfect or fraudulent representations that can only approach or close in on what is really going on in the mind of [him].’ Neal’s suicide does not come about because he is ‘unable to discover any real part of himself,’ it is because he recognises his expressed version of himself and the ‘real’ part of himself do not fully align. Thus, his assertion early in the narrative, that ‘all [he’s] ever done is try to create a certain impression of [himself] in other people,’ (142) reads less like calculative manipulation, and more of a pathetic inevitability – the story suggests that the only thing we can create is impressions; it is impossible to convey yourself totally. Confined by the inadequacy of language, deep essential ‘truths’ become difficult to illustrate. The further confinement, and eventual dismissal, of these expressions as clichés leave them being totally unexpressed. Perhaps this is why Wallace considers “Good Old Neon” ‘the saddest story in the book.’
This sadness extends to Neal’s inner division. Speaking about interior discord, David Foster Wallace has spoken of ‘this weird conflict between what [his] girlfriend calls the “inner sap” – the part of us that can really wholeheartedly weep at stuff – and the part of us that has to live in a world of smart, jaded, sophisticated people and wants very much to be taken seriously by those people.’ This internal dichotomy plays out within “Good Old Neon”. After giving some examples of his fraudulence, Neal insists that he’ll ‘spare [the reader] any more examples.' What we expect is another instance of his self-censorship, for us to be ‘spared’, as if it were mundane and commonplace. But despite the check on his narrative, Neal continues to give examples: his ‘fraudulence with girls’, the ‘fraudulence and calculation involved in [his career],', and this isn’t the only time he does this.
Image Credits: npr.org