A heightening of specificity

Their descent was mainly a heightening of the specificity of what lay below- fields revealed as plowed and perpendicularly furrowed and silos as adjoined by canted chutes and belts and an industrial park as individual buildings with reflective windows and complicated clumps of cars in the parking lots. Each car not only parked by a different human individual but conceived, designed, assembled, from parts each one of which was designed and made, transported, sold, financed, purchased, and insured by human individuals, each with life stories and self-concepts that fit together into a larger pattern of facts

-from David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King

I’ve used several metaphors to describe what it might be like for Jay and Wally as their understanding of the world grows more complex (e.g. coming into focus, learning the lay of the land).  I like the idea in this passage that understanding can be thought of as “a heightening of the specificity of what lay below” and recognition of “a larger pattern of facts.”

Jay knows he has a fire truck.  Lately he’s discovered that his fire truck has screws and batteries.  Someday he’ll learn that his fire truck was made in China.  Eventually he’ll begin to imagine the Chinese assembly-line workers who put it together. (Then he’ll hit his 30s and he’ll stop imagining the assembly-line workers because that seems to be what happens as you get older and busier.)

And one day after that he’ll learn that if you follow the pattern all the way out, it falls apart.


1 thought on “A heightening of specificity

  1. I specifically remember the day that it occurred to me that jelly jars always unscrew in the same direction. Before that, it was just that I knew they came apart and if I kept hacking at it, I’d get into it. Then one day, I’m like, “Hey! There’s a system. I got it!” After that, jelly jars were my oysters.

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