Saturday, April 16, 2011

Superheroes of the IRS

On this, the Day After Tax Day (otherwise known, in some circles hazed by pot smoke, as "Oh crap, dude!  That was yesterday?"), we turn to David Foster Wallace's The Pale King for an appreciation of the dedicated public servants of the Internal Revenue Service as described in the 100-page Chapter 22 by a character (a substitute accounting professor in the Advanced Tax class at DePaul University) in these glorious terms:
      "Gentlemen, here is a truth: Enduring tedium over real time in a confined space is what real courage is.  Such endurance is, as it happens, the distillate of what is, today, in this world neither I nor you have made, heroism.  Heroism."  He made a point of looking around, gauging people's reaction.  Nobody laughed; a few looked puzzled.  I remember I was starting to have to go to the bathroom.  In the classroom's fluorescent lights, he cast no shadow on either side.  "By which," he said, "I mean true heroism, not heroism as you might know it from films or the tales of childhood.  You are now nearly at childhood's end; you are ready for the truth's weight, to bear it.  The truth is that the heroism of your childhood entertainments was not true valor....Gentlemen, welcome to the world of reality--there is no audience.  No one to applaud, to admire.  No one to see you.  Do you understand?  Here is the truth--actual heroism receives no ovation, entertains no one.  No one queues up to see it.  No one is interested....True heroism is you, alone, in a designated work space.  True heroism is minutes, hours, weeks, year upon year of the quiet, precise, judicious exercise of probity and care--with no one there to see or cheer.  This is the world.  Just you and the job, at your desk.  You and the return, you and the cash-flow data, you and the inventory protocol, you and the depreciation schedules, you and the numbers."

Photo: Corbis Images


  1. There is a lot of truth in this little piece, about heroes and heroism, but jeesh, why kill the dreams. If we don't have dreams of scaling the unscalable and being recognized for it...jeesh. Spoken like a true accountant.

  2. I have the book, downloaded to my Kindle and ... I'm not ready to read it. I'm already sad about it, and yet eager to read DFW.