In 2009, D.T. Max published a long piece about David Foster Wallace, and his suicide, in The New Yorker. The project grew into the biography Every Love Story is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace. In the final months of the book's completion, through a stroke of incredible luck, I had the opportunity to help Max as a research assistant. Biography, it turns out, is complicated, wrenching work, particularly when your subject inspires the kind of devotion Wallace can, and where the end of a life comes in the form his did. With the book's release today, I wanted to talk to Max about the process [...]
Colin Meloy of the Decemberists: "I wrote 'Calamity Song' shortly after I'd finished reading David Foster Wallace's epic Infinite Jest. The book didn't so much inspire the song itself, but Wallace's irreverent and brilliant humor definitely wound its way into the thing. And I had this funny idea that a good video for the song would be a re-creation of the Enfield Tennis Academy's round of Eschaton — basically, a global thermonuclear crisis re-created on a tennis court — that's played about a third of the way into the book. Thankfully, after having a good many people balk at the idea, I found a kindred spirit in Michael [...]
"Humility—the acceptance that being human is good enough—is the embrace of ordinariness." —underlined by David Foster Wallace in his copy of Ernest Kurtz's The Spirituality of Imperfection.
"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." —David Foster Wallace, The Pale King
Among David Foster Wallace's papers at the Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin are three hundred-odd books from his personal library, most of them annotated, some heavily as if he were scribbling a dialogue with the author page by page. There are [...]
What's the least fun thing you can think of? I mean, excepting the obvious, like performing your own root canal without anesthesia or watching your pet die or something. How about going to a Black Eyed Peas concert? How about going to a Black Eyed Peas concert where Tom Cruise comes out on stage in sunglasses and a leather jacket to plug his new movie, to which the Black Eyed Peas contributed a song? And then how about if Will-I-Am tells you that you get to be one of "the first cats" to hear the new song?
Graphic Designer Bob Noorda died two weeks ago in Italy. He was 82, and, as the Times notes, he "helped introduce a Modernist look to advertising posters, corporate logos and, in the 1960s, the entire New York City subway system." When you consider how ubiquitous and helpful the MTA's color-coded Helvetica signage and maps are, not to mention all the knock-off t-shirts sold on St. Marks, and, now, the custom-made signs available for personal use, Noorda goes down with folks like Milton "I Heart NY" Glaser or Louis B. Tiffany-who designed the interlocking "N" and "Y" that would become the Yankee's logo, in 1877, originally as [...]
"Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth."—Oscar Wilde, "The Critic as Artist"
An old friend once told me a story about her son Edison and this other kid he grew up with, Brendan. It seems that when they were really little, like six or so, the boys were on a soccer team, they were playing soccer and Edison fell and was hurt. And everybody clustered round and was all ooh, ahh, to make sure he was okay. Straightaway, Brendan totally faked an injury of his own, thumped to earth and started wailing, so that [...]
There’s really no delicate way to put this: at this year’s New Yorker Festival, Jonathan Franzen said that David Foster Wallace fabricated at least part of—and potentially a large part of—his nonfiction pieces. I wasn’t there, but after reading Eric Alterman’s summary Friday, and finding no mention of the incident in any other coverage of the festival, I watched the conversation online.
Here's a rough transcript of the relevant exchange (with some “umms” and “uhhs” edited for reasons of intelligibility).
"I suppose it made sense, when blogging was new, that there was some confusion about voice. Was a blog more like writing or more like speech? Soon it became a contrived and shambling hybrid of the two. The 'sort ofs' and 'reallys' and 'ums' and 'you knows' that we use in conversation were codified as the central connectors in the blogger lexicon. We weren’t just mad, we were sort of enraged; no one was merely confused, but kind of totally mystified. That music blog we liked was really pretty much the only one that, um, you know, got it. Never before had 'folks' been used so relentlessly and enthusiastically as [...]
"I think of myself as a fiction writer. I'm real interested in fiction, and all elements of fiction. Fiction's more important to me. So I'm also I think more scared and tense about fiction, more worried about my stuff, more worried about whether I'm any good or not, or I'm on the wrong track or not. Whereas the thing that was fun about a lot of the nonfiction is, you know, it's not that I didn't care, but it was just mostly like, yeah, I'll try this. I'm not an expert at it. I don't pretend to be. It's not particularly important to me whether the magazine, you know, even [...]
Booked Up: 'Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: a Road Trip with David Foster Wallace,' by David Lipsky
In 1996, Rolling Stone sent David Lipsky to accompany David Foster Wallace on the last leg of the book tour for Infinite Jest. The piece never came out. Instead, many years later, David Lipsky wrote a book about those five days. During the time they spent together, Lipsky couldn't have known that Wallace was largely concealing a heart-attack-serious history of depression, drug abuse, hospitalization and ECT; they couldn't discuss Wallace's real involvement with 12-step programs (see Tradition, Eleventh) or the medication he was taking the whole time they were together; couldn't address the real fragility of his recovery. Wallace took his own life twelve years after the [...]
Booked Up, with Seth Colter Walls: An Incredibly Un-Fun Misreading of David Foster Wallace that Katie Roiphe Should Never Do Again
Have you ever loved a writer or book real hard? So hard that when someone got her or him-or it-all wrong, it was like you'd just been gutted? Well, then: the Katie Roiphe essay, from this weekend's New York Times Book Review.
There are some things to admire here. Chief among them is her argument that a lot of contemporary dude fiction is pretty flaccid stuff. Consider all those fish effectively barrel-shot. And I'm also on board for championing the virtues of erotic ecstasy that are there to be found in mid-century dude fiction. This is less-obvious ground to be treading, these days. (And yes, even if it was [...]
Today would have been David Foster Wallace's 50th birthday, and if you'd like to mark it, here are some things that might interest you to read (or watch) and revisit. The list isn't intended to be comprehensive; for that there's the Howling Fantods, not to mention this, this and that. This is more like an old trunk, some favorite things that got packed away and today's maybe a nice day to take them out and rummage around a little: Remember when Frank Bruni peeped inside DFW's medicine cabinet? etc.
In the spring of this year I wrote a piece about David Foster Wallace's self-help books that was published here in April. It appears that all the books referenced in that piece have since been removed from the Ransom Center's collection of Wallace's papers. The collection, which used to contain 320-odd books, now contains 299. The remaining book list can be searched here.
It never occurred to me that Wallace's estate would be in a position to rescind part of the sale of his documents to the Ransom Center; I wrote what I did under the assumption that these books would remain available to anyone who was [...]
I'm starting to get the sense that no one's sure if the new (posthumous, unfinished) David Foster Wallace book is "funny" or not.
Awl pal Seth Colter Walls put in some serious time scouring the David Foster Wallace archives in Austin. There's a gallery of some of Wallace's notes and annotations here, and, for Infinite Jest fans, a collection of deleted scenes here.
The recent acquisition of the late David Foster Wallace's archives by the University of Texas' Harry Ransom Center will no doubt provide both scholars and fans with countless layers of information to process and debate. It has also provided this poem about Vikings, written by a six- or seven-year-old Wallace, which I cannot help but find both charming and tragic. (Not that I am suggesting there is anything romantic about suicide, because we don't do that here.) There's just a sweetness to this poem and the obvious enthusiasm with which he wrote it that makes me reflect on the joys of childhood that we tend to forget. [Via]
The Oasis of the Seas, the largest cruise liner ever built, has left port for Miami, from where it will begin taking more than 6,000 passengers at time (!!!) on Royal Caribbean tours in December. It cost $1.5 billion to build and is 1,200 feet long-one-and-a-half times the size of the Queen Mary II. Man, just think of all the despair and communicable disease that thing's going to pack in.