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Sunday, September 14th, 2008

Sad News Today

David Foster Wallace hanged himself on Friday. I am sorry to hear that. Infinite Jest was sort of a late formative experience for me -- I mean I must have been 26 or 27 when I read it, and already pretty well acquainted with reading novels; but it seems like it opened some new windows for me into what writing can do. I have always meant to read more of his work but never gotten to it; now when I do, I will be reading the work of a dead man, work which is part of the history of literature.

SEK has more at The Edge of the American West. In comments, politicalfootball links to this Charlie Rose interview.

Ellen sends along a link to Wallace's commencement speech to the 2005 class at Kenyon.

Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they're evil or sinful, it's that they're unconscious. They are default settings.

A White Bear is not yet ready to grieve.

Mark Sussman has lost his favorite living author, and writes very convincingly about why he likes Wallace's work so much.

Scott Esposito recommends we "Forget the obituaries and read the man's writing."

At The Great Whatsit, Dorothy Gale writes about imagining what Wallace's last Friday might have been like.

Andy Whitman feels like he's lost a friend.

At This Recording, Meredith Gage considers Wallace in the context of marketing and advertising, and links to many more remembrances.

posted morning of September 14th, 2008: Respond
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Monday, September 15th, 2008

Connective Tissue

In the video that A White Bear linked yesterday, Mark Leyner is asked his thoughts about the audience he's writing for; he responds to the effect that he does not think about audience at all -- writing for him is an obsessive activity like chess for Bobby Fischer, with no object other than the text. David Foster Wallace takes exception to this:

Sometimes it's an act of communication. What makes the analogy ok but also makes it break down, is that part of the Fischer-like obsession Mark's talking about consists in a kind of mental and emotional dance with a constructed reader that you figure has a life more or less like yours, and whom in a weird way you're talking to. Again, I'm like totally with you about 50% of it; the thing about it is that the light and fun and all that stuff is definitely, that's part of what makes art magical for me; but there's another part. There's the part -- and I'm afraid I'm going to sound like a puritan or a critic -- but there's this part that makes you feel full. This part that is redemptive and instructive, where when you read something, it's not just about -- you go "My God, that's me!" you know, "I've lived like that, I've felt like that, I'm not alone in the world..."

I felt excited listening to Wallace saying this because it matches up with some things I have been thinking about since last year, specifically to describe my experience of reading Pamuk and more broadly as a way of talking about art in general -- I wrote a brief note about this last November.

A White Bear says,

Wallace is grasping to understand the possibilities of art as transformational, connective tissue between all these lonely people. For most 20th-c writers, that possibility is a sentimentality that died out around the time that Romanticism did.
I want to find out more about this idea in a Romantic context. Were Romantic authors making this argument explicitly or is it something critics read into their work -- or is it an argument made by Romantic critics? And which ones? It's an argument I've been grasping around at for a while and it would be really useful to hear it from someone else's mouth.

Update: and I guess obviously, duh, this is a strong sign that I should read Wallace's essays and criticism. Will get right on that.

posted morning of September 15th, 2008: Respond
➳ More posts about Jonathan Franzen

Sunday, September 21st, 2008

The temptation to regard Mr. Wallace's suicide last weekend as anything other than a private tragedy must be resisted.
A.O.Scott writes an eloquent essay on Wallace's legacy in today's N.Y. Times, with reference to Wallace's 2004 review of a Borges biography.
He was smarter than anyone else, but also poignantly aware that being smart didn't necessarily get you very far, and that the most visible manifestations of smartness -- wide erudition, mastery of trivia, rhetorical facility, love of argument for its own sake -- could leave you feeling empty, baffled and dumb.

posted morning of September 21st, 2008: Respond
➳ More posts about Jorge Luis Borges

Sunday, February 15th, 2009

Wheels within wheels

Yesterday I was talking with Ellen about Elizabeth Costello, how Elizabeth is herself a novelist and there is a lot of discussion of reading and writing in the book; Sylvia interjected, "It would be cool if there was a book that had someone reading the book that had someone reading the book that had..." Nice! We talked about mirrors for a little while. And then, this morning we were looking at xkcd's Sierpinski Valentine, and checked out Wikipædia's article about Sierpinski Triangles (which has a nice animation) -- I asked Sylvia if she knew what infinity meant, she said "Yeah, like something that never ends." And she made reference back to the book she had been talking about yesterday -- I found it pretty exciting that she would make this connection.

And this is funny: apparently David Foster Wallace made the claim that Infinite Jest is structured like a Sierpinski triangle.

posted morning of February 15th, 2009: Respond
➳ More posts about Sylvia

Monday, February 28th, 2011

Contorsion, Stigma

And yet (fact): Hands lack the anatomical mass required to support the weight of an adult human. Both Roman legal texts and modern examinations of a first-century skeleton confirm that classical crucifixion required nails to be driven through the subject’s wrists, not his hands. Hence the, quote, “necessarily simultaneous truth and falsity of the stigmata” that the existential theologist E. M. Cioran explicates in his 1937 “Lacrimi si Sfinti,” the same monograph in which he refers to the human heart as “God’s open wound.”
The current New Yorker prints an excerpt of David Foster Wallace's forthcoming The Pale King. It's shocking, beautiful, engaging; it "allows the reader to leap over the wall of self". You can also listen to Wallace reading this fragment, ten years ago, in a recording preserved at The Lannan Foundation.

And more! George Lazenby of 424 W 23rd St, NY 10011—2157 (an address to conjure with!) has a recording of Sunday, February 6th's edition of Endnotes on BBC radio; Geoff Ward presents his research into the life and work of Wallace.

posted evening of February 28th, 2011: 1 response

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011

Utter Global Crisis

A game of Eschaton:
-- Thanks for the link, Lauren! (Articles about this at NPR and the Times.)

posted morning of August 23rd, 2011: Respond

Sunday, May 6th, 2012

Punch lines

This weekend I am noticing punch lines in my reading. I read two stories by David Foster Wallace -- "Mister Squishy" which I found to be beautiful, engaging writing but lacking in punch lines, and "The Soul is not a Smithy", which is my new favorite DFW and which abounds in brilliant punch lines; now am reading and enjoying a novel by Julian Barnes called The Sense of an Ending, which actually, coincidentally, has a fair bit in common with "The Soul is not a Smithy", at least on first impressions. I got a good laugh out of this punch line, delivered as Barnes' narrator is recounting his youthful efforts to find a girlfriend:

Some girls allowed more: you heard of those who went in for mutual masturbation, others who permitted "full sex,"as it was known. You couldn't appreciate the gravity of that "full" unless you'd had a lot of the half-empty kind.

posted morning of May 6th, 2012: Respond

Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

Suicide is Painless

The truth is you already know what it's like. You already know the difference between the size and speed of everything that flashes through you and the tiny inadequate bit of it all you can ever let anyone know. As though inside you is this enormous room full of what seems like everything in the whole universe at one time or another and yet the only parts that get out have to somehow squeeze out through one of those tiny keyholes you see under the knob in older doors. As if we are all trying to see each other through these tiny keyholes.
"Good Old Neon", the fifth story in David Wallace's 2004 collection Oblivion, is just an excruciating story to read. Especially (of course) in light of Wallace's ultimate fate, and especially the last two pages of the story; but even without the author's suicide, even without those last two pages, the story brings the reader unbearably close to the mental process of contemplating suicide and of being driven to contemplate suicide. The act of identifying with the narrator (and of identifying with the author, identifying with his character) is excruciating.

posted evening of June 27th, 2012: Respond
➳ More posts about Identification

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012

Every Love Story is a Ghost Story

It was a lot of fun to hear D.T. Max reading from his new biography of DFW at Words Bookstore in Maplewood. I am looking forward to reading it; and in particular I am taken with the title. Max says it is an expression Wallace made use of repeatedly in letters throughout his career, and generally without context. It rings true for me in ways I haven't quite been able to sort out yet. (Max said he was surprised, at each stage of the editorial process, at being able to keep the title he had chosen.)

For example this statement seems like it would make a really good epigraph (mutatis mutandis) for Rushdie's The Ground Beneath Her Feet -- a book I finished reading this weekend and which I'm recommending wholeheartedly, by the by -- I wonder if it is some sort of postmodern commonplace. This association of love with absence. Both Rushdie and Wallace I think are very concerned with the irreality of the world about which they are trying to write realistically; and maybe this in a way implies that loving someone (as Maria loves Ormus, as otherworldly Rai loves otherworldly Vina) is a way of escaping into their reality from your own irreality, of becoming a ghost. (And this in turn can be seen as a metaphor for the process of reading the novel and identifying with its characters, coming full circle.)

The irritation I felt at Rai's voice throughout the first part of the novel faded about halfway through (indeed about the time I figured out what was making me feel irritated, I started to feel more sympathy for him) -- and in the last 150 pages or so I really started loving his voice (which changed a bit at that point in the story -- he grew in a way that brought more sincerity into his voice).

posted afternoon of October 23rd, 2012: Respond

Thursday, May second, 2013

Infinite Jest

At last! Criterion releases The Collected Works of James O. Incandenza.

posted evening of May second, 2013: Respond

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