Join 3,427 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


"We are under more of a moral obligation to try very very very hard to develop compassion and mercy and empathy."
June 13, 2011 9:34 AM   Subscribe

‘A Frightening Time in America’: An Interview With David Foster Wallace
posted by timshel (50 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
.

Who the heck plans on talking to DFW for 15 minutes?
posted by silby at 9:45 AM on June 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's interesting to think about this essay in the context of The Pale King, whose characters occasionally "predict" the coming of exactly these crises. The book pegs the Reagan election as the inflection point for all this, rightly, I think.
posted by gerryblog at 9:47 AM on June 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Was interested to see this:

"If some people read my fiction and see it as fundamentally about philosophical ideas, what it probably means is that these are pieces where the characters are not as alive and interesting as I meant them to be."
posted by escabeche at 10:03 AM on June 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Everything David Foster Wallace does depresses me. I want to like him, but every run at anything of length has defeated me. I've managed to make it through a few interviews and a few magazine pieces, but that's it.
posted by cjorgensen at 10:09 AM on June 13, 2011


cjorgensen: "Everything David Foster Wallace does depresses me. I want to like him, but every run at anything of length has defeated me. I've managed to make it through a few interviews and a few magazine pieces, but that's it."

Everything he did kind of depressed him, too, no?
posted by symbioid at 10:14 AM on June 13, 2011 [7 favorites]


Everything David Foster Wallace does depresses me. I want to like him, but every run at anything of length has defeated me. I've managed to make it through a few interviews and a few magazine pieces, but that's it.

His magazine articles are great fun. The weirdness of his early (?) short stories for Harpers etc are also entertaining. If I can just figure out how to actually approach Infinite Read (read the footnotes in order? save them til later? ignore them?)...
posted by KokuRyu at 10:18 AM on June 13, 2011


read the footnotes in order?

I like reading them in order, but for the longer ones I like to mark down some key details about the main narrative so that when I jump back into it the juxtaposition isn't too jarring.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 10:20 AM on June 13, 2011


Yep, in order. Two bookmarks.
posted by penduluum at 10:21 AM on June 13, 2011 [5 favorites]


Two bookmarks.

This should be on the cover of Infinite Jest.
posted by LooseFilter at 10:24 AM on June 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


Oh, on topic: a very thoughtful interview, and it was interesting to me how perceptively and succinctly he articulates some of our most basic social/cultural problems in the U.S., and in language that is fairly non-political (at least, w/r/t labels or ideology) and humanistic.
posted by LooseFilter at 10:27 AM on June 13, 2011


I had four bookmarks by the end, so that I could refer back to the order of years and to The Stork's filmography whenever a film was mentioned that wasn't One Tough Nun.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:27 AM on June 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also: For anyone who liked this interview, there's a semi-Socratic chapter in the first half of The Pale King that talks a lot about civic responsibility and keeps batting down the simplistic and easy concept that The Corporations Are Evil And All Fault Lies With Them And Not Us, The People Of These United States. It was one of those things where I kept wanting to mention parts of it to my wife and then eventually ended up reading the whole chapter to her.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:29 AM on June 13, 2011 [8 favorites]


Yeah, I wrote the order of years on a post-it and put it on the inside front cover of mine.
posted by penduluum at 10:30 AM on June 13, 2011


~Two bookmarks.
~This should be on the cover of Infinite Jest.


Hell. Infinite Jest should just be published with a dozen or so bookmark ribbons in the binding, like they do with large family bibles.

I never managed to finish IJ, though. I just lost interest in the characters and what there seemed to be of a story.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:32 AM on June 13, 2011


FTA:
For someone like me who grew up in the sixties at the height of the Cold War and whose consciousness was formed by, “we are the good guy and there’s one great looming dark enemy and that’s the Soviet Union,” the idea of waking up to the fact that in today’s world very possibly we are the villain, we are the dark force, to begin to see ourselves a little bit through the eyes of people in other countries—you can imagine how difficult that is for Americans to do. Nevertheless, with a lot of the people that I know that’s slowly starting to happen.
I wish I had gotten into DFW when I was younger. I might have avoided my embarrassing RAH RAH America phase.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 10:32 AM on June 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, and also also: There's some pretty good discussion of patriotism and national identity and etc. in The View From Mrs. Thompson's [PDF link].
posted by shakespeherian at 10:34 AM on June 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've said it before--I'll be very glad when no new interview, shopping list or any random scrap of paper DFW touched surfaces. I admire him, but I'm very tired of these new! just-found! saved from the trash! things appear.
posted by Ideefixe at 10:42 AM on June 13, 2011


I'll be very glad when no new interview, shopping list or any random scrap of paper DFW touched surfaces. I admire him, but I'm very tired of these new! just-found! saved from the trash! things appear.

Just curious ... why?
posted by jayder at 10:57 AM on June 13, 2011


Just curious ... why?

I'm going to guess that when there are no more found DFW pieces, the jackbooted thugs standing behind her chair, guns at the ready, will no longer force Ideefixe to read them.
posted by eyeballkid at 11:19 AM on June 13, 2011 [5 favorites]


Just curious ... why?

Well, you could borrow 'Variable Star' from the library. I don't suggest purchase. (Disclaimer: I do like both authors, separately.)
posted by LD Feral at 11:19 AM on June 13, 2011


Oh, it's that guy that wrote Infinite Jest. I've heard good things about it, but I don't know what it's about...

In the novel's future world, North America is one state comprising the United States, Canada, and Mexico, known as the Organization of North American Nations (O.N.A.N.).

Really? "Onan?" That's the joke?

Pass.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:27 AM on June 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Really? "Onan?" That's the joke?

One joke. From a thousand-page novel.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 11:29 AM on June 13, 2011 [8 favorites]


Is there one per page?
posted by longbaugh at 11:31 AM on June 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Pass.

It's perfectly valid to decide not to read a particular book. That's cool, and it would be neat to hear, sometime, about the books that you have read and you do enjoy.

IN THE MEANTIME, some of us will be in this thread talking about a book you haven't read, so I hope that's cool as well.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:32 AM on June 13, 2011 [12 favorites]


> Yep, in order. Two bookmarks.
I found it was best read on a smart phone, using the Kindle application. The hyperlinks between the footnotes and the main text are very handy. It was also useful to have an offline wikipedia app, and a browser window open to an Infinite Jest wiki. (The page-by-page annotations were a lifesaver.)
posted by Coventry at 11:37 AM on June 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


I try to read Infinite Jest once a year, I've found it fascinating, sometimes horrifying, but I've never found it particularly funny.

I did find the part in A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again where he pops several ounces of caviar into his mouth without knowing what it was kind of funny. But also kind of sad that he didn't know what caviar was and Harper's kept sending him on trips as The Perennial Ousider just to see what his reaction would be.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:40 AM on June 13, 2011


Pass.

It's perfectly valid to decide not to read a particular book...


But is it perfectly valid to decide not to read a particular book on the basis of one bad joke?

It's like when my 2 yo is literally dying for an excuse to throw a tantrum. I know what you're doing, little Missy Fuss.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:41 AM on June 13, 2011


I've never found it particularly funny.

What about Marlon Bain and the story of Orin and the dog? Whenever someone says IJ isn't funny, I point them to that bit (which I obviously found hilarious.)

The character of Marlon Bain in general makes me laugh.

But no, in general, the "funny" is more of an introspective "hm" than an out-loud "ha."

(I thought a lot of the exchanges between Steeply and Marathe were pretty funny too, but I don't have a specific example in mind...)
posted by mrgrimm at 11:43 AM on June 13, 2011


I really love Marlon's letter to Helen Steeply in its entirety, but I can't seem to find it ...
posted by mrgrimm at 11:48 AM on June 13, 2011


But is it perfectly valid to decide not to read a particular book on the basis of one bad joke?

Sure. I don't believe one is beholden to any artistic or aesthetic work or experience, and is free to dismiss it for whatever ridiculous reason they like. I think such criteria as implied above would lead one to miss out on a lot of what I consider to be wholly worthwhile experiences, but that's me.

In any case, again, I think it's a lot more fun to talk about what we do like, and why, rather than what we don't like. Aesthetic evangelism is responsible for a lot of fantastic conversations and artistic encounters that I otherwise never would have had; I can't think of much to say in favor of the tendency to share with people that you dismissed something.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:48 AM on June 13, 2011 [5 favorites]


Pass.

Probably wise. I know some folks may knee-jerk insult you downthread for a glib dismissal based on your reaction to a single pun from the giant novel, but I won't.

Wallace's writing isn't for everyone. His novels are cerebral meta-fictions which depend to a large degree on the reader's enthusiasm for running gags, ironic tension between "real life" and the sometimes absurd events in the novel, and surreal caricatures of individuals and organizations in the plot of the work.

I think his fans (I am one) make a mistake (much as the True Fans of many authors, musicians, or tv shows make, of course) when they indiscriminately proselytize his work. If you have a strong sense from people's comments that you'll dislike a work or a particular author, then I don't see why you should punish yourself out of some sense of tribal obligation (because other Mefites enjoy it). Life's too short for that bullshit.
posted by aught at 11:49 AM on June 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


>I'm very tired of these new! just-found! saved from the trash! things I really, really enjoyed Although of course you end up becoming yourself.
posted by Coventry at 11:49 AM on June 13, 2011


Oops, I forgot the </blockquote> after "things". If a mod sees this, could you fix my prior comment and delete this one, please?
posted by Coventry at 11:52 AM on June 13, 2011


Just curious ... why?

Wallace is quickly becoming the Tupac of American letters.

Not that I mind, just an observation.
posted by elwoodwiles at 12:00 PM on June 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


The world is a lesser place without him in it.
posted by Hickeystudio at 12:10 PM on June 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


But is it perfectly valid to decide not to read a particular book on the basis of one bad joke?

In a world where there are already way too many excellent novels for even the most prolific of readers to tackle, yeah sure it is. Be ruthless, for there are mountains of books to read and precious little time.
posted by jimmythefish at 12:22 PM on June 13, 2011




But is it perfectly valid to decide not to read a particular book on the basis of one bad joke?

In a world where there are already way too many excellent novels for even the most prolific of readers to tackle, yeah sure it is. Be ruthless, for there are mountains of books to read and precious little time.


Fine, but why do people feel the need to pop into every DFW thread and talk about how they don't want to read the books? Ok, don't. I have little to no interest in science fiction and I just stay out of those threads.
posted by sweetkid at 12:27 PM on June 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Be ruthless, for there are mountains of books to read and precious little time.

If you reject all books that contain one bad joke, you are missing out (imo) on some of the best books in the world--Vonnegut, Pynchon, Twain, etc.

"Valid" was perhaps a bad choice of word. It's certainly valid (for some). But it doesn't seem very "effective" to me.

Be ruthless, for there are mountains of books to read and precious little time.

That's the reason my friend gives me for never, ever reading female authors. De gustibus and all that, I suppose ...

I would contend that a special sort of knowledge is inherently gained when you tackle literature outside of your comfort zone. But yeah, whatever floats your boat is certainty "valid" for you.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:34 PM on June 13, 2011


I once heard DFW describe the structure of IJ as modeled after the Sierpinsky triangle. Meaning triangles within triangles within triangles ad infinitum. I haven't attempted IJ, but I probably will at some point just to see how he implemented that, or if maybe he was bullshitting the interviewer.
posted by telstar at 12:48 PM on June 13, 2011


After all the editing, it turned out to be a rather lopsided Sierpinski Gasket. And after reading IJ three to four times, I definitely see broadly what DFW meant.

"It occurred to me that the way in which the material is presented allows for a subject to be announced in a small form, then there seems to be a fan of subject matter, other subjects, and then it comes back in a second form containing the other subjects in small, and then comes back again as if what were being described were ... fractals."

The whole interview is really worth a read for fans.
posted by -->NMN.80.418 at 1:57 PM on June 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


The thing that is really pissy about some anti-DFW comments is that they read as a knee-jerk rejection of "that thing that kids think is really cool but is in fact stupid hipsterdom." To which I say, yo', you don't know what the fuck you're talkin' stay outta the fuckin' room.
posted by angrycat at 3:50 PM on June 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


I read DFW because the man was a towering intellect. He always seemed, to me, to be attempting to find a Unified Theory - something that ties absolutely everything together. He was so good at looking at grand concepts on a very human, and humane, level.

He was a digger of very deep ideas, and I think there's a kind of desperateness in his writing that turns some people off. He certainly required his readers to put forth some effort. I have found the effort rewarding, but I can certainly see why some people don't like him.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 6:05 PM on June 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


After a popular author dies - or leaves himself hanging so his wife will find him first and have to cut him down - there's usually a brief burst of publicity then a slump in popularity. This slump can be abrupt - Graham Greene comes to mind - and last forever, or end in a gradual rediscovery and reappraisal and long term place in the pantheon. DFW was an interesting writer, though barely a novelist, and is more popular than ever today but the attention paid to his every utterance is beginning to outstrip the depth of what he actually had to say. The one thing certain about something in fashion is that one day, soon, it will plunge out of fashion again and this goes double for anything buoyed by the internet. Lots of people like to think of themselves as deeply interesting tortured artistes with the Great American Novel somehow blocked within them and I always think there's some projecting going on with his fans. Anyway, when the DFW backlash begins in earnest things could get bloody around here.
posted by joannemullen at 7:29 PM on June 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


joannemullen: "After a popular author dies - "

This is true for artists of all types, I believe. Example: Bill Hicks
posted by dejah420 at 8:07 PM on June 13, 2011


I think it's a lot more fun to talk about what we do like, and why, rather than what we don't like...

Yay!
posted by ovvl at 8:23 PM on June 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


though barely a novelist

Um. How familiar are you with DFW? He's got 2 novels under his belt. I believe—regardless of what you actually think of him as a writer—that he qualifies as a novelist.

You know, because of the 2 novels.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 8:59 PM on June 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Brain fart:

3 novels.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 9:00 PM on June 13, 2011


Just curious ... why?

Not defending the original complaint, but I think it raises an interesting point on how an artist's posthumous legacy is defined.

From a personal standpoint about a fifteen years ago I really got into the music of Jeff Buckley; an enjoyment which was subsequently eroded through the naive purchase of compilations released by his mother that generally included one or two unreleased tracks of him effectively farting into a microphone.

I've had similar negative experiences delving into the unfinished works of a few of my favourite authors (Nabokov, Capote et. al.). I guess my point is (and I'm making it poorly) that perhaps Ideefixe's concern is that the sharpness of DFW's vision is being diluted by the constant drip feed of DFW-related minutiae.

It's probably not fair of me to make that assumption on his/her behalf, but I did sympathize a little with the exasperation,
posted by smithsmith at 9:35 PM on June 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


shakespeherian, is this the chapter you're talking about?
posted by AceRock at 7:52 AM on June 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


That's a big chunk of it, all right. The whole thing is 19 pages in my copy of the book.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:59 AM on June 14, 2011


« Older The Federal Bureau of Investigation is giving sign...  |  How edumacated is your state l... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments