JJS the new DFW
December 11, 2011 3:25 PM   Subscribe

John Jeremiah Sullivan is the working writer most frequently compared to David Foster Wallace (he's also sometimes compared to a young Tom Wolfe). He has a new essay collection out, and many of its pieces are available online (see inside).

The Paris Review GQ New York Magazine Harper's Magazine
from JJS's Wikipedia page
posted by AceRock (35 comments total) 102 users marked this as a favorite

 
JJS the new DFW

For whatever reason I feel it necessary to point out that a statement like this could only apply to DFW's nonfiction writing, as he's probably better-known as a fiction writer (with the possible exception of 'A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again').

That out of the way, I really enjoy Sullivan's essays, and I think he's a great writer. I would personally like to do him the favor of saying that I find no reason to call him the 'new' DFW, Tom Wolfe, or anyone else-- I think he's great on his own merits.
posted by shakespeherian at 3:47 PM on December 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


[Adds John Jeremiah Sullivan to list of writers to avoid.]
posted by cropshy at 3:49 PM on December 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Pulphead was an outstanding collection of essays. Peyton's Place is another good selection from it.
posted by thivaia at 3:53 PM on December 11, 2011


JJS was also Joyce's great influence.
posted by chavenet at 3:54 PM on December 11, 2011


"Too Much Information" is great; look forward to working my way through the rest, thanks.
posted by neuromodulator at 4:13 PM on December 11, 2011


[Adds John Jeremiah Sullivan to list of writers to avoid.]

That's obviously your call, but you'll be missing some great writing; anyone's being favorably compared to early Tom Wolfe should kind of clue you in to that.
posted by shakespeherian at 4:17 PM on December 11, 2011 [5 favorites]


Awesome post, thank you for taking the time to assemble all this! I've been on the fence about picking up Pulphead for a while now, so this FPP might be the tipping point.
posted by nevercalm at 4:20 PM on December 11, 2011


What I've read so far is really good. Thank you for introducing his work to me.
posted by troubles at 4:42 PM on December 11, 2011


That's obviously your call, but you'll be missing some great writing; anyone's being favorably compared to early Tom Wolfe should kind of clue you in to that.

Well, I don't care for Tom Wolfe either. I might actually like Sullivan on his own terms, but comparing him to writers I don't like isn't going to make me want to read him.
posted by cropshy at 4:43 PM on December 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Obviously clicking one of the links is right out.
posted by shakespeherian at 4:44 PM on December 11, 2011 [11 favorites]


Well, I don't care for Tom Wolfe either. I might actually like Sullivan on his own terms, but comparing him to writers I don't like isn't going to make me want to read him.

It's like, so hip and shit to be a DFW hater amirite?

This is a nice post - thank for compiling all of this. Upon This Rock is quite good.
posted by Lutoslawski at 4:46 PM on December 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Upon This Rock in particular is an essay that's a lot better than it sounds. JJS' look at Christian rock culture mentions to be sympathetic and insightful without being either preachy or reductive.
posted by Apropos of Something at 4:48 PM on December 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Either I should preview, or someone should make sure they have a picture with me and Lutoslawski in a room together.
posted by Apropos of Something at 4:48 PM on December 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Okay, I started with reading Too Much Information and I swear to God I flinched a little at how well composed it was. As much as hearing somebody compared to DFW makes me wary and suspicious, I haven't felt that way reading a magazine piece since Consider the Lobster. I think this guy is on to something and Acerock, thank you so much for this post.
posted by penduluum at 4:54 PM on December 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Thanks for pointing me towards Too Much Information. I had heard about this piece when it was first published, but never found the time to read it and as usual with these things it got lost in the mix. It's well worth a read even if you're only tangentially aware of Wallace's work.

For the time being, it's not a bad thing to have somebody so talented live and work in Wallace's shadow. No doubt he'll emerge better for it.
posted by ghostpony at 4:56 PM on December 11, 2011


Been out for a while now. Fine reading bnut no fiction that is in league with Wallace...the non-fiction is wonderful though.
posted by Postroad at 5:04 PM on December 11, 2011


I sincerely hope that "the next David Foster Wallace," does not become a common description of new writers, It'd be right up there with "New Dylan," as a fucking curse.
posted by jonmc at 5:06 PM on December 11, 2011 [5 favorites]


I think I like this guy, I question the utility and helpfulness to his career and inner-life to start calling him the new DFW (I think it's too soon and perhaps too lazy to just bolt in a new Wallace anyway).

This is a good post, thanks Acerock.
posted by Divine_Wino at 5:16 PM on December 11, 2011


Thanks for the post, I hadn't heard of him before. But I kind of think the Wallace comparisons are a bit overheated. I mean, he can be good – I really liked his piece on Michael Jackson – but at other points, he's not doing much more than churning out articles that do nothing to challenge/reappraise/rethink the conventional wisdom, his article about Kurt Cobain being a prime example. It's a well-turned piece which basically conforms to the status quo – Cobain was talented, messy and conflicted – without offering any new insight. And his piece on Wallace himself, though pretty decent, does, I think, confirm that he's not on the same level as the man he's profiling.

Not that Wallace, great though his writing is, is some untouchable peak of late 20th/early 21st century writing; more that Sullivan is a different kind of writer, and any attempt to shoehorn him into a DFW-shaped hole is going to fail, because he's of a different stripe, and to compare them does both a disservice.
posted by Len at 5:35 PM on December 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


One of his best pieces is one I left out in the OP: Feet in Smoke, about the death of his brother, who was electrocuted on stage performing at a concert.
posted by AceRock at 5:37 PM on December 11, 2011


i wonder what exiledonline is gonna have to say about him when they find out he exists
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 5:40 PM on December 11, 2011



I think I like this guy, I question the utility and helpfulness to his career and inner-life to start calling him the new DFW (I think it's too soon and perhaps too lazy to just bolt in a new Wallace anyway).

I know what you mean, but on the other hand I haven't had much time for Metafilter recently and have had to stick with quick occasional scans. Were it not for the DFW comparison, this might have passed me by.

Thanks for posting it! I saved a few articles for a 6 hour bus ride tomorrow, looking forward.
posted by mannequito at 6:33 PM on December 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


The magazine essays online are not the same as the essays in his book Pulphead, which have been substantially changed. I have not compared them, only read the book versions, that is what it says in the front of the book and another reviewer mentioned it.
posted by stbalbach at 7:21 PM on December 11, 2011


I know what you mean, but on the other hand I haven't had much time for Metafilter recently and have had to stick with quick occasional scans. Were it not for the DFW comparison, this might have passed me by.

Good point.


I'm really enjoying these, thanks again AceRock.
posted by Divine_Wino at 7:26 PM on December 11, 2011


I had never heard of this guy a week ago, and since then two people have praised PULPHEAD to me. And now here he is on the blue. Whatever viral campaign he's got going on, it's working.

But damn if he's not really good! I don't think he's so much like Wallace, who's so notable for the way he undercuts and leans away from his jokes; Sullivan leans right into them. But he certainly shares with Wallace the pleasure of the long sentence that shouldn't work but in fact skips beautifully like a rock to its destination. As here:

"The problem with a flash mag like the Gentlemen's Quarterly is that there's always some overachieving assistant, sometimes called Greg, whom the world hasn't beaten down yet and who, when you phone him, out of courtesy, just to let him know that "the Cross-Over thing fell through" and that you'll be in touch when you "figure out what to do next," hops on that mystical boon the Internet and finds out that the festival you were planning to attend was in fact not "the biggest one in the country," as you'd alleged. The biggest one in the country—indeed, in Christendom—is the Creation Festival, inaugurated in 1979, a regular Godstock. And it happens not in Missouri but in ruralmost Pennsylvania, in a green valley, on a farm called Agape. This festival did not end a month ago; it starts the day after tomorrow. Already they are assembling, many tens of thousands strong. But hey—good luck to you in your questy missiony thing. lol."

Wallace would not have made the mistake of "boon" -- he would have cast around for something better, taking half a day to do it if necessary. Not that Wallace was perfect -- he made plenty of mistakes, just not this kind.

Anyway, thanks for this.
posted by escabeche at 7:27 PM on December 11, 2011 [5 favorites]


"Upon This Rock" is probably the most DFW-ish in terms of the lobster, state fair or cruise ship essays. Some of the others are more traditional essays about historical figures or pop stars with gonzo sauce. The most innovative is "Violence of the Lambs", it should give MeFi skeptics a stroke, it was brave to publish and caused a big uproar at Vanity Fair, but I think in 20 years might be the one that has any life. Reminds me of some of Poe's work.
posted by stbalbach at 7:29 PM on December 11, 2011


Right, the DFW comparison may be partly in service of marketing, but I think it is apt, at least in the way shakespeherian mentions upthread -- the way I feel when reading Sullivan is reminiscent of the way I felt when I first read DFW's nonfiction. Some combination of exhilaration, intimacy, admiration, and envy that comes from reading someone who is so obviously much more talented than you, but who also speaks to you and is able to articulate things you think or believe more eloquently that you ever could.
posted by AceRock at 7:30 PM on December 11, 2011


Excitement about the excitement.
posted by blucevalo at 7:57 PM on December 11, 2011


Horseman, Pass By I read when I was still in high school and it made enough of an impression that I'll read pretty much anything with his name on it. One of the many good things about Loren Stein's Paris Review is that they made Sullivan their Southern editor.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 8:53 PM on December 11, 2011


Realized that the Harper's pieces are behind a paywall. Here is Horseman, Pass By in pdf format.
posted by AceRock at 9:44 PM on December 11, 2011


This is all great. Thank you.
posted by flippant at 10:18 PM on December 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Here is a pdf of the Harper's Unknown Bards, in case you don't click through to the previously.
posted by OmieWise at 6:48 AM on December 12, 2011


So are these all from the collection?
posted by neuromodulator at 8:02 AM on December 12, 2011


A couple from the collection that are missing from the thread:
Getting Down to What is Really Real (on the Real World and its micro-economy)
La•Hwi•Ne•Ski: Career of an Eccentric Naturalist (on Constantine Samuel Rafinesque)

And one piece that was not included in the collection, but is outstanding nonetheless:
You Blow My Mind. Hey, Mickey! (on a stoned trip to Disney World)
posted by AceRock at 8:13 AM on December 12, 2011


Maybe worth pointing out his old Paris Review interview with Guy Davenport: for my money, Sullivan took a lot more from Davenport than from Wallace, which isn't a bad thing at all.
posted by with hidden noise at 8:47 AM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


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