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Two men, four surnames
September 6, 2012 10:49 AM   Subscribe

"Anyone who finds David Foster Wallace a literary genius has got to be included in the Literary Doucebag-Fools [sic] Pantheon ... I continue to find David Foster Wallace the most tedious, overrated, tortured, pretentious writer of my generation ... DFW is the best example of a contemporary male writer lusting for a kind of awful greatness that he simply wasn't able to achieve. A fraud." Bret Easton Ellis has been savagely criticising the late David Foster Wallace on Twitter.

Elllis's tweets in order: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8.

The outburst was triggered by BEE's reading of DT Max's new biography of DFW, Every Love Story is a Ghost Story. In this extract, Max recounts DFW's experience of rehab. And here, Max portrays the author on the brink of his masterpiece, Infinite Jest.

DFW sadly does not have the ability to reply. But he may have gotten his retaliation in first. "[American Psycho] panders shamelessly to the audience’s sadism for a while, but by the end it’s clear that the sadism’s real object is the reader herself."
posted by WPW (256 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite

 
This post is in no sense an endorsement of BEE's views - I revere DFW and completely disagree.
posted by WPW at 10:52 AM on September 6, 2012 [8 favorites]


American Psycho 2 was the best thing Ellis was ever involved with.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:53 AM on September 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


This is certainly getting more attention than anything else Ellis has written in the past twenty years.
posted by Fritz Langwedge at 10:53 AM on September 6, 2012 [67 favorites]


The unspeakable in pursuit of the unreadable.
posted by unSane at 10:53 AM on September 6, 2012 [16 favorites]


Oh, goodie! Two of my faves-to-hate - each more overrated than the other! - in one, easy to abhor post!

(Yes, I know, MeFi has a big ol' boner for DFW, but there are those of us out here who "get it" - we just don't think he's all you say he is...)
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 10:54 AM on September 6, 2012 [59 favorites]


Here's hoping this one-sided brouhaha carries them both further from my life and reading.
posted by broadway bill at 10:56 AM on September 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


Wow, those tweets are certainly something. I'm pretty critical of DFW and IJ in particular, as too full of trickery to be entirely honest. I think DFW was obscuring something he found too painful to engage in a straightforward manner. I think at its core, IJ is still better than BEEs best work, which for my money is Imperial Bedrooms.

I'd like to see Jeff Eugenides jump in here, lets really get this thrashed out.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:57 AM on September 6, 2012 [5 favorites]


I'm glad somebody said it. I got about 20 pages into IJ before giving up. My face was tired from cringing, my arms tired from lifting.
posted by DU at 10:58 AM on September 6, 2012 [11 favorites]


Pay attention to me! Pay attention to ME! PAY ATTENTION TO ME!!
posted by gwint at 10:58 AM on September 6, 2012 [32 favorites]


From one of the Tweets: always found Wallace's writing indigestible but your contempt for his depression says a lot about how you see your own

babies—God damn it, you've got to be kind.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 10:58 AM on September 6, 2012 [24 favorites]


I'm no fan of DFW -- far from it, in fact -- but if DFW is as wholly without merit as BEE says he is, Time will take care of that, it needs no help from BEE.

Now if BEE were as capable of delivering a witty criticism as, say, Mark Twain's on James Fenimore Cooper, I would be much, much more receptive. But Bret Easton Ellis isn't of that calibre himself, now, is he?

I will say this of BEE: I enjoy his novels when they're made into movies.
posted by Capt. Renault at 11:00 AM on September 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


isn't a fart typically 140 characters or less?
posted by HuronBob at 11:00 AM on September 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


When you were a teenager, was there ever a guy who was just older enough to be simultaneously worldly and creepy that hung out with you and your friends? He probably dressed like he was ten years younger than he was, acted like he was ten years younger than he was, and dated girls ten years younger than he was?

Bret Easton Ellis' Twitter is that guy.
posted by griphus at 11:00 AM on September 6, 2012 [38 favorites]


I probably shouldn't be surprised that Bret Easton Ellis happens to be amazingly lacking in tact or taste.
posted by crackingdes at 11:01 AM on September 6, 2012


poor diddums
posted by The Whelk at 11:01 AM on September 6, 2012


What to do if you feel a deceased contemporary is undeservedly more famous and admired than you are:

1. Shut the fuck up
2. See #1
posted by Zed at 11:01 AM on September 6, 2012 [44 favorites]


I propose that it is possible to read and enjoy and hate the fiction of both David Foster Wallace & Bret Easton Ellis.

As another edgy, effusive, blustery & brilliant American writer once put it: "I am large, I contain multitudes."

So I can't help but think of this:

..."on a purely literary level borderline sickening..."

as ironically and intentionally self-reflective on Bret's part, because, of course, it's all about Bret.
posted by chavenet at 11:02 AM on September 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


...a witty criticism as, say, Mark Twain's on James Fenimore Cooper...

If anyone out there hasn't read "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses" go read it right the hell now:
Cooper's art has some defects. In one place in "Deerslayer," and in the restricted space of two-thirds of a page, Cooper has scored 114 offenses against literary art out of a possible 115. It breaks the record.

There are nineteen rules governing literary art in domain of romantic fiction -- some say twenty-two. In "Deerslayer," Cooper violated eighteen of them.
posted by griphus at 11:02 AM on September 6, 2012 [9 favorites]


Seems like the front page has been full of annoying writer antics recently. When will MFs shut up and stop whining, I wonder?
posted by scose at 11:04 AM on September 6, 2012


I like to read one-star reviews of classic works of literature, or just plain books that I love, on Amazon when I'm bored. And here's the thing: while there will be loads of students giving one-star reviews because they were forced to read said book, or people just in over their heads, there will be at least one long, intelligent explanation for why this particular revered book absolutely sucks.

And here's the thing: That review is always correct. Just as correct as a long, intelligent lauding of the exact same book. There is no work of art with the ability to please all people. Even all intelligent people. Every book in the world sucks from a certain point of view. The trick is not to get to het up about opinions either way. (BEE fails on this point).
posted by Bookhouse at 11:05 AM on September 6, 2012 [36 favorites]


I'm glad somebody said it. I got about 20 pages into IJ before giving up. My face was tired from cringing, my arms tired from lifting.

20 pages into a 1000 page book and you were able to judge its merits as a whole? That's some trick.
posted by papercake at 11:06 AM on September 6, 2012 [23 favorites]


Pot/kettle.
posted by contessa at 11:06 AM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


THE ARISTOCRATS
posted by griphus at 11:06 AM on September 6, 2012 [15 favorites]


LOL he spelled Doüce-Bágge incorrectly!
posted by Mister_A at 11:06 AM on September 6, 2012 [9 favorites]


I would pay good money to see DFW resurrected and then both he and Ellis hunted down like dogs by a knife-wielding, young Cormac McCarthy in a sort of "The Most Dangerous Game" reenactment.

How can we make this happen, people?
posted by Ryvar at 11:06 AM on September 6, 2012 [5 favorites]


Haven't the miracles gone far enough now? Not to suit Cooper; for the purpose of this whole scheme is to show off his prodigy, Deerslayer-Hawkeye-Long-Rifle-Leatherstocking-Pathfinder-Bumppo before the ladies.
:D
posted by goethean at 11:07 AM on September 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


I also can't help but think DFW wouldn't know what twitter was, in an kind of endearing way. This is a guy that thought people were joking when they said a dinner was black tie, and had to bring what he called a "native guide" to the Illinois state fair, a state he was born and raised in.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:08 AM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Has Easton Ellis written anything as good as this commencement address or this tennis article? No?

I didn't like IJ either, but these two pieces put DFW in my personal list of excellent writers.
posted by raihan_ at 11:09 AM on September 6, 2012 [9 favorites]


Bret Easton Ellis? Seriously? :-D
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 11:10 AM on September 6, 2012


Ellis' writing resembles nothing so much as a sewer overflow, and this is no exception.
posted by jamjam at 11:10 AM on September 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Bret Easton Ellis needs a big hot cup of STFU.

This is even more embarrassing than his fancasting tantrums about the Fifty Shades of Gray movies, which were unbelievably Fremdschaemen-inducing in their petulant irrelevance.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:12 AM on September 6, 2012 [8 favorites]


Cocaine is a hell of a drug.
posted by leotrotsky at 11:13 AM on September 6, 2012 [9 favorites]


20 pages into a 1000 page book and you were able to judge its merits as a whole? That's some trick.

There are several centuries worth of notable books out there vying for my attention. More than I'll ever have time to read. If an author can't grab me in the first 20 pages -- and that's plenty of opportunity for grabbing -- I start scanning the shelf for a different book.
posted by Longtime Listener at 11:15 AM on September 6, 2012 [26 favorites]


Yes, DFW has a three good tennis articles IIRC, but they are just that, tennis articles. I think Imperial Bedrooms is a deeply unsettling book, without drifting too much into insanityoverkill that sickens people about American Psycho. It is a book by a man destroying his own legacy. It is an incredibly brutal take on his own life and work.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:16 AM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ellis' public personae is obnoxious, but I think he wrote the great 80s novels, and his 90s novels are equally beautiful. In fact for placid surfaces and elegant reductions of class, Ellis is yr man---think Edith Wharton with more cocaine.

DFW is shaggy, and requires a kind of writers college that rewards cleverness of a very different sort. I don't think you would get yr MFA for Glamor-Rama or Imperial Bedrooms or American Pyscho, but you would get them for IJ.

I also think those three novels are better constructed, with more believable charachters, less showing off, and more politically vital than anything Wallace wrote.

But Apples and Ferraris.
posted by PinkMoose at 11:17 AM on September 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


I threw Infinite Jest across the room, and I have long maintained that the joke is on the reader.
posted by scratch at 11:18 AM on September 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


State fair and cruise ship essays are my favorite, you could launch a career with that style, people have. Of course, some people have launched careers with BEE's style too, Attila Hazai (1967-2012) wrote a Hungarian version of American Psycho ("Budapest Psycho", 1997)) - Attila killed himself this year.
posted by stbalbach at 11:18 AM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


From the last link in the FPP:
Look, if the contemporary condition is hopelessly shitty, insipid, materialistic, emotionally retarded, sadomasochistic, and stupid, then I (or any writer) can get away with slapping together stories with characters who are stupid, vapid, emotionally retarded, which is easy, because these sorts of characters require no development. With descriptions that are simply lists of brand-name consumer products. Where stupid people say insipid stuff to each other. If what’s always distinguished bad writing—flat characters, a narrative world that’s cliched and not recognizably human, etc.—is also a description of today’s world, then bad writing becomes an ingenious mimesis of a bad world. If readers simply believe the world is stupid and shallow and mean, then Ellis can write a mean shallow stupid novel that becomes a mordant deadpan commentary on the badness of everything. Look man, we’d probably most of us agree that these are dark times, and stupid ones, but do we need fiction that does nothing but dramatize how dark and stupid everything is? In dark times, the definition of good art would seem to be art that locates and applies CPR to those elements of what’s human and magical that still live and glow despite the times’ darkness. Really good fiction could have as dark a worldview as it wished, but it’d find a way both to depict this world and to illuminate the possibilities for being alive and human in it. You can defend “Psycho” as being a sort of performative digest of late-eighties social problems, but it’s no more than that.
posted by AceRock at 11:19 AM on September 6, 2012 [17 favorites]


I like BEE's books. Have never read DFW, mostly because he came to my attention after my era of reading lit novels.

Anyway, the typical response to this sort of dust-up on goodreads is, I think, an appropriate one:

*gets popcorn*
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:19 AM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


There are several centuries worth of notable books out there vying for my attention.

Except they're not really vying for your attention. They may require more work to appreciate than you're willing to devote, but that's not the notable books' fault.
posted by Fritz Langwedge at 11:19 AM on September 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


I don't really have an opinion about DFW (although I'm developing one about Ellis), but I really like biographies and the stories that make up peoples lives. I've been reading the biography in question and it's super interesting. Regardless of his talent or lack there of, David Foster Wallace was an amazing person with an interesting life who deserves respect. Ellis' comments say much more about himself than DFW.
posted by Kimberly at 11:19 AM on September 6, 2012


DFW would have been mortified by the deification he's received as of late. BEE is offended that he's not received deification yet.
posted by papercake at 11:20 AM on September 6, 2012 [8 favorites]


Wait until Jonathan Franzen hears about this.
posted by Sonny Jim at 11:20 AM on September 6, 2012 [23 favorites]


I threw Infinite Jest across the room, and I have long maintained that the joke is on the reader.

What do the rest of the Avengers have to say about it?
posted by griphus at 11:21 AM on September 6, 2012 [6 favorites]


Yes, DFW has a three good tennis articles IIRC, but they are just that, tennis articles. I think Imperial Bedrooms is a deeply unsettling book, without drifting too much into insanityoverkill that sickens people about American Psycho. It is a book by a man destroying his own legacy. It is an incredibly brutal take on his own life and work.

How did you feel about Lunar Park? Because that's my fave BEE, I think for the exact same reasons. It's a really interesting takedown of his own fictions, both literally and on a meta-level. It reminds me of Stephen King, in a way.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:21 AM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Looks like somebody saw a certain author getting sat right away at Dorsia while they had to wait out in the cold for a seat at the bar.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 11:25 AM on September 6, 2012 [12 favorites]


I feel the same way. I think they both cast his earlier works in a more narrow light, they were not satire of the culture at large but about his own self loathing.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:26 AM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


20 pages into a 1000 page book and you were able to judge its merits as a whole? That's some trick.

I made it about 650 pages in, plus whatever in footnotes, before I gave it up. I get why some people are huge, huge fans of it, but not me. Personally, I felt that the writer was treating me the reader with outright disdain, and if me the reader and you the writer aren't going to be in a co-operative partnership with each other, this book isn't going to work.

There was a lot of good writing in there, and some excellent, clever ideas. I would have much prefered a savage editor has halved the book, or turned it into two or three separate works, but as it stood, DFW simply wore out all of my patience and goodwill treating the reader with abject abuse. I have no problem with unconventional approaches to plot, narrative, or presentation, so long as I have confidence enough in the writer that eventually, this all will go somewhere. And DFW never inspired that confidence in me. Never again will I read another of his works.

YMMV.
posted by Capt. Renault at 11:28 AM on September 6, 2012 [5 favorites]


Bret Easton Ellis ‏@BretEastonEllis
David Foster Wallace was so needy, so conservative, so in need of fans...


- said the sad man boy on fucking Twitter.
posted by R. Mutt at 11:28 AM on September 6, 2012 [19 favorites]


They may require more work to appreciate than you're willing to devote, but that's not the notable books' fault.

Fair enough. Tell you what: I'll start with the few thousand books that do manage to grab me in the first 20 pages, and if I have any time left I'll get extra flirty with the authors who have been slow starters. (I'm looking at you, Marcel Proust.)
posted by Longtime Listener at 11:29 AM on September 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


Oh c'mon, all you people who can't get past 50 pages of Infinite Jest. Get over it. It takes almost two HUNDRED pages before you settle into its over-the-top universe. Sure the novel is quite "full-of-itself" but it's a DAMN fun read and can be laugh-out-loud hilarious. Skip the parts that are too difficult or self-consciously show-offy (I did) and enjoy the wonderful dialogue and inspired set-pieces instead. Perhaps the hype and the 1990's dated-ness have not served the book well. I read it in 2000 before DFW had such a mythical following, and although I partially agree with some of the criticisms thrown his way (too smart for his own good and he wants you to know it, blah blah blah...), I think it's foolish to create all this backlash against him now. His books speak for themselves and BEE hasn't even come close to achieving the respect and accolades which Wallace achieved in a relatively short writing career.
posted by ReeMonster at 11:29 AM on September 6, 2012 [5 favorites]


One writer with three names criticizes another writer with three names. Film at 11.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:30 AM on September 6, 2012 [8 favorites]


It's painful to know that your career will be a footnote to that of another artist.
posted by insteadofapricots at 11:31 AM on September 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


One writer with three names criticizes another writer with three names. Film at 11.

It's directed by Francis Ford Coppola.
posted by griphus at 11:32 AM on September 6, 2012 [17 favorites]


if I have any time left I'll get extra flirty with the authors who have been slow starters. (I'm looking at you, Marcel Proust.

I was prepared to respect your argument. Until you said this....unfortunate thing.
posted by Chrischris at 11:33 AM on September 6, 2012 [5 favorites]


I guess when you tear into a dead person who can't reply it's not going to reflect well on one of you. (unless that dead person was responsible for genocide, it's probably you).
posted by juv3nal at 11:36 AM on September 6, 2012


Wallace would write a reply, except it would span 200,000 tweets plus footnotes.

Also, he's dead.
posted by Afroblanco at 11:36 AM on September 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


Produced by Francis Ford Coppola. Directed by M. Night Shyamalan.
posted by Sonny Jim at 11:37 AM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Anyone who starts reading a book with the attitude of "if I'm not being entertained within twenty pages I'm outta here" probably shouldn't be reading books.

It's like giving up on life because the first six months didn't "grab you".

Just MHO, of course.
posted by Aquaman at 11:39 AM on September 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


Skip the parts that are too difficult or self-consciously show-offy

What remains could fit in a tweet.
posted by Phssthpok at 11:39 AM on September 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is why I always get my books from the library. If you don't like them after a few pages, you can put them down and move on to the next without any guilt. Oh, I've put down BEE's and DFW's works at one time or another. But I've also taken a pass on Rushdie and Twain and Roth, too.
posted by Kokopuff at 11:40 AM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Old man debates empty chair.
posted by Celsius1414 at 11:40 AM on September 6, 2012 [47 favorites]


WPW: "I continue to find David Foster Wallace the most tedious, overrated, tortured, pretentious writer of my generation"

This comment makes me wonder how Bret Easton Ellis can write books without reading them.
posted by boo_radley at 11:42 AM on September 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


he should stick to waxing poetically (and seemingly self-hating homophobic-ly) about 50 shades of grey.
posted by nadawi at 11:43 AM on September 6, 2012


Sidhedevil : This is even more embarrassing than his fancasting tantrums about the Fifty Shades of Gray movies, which were unbelievably Fremdschaemen-inducing in their petulant irrelevance.

Wow, that sentence. That word in particular, which I had to look up: Fremdschaemen. Nice going Sidhedevil. What a great word. what a perfect sentence. It's like so of this precise time, that I think it makes this precise time in history nearly transcendent in that way when thing finally envisions itself as a whole and thing, outside of itself, even though it is that thing itself. I think Kant (I may be wrong here) called noumena and phenomena, not sure. I've been so damaged by Kant, man, phew. That would make a good name for a book: Damaged by Kant.

There should be a German word for that homicidal feeling you feel towards friends (and enemies), when they're either inadvertently or purposely feeling (and directing) Fremdschaemen for you, and completely fucking up your train of thought and distracting you, and making you feel stupid, and then you end up being exactly that thing and you're looping and you're in a trap and you want to kill them.
posted by Skygazer at 11:45 AM on September 6, 2012 [8 favorites]


But this is just Ellis grabbing for attention, right?
posted by onwords at 11:50 AM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Afroblanco: Also, he's dead.

A good writer wouldn't let that stop him. Maybe DFW is overrated.
posted by Skygazer at 11:50 AM on September 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


Now I have a word for why I didn't like the Meet the Parents series. Thanks, Sidhedevil!
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 11:51 AM on September 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


K, you rilly smart people keep fighting over this. Ima go back to my genre fiction and enjoy reading...
posted by evilDoug at 11:51 AM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's easy to see why BEE and DFW hate one another; they're both smart people who see the world very similarly, as a series of meaningless absurdities which people take way too seriously. Each probably thinks the other is doing his schtick but badly.

The difference is that BEE sees himself as one of those absurdities, and life as an inevitable process of being absorbed and shaped by the absurdities of life into, whether you like it or not, something absurd. No matter how smart, rich, violent, or successful you are life is a storm surge that will eventually wash you away. His characters are rotting before our eyes.

But DFW sees himself as a superior being because he sees the absurdity. He wants to show you the absurdity, and demonstrate his superiority by making it plain to everyone. He is too clever to fit all his cleverness into the narrative so there are footnotes to complete your entertainment. He is too self-aware to be seduced by the artificial delights of the cruise ship ecosystem, and can tell you why with four syllable words. He is too busy impressing you to be bothered establishing empathy for any actual characters because, of course, except for the narrator all of those characters are absurd and even the narrator is probably absurd because, after all, even the narrator isn't the writer who in his godlike wisdom sees the absurdity of it all.

So BEE's books are pretentious in their empty decadence, while DFW's are just pretentious. Some of us can forgive one, some the other, and thus our own varied preferences.
posted by localroger at 11:52 AM on September 6, 2012 [12 favorites]


For the record....

I liked IJ quite a bit, but I can't deny its faults. It a few well-sketched characters, but the rest are flat place-holders. I don't even know why half of them are in there. Did we really need 20+ Enfield students, about whom all we really know is a name and maybe a couple anecdotes? Hal as a protagonist was pretty flat, except we know he's a stand-in for Wallace, which makes the book even more depressing, since we have the knowledge that DFW eventually offed himself. I found the plot to be kinda goofy too. Why does every character's problems relate to incest in some way? Finally, DFW pulls a few literary dick moves, like introducing a scene with a lot of action, ending the chapter before we get to the climactic part, NEVER ACTUALLY SHOWING US THE CLIMACTIC PART, and then telling us what happened through narration a few hundred pages later. That happened at least twice -- after the big Eschaton game, and also after the riot at Ennet House. Seriously, that's not a valid writing tactic; that's sadism.

What did I like about it? Mostly DFW's writing style. I liked the byzantine sentence structures, ostentatious vocabulary, and excessive footnotes. I'm a weird reader in that I enjoy authors mostly for their writing style, and could give a crap about plot. So I enjoyed IJ. I guess it also helps that I like long books :) But I won't deny that it has some pretty serious weaknesses, and can't imagine why his editor didn't just take a chainsaw to it. Was Wallace just so full of himself that he thought his every word was gold?

Anyway, it's ultimately sad that he died so young, I think he had a lot more to give us. Meanwhile, I'll try and finally get around to reading some of his essays and shorter works; I hear they're pretty good.
posted by Afroblanco at 11:53 AM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I like Bret Easton Ellis and I also like David Foster Wallace. Nabokov hated Dostoevsky. Somehow I get by.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:54 AM on September 6, 2012 [20 favorites]


Now I have a word for why I didn't like the Meet the Parents series. Thanks, Sidhedevil!

Yeah, that word (Fremdschaemen) describes so much of what gets stuffed down people's throats as entertainment these days...

It's toxic Goddamned poison destroying the collective mind and soul of the country...
posted by Skygazer at 11:54 AM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I thought we were past book burnings...
posted by obscurator at 11:55 AM on September 6, 2012


I threw Infinite Jest across the room

The only book I've ever thrown across the room was The Looking Glass War, not because the style was offensive but because I was so angry at how the author fucked over the protagonist at the very end. Leiser deserved better <sob>.

I still like Le Carré, however. Bastard.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 11:55 AM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Bret Easton Ellis is the kind of person who farts in crowded elevators and then giggles about it.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 11:55 AM on September 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


obscurator: "I thought we were past book burnings..."

We have advanced to authors, darling.
posted by boo_radley at 11:56 AM on September 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


I really like American Psycho. The movie. Not the book. Because it actually made what Ellis was doing there interesting and funny in the way that he actually thought it was.
posted by beaucoupkevin at 11:57 AM on September 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


I guess I feel like Ellis is maybe a more realistic and less bourgeois writer than Wallace; Ellis-esque work seems to have more potential for generating real, serious, non-reformist social critique; Ellis's work is much, much less comfortable than Wallace's. Wallace is middlebrow and sophomoric, mistaking detail for insight. Infinite Jest would be a much better book if its engagement with politics weren't so silly, and so would virtually everything else Wallace wrote. (I've read most of it, having stumbled across Girl With Curious Hair back when I was fifteen or so.)

But I mean, I'm an anarchist and I run around with people who have various ruthless critiques of all there is and after a while you just get tired. Wallace also writes women as if they are just people instead of holes/mysterious wells of femininity/the anima/greed incarnate/extremely-different-from-men.

I don't find Wallace pretentious at all - that seems like such a weird critique to level. If there's anyone whose work is more a striving for transparency and sincerity, I can't think of them.

But DFW sees himself as a superior being because he sees the absurdity. He wants to show you the absurdity, and demonstrate his superiority by making it plain to everyone. He is too clever to fit all his cleverness into the narrative so there are footnotes to complete your entertainment. He is too self-aware to be seduced by the artificial delights of the cruise ship ecosystem, and can tell you why with four syllable words. He is too busy impressing you to be bothered establishing empathy for any actual characters because, of course, except for the narrator all of those characters are absurd and even the narrator is probably absurd because, after all, even the narrator isn't the writer who in his godlike wisdom sees the absurdity of it all.

See, this is really confusing to me. I don't think Wallace is ever superior to his subjects. He's very concerned with being part separate and part joint to his subjects and he's not one for uncomplicated enjoyment, which offends a lot of people who just want to experience without critiquing, but critique itself is neither wrong nor pretentious. I find him a rather cozy writer, someone who is sententiously convinced that we can think and feel our way out of our particular paper bags of misery - at least in his later work. I mean, he provides intensely middlebrow answers to big questions, in part because he doesn't seem to have any real take on class, race or history.

As far as I'm concerned, Wallace's main sin is to have spawned far too many imitators, although maybe his footnotes opened up some space for the heavily footnoted, also deeply middlebrow but entertaining Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. He meant well and he tried to make himself into a decent person according to his lights, which is a lot more than you can say for Ellis.
posted by Frowner at 11:59 AM on September 6, 2012 [24 favorites]


Addendum: I do not like this thread because I enjoy both of the authors and do not care to read internet sneerings about either.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:59 AM on September 6, 2012


Disclaimer: I'm one of those diehard IJ people. I accept its flaws, but, yeah. Its mannerisms of speech have become my mannerisms of speech. I have only recently been able to wash myself of the urge to answer the phone "mmmyellow."

But so and also well um okay: I think the thing where DFW doesn't describe the climactic actions is as much of a feature as it is a bug. There are parts of this book that live in me in a way that wouldn't be possible if they were fully described. If something is fully and lusciously described, it's plotted and pieced and you can remember that verbatim and that's a fine thing, a thing that has allowed F. Scott Fitzgerald to rattle my spinal fluid for a decade, but if you have a vague apprehension about something really important -- well, that's what a religious feeling is made of.

!!!SPOILERS AHEAD!!!

!!!SERIOUSLY IF YOU HAVEN'T READ IJ AND CARE ABOUT THIS READ NO FURTHER!!!

!!!NE VOUS LISEZ PAS, HONNÊTEMENT!!!

The way the questions about Joelle Van Dyne are never fully resolved? The way Gately and Hal maybe dug up the tape, but maybe that was all a dream? The what the hell happened to Hal? Those are visions floating very high in my mind, in a cloud of implication and conjecture, and they will never come down. Show me another fucking novel that can do that.
posted by insteadofapricots at 12:02 PM on September 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'd highly recommend this series of interviews with David Foster Wallace for a German TV network that slowly turn into the author Himself's conversation with his interviewer on how best to cope with their depressed friend.
posted by sibboleth at 12:04 PM on September 6, 2012 [8 favorites]


It's painful to know that your career will be a footnote to that of another artist.

Honestly, I think if either writer has more widespread name recognition and a firmer place in the public dialogue and consciousness, it's Ellis.

(I'd never even heard about DFW until I went away to an MFA program . . . )
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:06 PM on September 6, 2012


Addendum: I do not like this thread because I enjoy both of the authors and do not care to read internet sneerings about either.

It seems amusing to me how the tweets (which are just a powderkeg BEE threw and then walked away giggling, which can be a good anarchist fun thing to do once in a while) immediately forced people to choose sides in this Great Debate of BEE vs. DFW, which never existed at all until just now.
posted by naju at 12:06 PM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


^Oh man, you and I could talk weird conspiratorial theories about IJ all day, apricots. Did Pemulis dose Hal's toothbrush? Did Hal exorcise his story of the author Himself and find himself without a voice because he's just a character in a book? Why don't Orin and Hal's ideas of what happened to their dad match up? Who's Hal's dad anyway? Was Gately dying or being reborn? Why 1079 pages (four circles)?
posted by sibboleth at 12:07 PM on September 6, 2012


Outside of a few bits of journalism, I haven't read any of Mr. Wallace's stuff. But based on the unavoidable discussions, commentary etc on Metafilter and elsewhere, I can't help but feel that Local Roger is dead right here.

Because I do tend to devour Ellis's stuff. I'd have a hard time saying I love it. But I also seem to need it -- the way he tears into his world (and that includes the guy in the mirror), mercilessly rips it apart. It ain't nice. It's definitely not pretty. But it might be perversely beautiful.
posted by philip-random at 12:07 PM on September 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


"It's like giving up on life because the first six months didn't "grab you"."

That's an option?
posted by Phyllis Harmonic at 12:07 PM on September 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


The thing that both these authors have in common for me is I've never managed to make it through any of their books (and I've tried). I only feel shame for giving up on DFW.
posted by cjorgensen at 12:07 PM on September 6, 2012


Also, wish I could favorite this thread twice. Once for being interesting, once for the title.
posted by philip-random at 12:08 PM on September 6, 2012


Now that I think about it, here's what I find the difference between Ellis and Wallace to be (leaving aside, you know, differences of style): Wallace is project-driven. Wallace wants people to strive to better themselves in this extremely middle-class, sincere, intrusive way. Wallace feels that you can get at people's interiority and that it's complex and windy and basically sympathetic. Ellis...does not. Ellis is much more "people are very simple - greedy, stupid, hedonistic, violent. There's no getting around it, so you may as well get as rich as possible and concentrate on the pleasures of the body." That's to my mind a much more classically elite viewpoint, much more depressing, probably more accurate. But in the great war of Ellisites and Wallace-ites I will always be on the damp, sincere, middlebrow side earnestly trying to chase my thoughts to their origins.
posted by Frowner at 12:09 PM on September 6, 2012 [14 favorites]


"By way of example, let's say it's an average adult day, and you get up in the morning, go to your challenging, white-collar, college-graduate job, and you work hard for eight or ten hours, and at the end of the day you're tired and somewhat stressed and all you want is to go home and have a good supper and maybe unwind for an hour, and then hit the sack early because, of course, you have to get up the next day and do it all again. But then you remember there's no food at home. You haven't had time to shop this week because of your challenging job, and so now after work you have to get in your car and drive to the supermarket. It's the end of the work day and the traffic is apt to be: very bad. So getting to the store takes way longer than it should, and when you finally get there, the supermarket is very crowded, because of course it's the time of day when all the other people with jobs also try to squeeze in some grocery shopping. And the store is hideously lit and infused with soul-killing muzak or corporate pop and it's pretty much the last place you want to be but you can't just get in and quickly out; you have to wander all over the huge, over-lit store's confusing aisles to find the stuff you want and you have to manoeuvre your junky cart through all these other tired, hurried people with carts (et cetera, et cetera, cutting stuff out because this is a long ceremony) and eventually you get all your supper supplies, except now it turns out there aren't enough check-out lanes open even though it's the end-of-the-day rush. So the checkout line is incredibly long, which is stupid and infuriating. But you can't take your frustration out on the frantic lady working the register, who is overworked at a job whose daily tedium and meaninglessness surpasses the imagination of any of us here at a prestigious college.

But anyway, you finally get to the checkout line's front, and you pay for your food, and you get told to "Have a nice day" in a voice that is the absolute voice of death. Then you have to take your creepy, flimsy, plastic bags of groceries in your cart with the one crazy wheel that pulls maddeningly to the left, all the way out through the crowded, bumpy, littery parking lot, and then you have to drive all the way home through slow, heavy, SUV-intensive, rush-hour traffic, et cetera et cetera."

-DFW, 2005 Kenyon commencement address
posted by semaphore at 12:09 PM on September 6, 2012 [5 favorites]


I only feel shame for giving up on DFW.

I think that's it right there. What would rather be? Ashamed for something you have done or something you haven't done. With Ellis it's always the former, isn't it?
posted by philip-random at 12:10 PM on September 6, 2012


I have never bought a Bret Easton Ellis book and probably never will. If anything this thread has convinced me to stop using my copy of Infinite Jest to prop up my laptop and crack that sucker open. I pledge to read at least 21 pages.
posted by recess at 12:11 PM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Another beef I had with IJ : it followed the classic After-School Special trope of No Responsible Drug Users. Everyone in IJ that uses drugs is either an evil character or winds up in rehab. When books/movie/tv shows do this, they totally destroy their credibility. They should at least throw in a couple functioning users, just for the sake if realism.
posted by Afroblanco at 12:11 PM on September 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


haters stay pressed
posted by Sokka shot first at 12:11 PM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


recess: Consider yourself over the hump when you get through the part of the book that's told in broken vernacular by yrstruly, it's easily the most difficult and least-like the rest of the book and caught me for about a month.
posted by sibboleth at 12:12 PM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


DFW is a Lucretian.
BEE is an Epicurian.

Simple as that.
posted by Chrischris at 12:13 PM on September 6, 2012 [5 favorites]


This first 20 pages thing is nuts, on a bunch of levels. Obviously there is no accounting for taste, and your honest experience is your experience and it has validity but were we reading a different 20 pages? AND, even if the first 20 pages of a book that is 1000 pages long and has a reputation for being a mind bender (whether merited or not) you aren't even going to go to the end of the first chapter? If that tendency ran thicker in humans we would never eat lobsters or walnuts. Just bananas.
posted by dirtdirt at 12:14 PM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


MetaFilter: functioning users.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 12:14 PM on September 6, 2012


DFW sadly does not have the ability to reply. But he may have gotten his retaliation in first...

After reading that final link, I think it must've taken the almost full two years now of DFW being dead and buried for Ellis to finally feel safe enough to slither out from under his rock and dare to attack, because the effortless, effusive, and endlessly creative brilliance of DFW's use of language in that interview alone is truly awe-inspiring and humbling.
posted by jamjam at 12:15 PM on September 6, 2012 [8 favorites]


Honestly, I think if either writer has more widespread name recognition and a firmer place in the public dialogue and consciousness, it's Ellis.

This sort of thing is a fool's game but I'd place a hundred year long bet on DFW over BEE, at 2-1 odds.
posted by dirtdirt at 12:15 PM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Frowner: See, this is really confusing to me. I don't think Wallace is ever superior to his subjects. He's very concerned with being part separate and part joint to his subjects and he's not one for uncomplicated enjoyment, which offends a lot of people who just want to experience without critiquing, but critique itself is neither wrong nor pretentious.

Consider the cruise ship piece, which I liked a lot. Every anecdote is about how pointless the available activities are, and how simple obvious things you'd do with a boat -- start the engine, chum for sharks -- are unexplained or impossible. Finally he removes himself from the whole thing by locking himself in his room and reading for the rest of the cruise. It's the ultimate expression of his superiority; he cannot be bothered to feign participation.
posted by localroger at 12:16 PM on September 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


jamjam: because the effortless, effusive, and endlessly creative brilliance of DFW's use of language in that interview alone is truly awe-inspiring and humbling.

And this, exactly, is my point about him. That's exactly what he intends for you to think about him. DFW's worlds and many of his characters may be rotting, but DFW himself, the author/narrator, most certainly isn't. He's too smart to participate in the rotting.

Ellis, by extreme contrast, has decided that if everything rots inevitably he might as well rot enthusiastically.
posted by localroger at 12:19 PM on September 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Hey everyone! Remember when young authors like Bret Easton Ellis and David Foster Wallace were popular? Jay McInerney! Tama Janowitz! Mark Lindquist!

Yeah, the Internet happened. Bummer for them.

At least Michael Chabon kept it up. Thank god.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:21 PM on September 6, 2012


localroger: it's pretty kafkaesque to me. while he "cannot be bothered to feign participation" - which i think is an extremely loaded way to put it, he's also a prisoner of what I'll call his 'conscience'. he's simultaneously imprisoned on the boat, cannot eat without calling to the cowed and poorly-treated boat's staff, chooses not to leave the boat at "exotic ports" because he'd be condoning the system of exploitation that created the port.
posted by sibboleth at 12:22 PM on September 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


I guess I feel like Ellis is maybe a more realistic and less bourgeois writer than Wallace

Ellis, who's early career was boosted by William F. Buckley? Ellis, who's work, situated as a critique of everything haute-bourgeois is nearly impossible to convincingly distinguish from a desperate attempt to ape them? Ellis less bourgeois? Isn't that a little bit like saying that Whit Stillman is less bourgeois than Warren Beatty?

DFW's long work has never really clicked with me, but his short pieces are really superior journalism, considered, funny, revealing of the time. And it would be hard for me to be persuaded that of the two he wasn't always the superior thinker, also. This little stunt by Ellis isn't critical engagement with another writer, it's a monkey throwing shit.
posted by octobersurprise at 12:23 PM on September 6, 2012 [12 favorites]


This first 20 pages thing is nuts, on a bunch of levels. Obviously there is no accounting for taste, and your honest experience is your experience and it has validity but were we reading a different 20 pages? AND, even if the first 20 pages of a book that is 1000 pages long and has a reputation for being a mind bender (whether merited or not) you aren't even going to go to the end of the first chapter? If that tendency ran thicker in humans we would never eat lobsters or walnuts. Just bananas.

Wouldn't the opposite be the case? "Y'know, I'm really just not into this banana. But some people on the internet cannot fathom that somebody might not like a banana without having eaten X% of it. So I guess the lobsters and walnuts will have to wait."
posted by Rykey at 12:30 PM on September 6, 2012


What to do if you feel a deceased contemporary is undeservedly more famous and admired than you are:

1. Shut the fuck up
2. See #1


Or, alternatively, take the Orson Welles approach. During the course of an interview in his book This Is Orson Welles, Peter Bogdanovich asks Welles to criticize some of his contemporary directors but Welles demurs, citing his own sensitivity to criticisms made by his peers, and stating that he doesn't wish to add to the balance of negativity in the world. Bogdanovich then asks if this same rule applies to deceased directors, and Orson replies something along the lines of "Oh no, the dead are fair game. I consider the goddamned Pantheon a shooting gallery."
posted by Atom Eyes at 12:32 PM on September 6, 2012 [5 favorites]


This sort of thing is a fool's game but I'd place a hundred year long bet on DFW over BEE, at 2-1 odds.

Unless there's an Infinite Jest movie in the works, I somehow doubt that.

And that's to say nothing of their respective quality or place in the canon. But I think canon placement is grossly overestimated in conversations like these.

Ellis, by extreme contrast, has decided that if everything rots inevitably he might as well rot enthusiastically.

I think this is exactly right, and it's reflected in his books, in his interviews, in his public presentation of self which always seems to be a deconstruction of himself, too. I find it all pretty fascinating--in a very real way, we, the audience, and fame, generally, did this to him, and I don't think Ellis will let anyone forget it. Maybe that's his right, to make us uncomfortable.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:32 PM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


All we need is Jay McInerney and Tama Janowitz for the full nostalgia experience.
posted by THAT William Mize at 12:33 PM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


You can defend “Psycho” as being a sort of performative digest of late-eighties social problems, but it’s no more than that.

But that's a lot.
posted by chavenet at 12:34 PM on September 6, 2012


I started IJ about a month ago. Within five pages I was laughing out loud..that continued for several pages then stopped. I'm on page 64 and I haven't quit, but I need to be in the right moment to sit and read DFW's IJ. I'm not about to throw it across the room, I'd throw my shoulder out.

His essays and articles I can read any time and have enjoyed every time.

I've never even considered anything of BEE's, but maybe I'll take a peek...or not.
posted by Mojojojo at 12:36 PM on September 6, 2012


"cannot be bothered to feign participation"

I think it is different. He felt a stranger in his own home state. I think he felt uncomfortable and out of touch with humanity, isolated even when with them. It was not superiority, but depression.
posted by Ad hominem at 12:36 PM on September 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


BEE should be forced to write a script for IJ starring LLcJ.
posted by zippy at 12:44 PM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


It was not superiority, but depression.

Fair enough, but for a depressed person he worked awful hard to impress you with his vocabulary and cleverness. He reminds me of my technical writing instructor, who on the first day of class said one of the most profound things that ever influenced my own writing: "You should not be writing to impress your readers. You should be writing to convey information in a way they can understand."

You can make the case that that isn't necessarily as true of fiction as it is of technical writing, but it struck me as a good idea. And DFW is most definitely writing to impress his audience.
posted by localroger at 12:45 PM on September 6, 2012


Consider the cruise ship piece, which I liked a lot. Every anecdote is about how pointless the available activities are, and how simple obvious things you'd do with a boat -- start the engine, chum for sharks -- are unexplained or impossible. Finally he removes himself from the whole thing by locking himself in his room and reading for the rest of the cruise. It's the ultimate expression of his superiority; he cannot be bothered to feign participation.

See, that's not how I read the essay - although I admit that I haven't reread it for a few years as I found it horribly depressing. The way I took it, Wallace was trying to work out and negotiate both his own inability to ignore the awful aspects/enjoy the heavily designed ("design is neoliberalism!") environment and his inability to do anything about it except withdraw, and because he'd chosen to put himself in this awful environment over his better judgment, he couldn't even do a real withdrawal. It's very much a piece about being a certain type of middle class person - it really resonated with me at the time because I was going through my own queasy attempts to disengage from a comfortable lifestyle that I found both alluring and exploitative/repulsive.

I mean, the essay makes the cruise ship sound appealing in many ways - comfortable and safe, effortless, a pleasant place where your every need is catered to. And yet it's also this repulsive site of exploitation and self-forgetfulness. That is fundamentally the middle class experience of all high-design/controlled environment places like malls, cruise ships, the newer sort of museum, shopping districts - it's a very common experience and I think Wallace brings to the surface real unease that is felt by a lot of people.

As I write this, I actually am gaining respect for Wallace. I think he is a middle class writer in that he's really, truly interested in a particular kind of precarious and uneasy middle class life and its anomie - much better than annoying sexist writers like Cheever who are in love with the whole set up and only skewering it for points and novelty.
posted by Frowner at 12:47 PM on September 6, 2012 [12 favorites]


Hey everyone! Remember when ... authors ... were popular?

Yeah, the Internet happened.

posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 12:48 PM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


You can make the case that that isn't necessarily as true of fiction as it is of technical writing, but it struck me as a good idea. And DFW is most definitely writing to impress his audience.

How do you prove this?

See, I find Wallace a really easy writer - if I had to have a long wait at the hospital or something, any book of his except Infinite Jest (which still makes me queasy) would be an excellent and taking distraction. I am constantly puzzled by people who find his prose onerous. It's not difficult; it's just long. If you can read Dickens or Austen or Delany you can read Wallace.
posted by Frowner at 12:49 PM on September 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


Fair enough, but for a depressed person he worked awful hard to impress you with his vocabulary and cleverness.

If you haven't read his short story "Good Old Neon", I think it lays painfully bare that the vocabularity, the endless parentheticals and caveats and footnotes, the complex yet precise way of illucidating mental states and motivations - this is all a way of sincerely getting at the root of a very painful, slippery disfunction and mental self-delusion that he was desperately seeking a way out of.
posted by naju at 12:51 PM on September 6, 2012 [8 favorites]


Unless there's an Infinite Jest movie in the works, I somehow doubt that.

I think you are overassigning Mr. Ellis credit for the American Psycho movie in the eyes of the masses.

At any rate, Google Trends has them in the same ballpark (with DFW a bit ahead) right now, and one of them is still sending out tweets and writing books. My take on the Ellis books that I have read was that they were fairly compelling, in a sort of prurient and scandalous way, but indifferently written and ephemeral. My take on Wallace has been one of substantive depth in both theme and style, and I would be proud of the time in which I lived if we were judged on Infinite Jest. American Psycho? Not so much.
posted by dirtdirt at 12:55 PM on September 6, 2012



This sort of thing is a fool's game but I'd place a hundred year long bet on DFW over BEE, at 2-1 odds.


Elmore Leonard smacks 'em both.
posted by philip-random at 12:56 PM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I always liked DFW, and particularly IJ, which I came across as a college student not too long after it was published. I don't know much about BEE, really.

I'm reading the new DFW biography, and I'm up to the part where Pietsch is forcing DFW to cut hundreds of pages out of IJ, and while I'm finding the biography a bit sloppy (maybe that's just the Kindle edition), there are some interesting things in it wrt Wallace's relationship to his mother, and his suspicions about her relationship with her father (hint: check the dedication of IJ), and how that all might inform a whole lot of things in IJ, particularly the Avril Incandenza character.

So if you're interested in DFW or IJ, or maybe even a bit on the fence, the biography seems like it's worthwhile. I've been thinking about rereading IJ again all the way through for a while now, and I think after the biography it will be a different experience.
posted by dyobmit at 12:59 PM on September 6, 2012


And DFW is most definitely writing to impress his audience.
\
Sure, I think in some of his stuff for Harpers he was writing to impress the New York lit crowd with how unlike the the other rubes he was. But I still think he felt completely isolated from both his fellow passengers and the lit crowd he was trying to impress.

IJ is a different story. Just about everything in it is a distraction from the central points. The core is about loneliness and the search for relief from pain.

People in the book are unable to connect on a fundamental level. They are isolation by choice, hiding in ducts under the academy, or a veil. They are isolated by circumstance by beauty, deformity, or being in a wheelchair. They search relief in oblivion, through drugs. PGOAT's desperate freebasing, Lenz's retreat into cocaine, Hal's secret smoking.

What obscures that are the bits he hangs around it. I don't think he was trying to impress so much as distract himself from the pain of what he was writing.
posted by Ad hominem at 1:03 PM on September 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


I swore to myself that I wouldn't get meaningfully involved in this thread, but to the intimations that Wallace not-so-secretly thought of himself as smarter or better or removed from the people around him, either on the cruise ship or elsewhere...

From "Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself," pp. 216 - 217
Lipsky: You acting like someone who's about thirty-one or thirty-two, who's playing in the kid's softball game, and is trying to hold back his power hitting, to check his swing at the plate, more or less.
Wallace: You mean in the book?
Lipsky: No, I mean in your social persona. And you're someone who's really trying—
Wallace: You're a tough room.
Lipsky: You make a point of holding back—there's a point, there's something obvious about you somehow in a gentle way holding back what you're aware of as your intelligence to be with people who are somehow younger or...
Wallace: Boy, that would make me a real asshole, wouldn't it?
Lipsky: No it wouldn't: It would make you a reformed person.
Wallace: The parts of me that used to think I was different or smarter or whatever, almost made me die.
Now, you can decide that Wallace was being dishonest with Lipsky. But I think he was being honest. And if anyone here's read The Pale King, man. That is not the work of a writer in love with his own cleverness, although it is often very clever. And what is so wrong with cleverness, anyway? Or is belletristic writing not allowed to be clever?

Likewise I don't think the accusation that a work's length or vocabulary necessarily constitute inherent showoffiness and reader-disdain on the part of the writer. It's obviously a matter of opinion, but I think some books are beautiful because they're small and simple and perfect, and others are beautiful because they're magnificent and architected and perfect.

Some works I love because they show me something whose beauty or truth is self-evident. Others I love because their art's magnificence takes effort to engage. But I think sometimes it's okay for art to require effort on the part of the reader. It's not just effort justification that makes me say so, although of course that is how I will be dismissed.

I am comfortable with that.

There's room for Bashō and Wallace in the same library (mine), and I guess if Ellis has something to get off his chest, that's what Twitter's for.
posted by Sokka shot first at 1:04 PM on September 6, 2012 [29 favorites]


I guess I see Ellis as the more self-indulgent, navel-gazing author of the two, though both are in their own ways navel-gazers at heart. Ellis doesn't really challenge himself or his readers in any serious way that I can tell, though: Ellis' world isn't a mystery to him. He feels he knows it and understands it all too well already. With Wallace, I get much more of a sense of someone actively engaging with the world and trying to work through something personal in their work. To me, that's an important quality for any work of art to have--perhaps, the most important quality.

Like Ellis, Wallace seems to see the perversion in the world, its various tendencies toward rot and decline, and the evident meaninglessness and alienation of so much of modern experience, but instead of being content to merely chronicle and revel in that perversity, Wallace sets himself a kind of heroic literary challenge (admittedly, it's likely a doomed project, but ultimately, it's a humanistic and essentially decent one that requires Wallace's to be more self-reflective--Ellis' dismissal of Wallace's project as "middlebrow" seems unintentionally ironic given how often Ellis seems to drive with the cruise control on, surfing on early eighties cultural tropes without really challenging them) to find some way out of that impossible moral, spiritual and philosophical morass. To me, that lends to Wallace's work a certain quality of real, human depth and seriousness that's ultimately missing in Ellis's stuff.

That said, I hope the more gimmicky stuff (footnotes, abrupt POV shifts, etc.) is finally going out of fashion. That's one thing Ellis and I might agree on.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:08 PM on September 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


Not to knock DFW, whose work I've always admired, but if the act of writing a thousand-page work of fiction with hundreds of endnotes doesn't constitute showing off, then I wonder what would.
posted by Fritz Langwedge at 1:09 PM on September 6, 2012


Anyone who starts reading a book with the attitude of "if I'm not being entertained within twenty pages I'm outta here" probably shouldn't be reading books.

It's like giving up on life because the first six months didn't "grab you".


This analogy only works if wee little baby-you knows for a fact that there are a million other lives out there waiting for you to slide into, many of which you might be more inclined to like from jump street.
posted by Bookhouse at 1:13 PM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


if the act of writing a thousand-page work of fiction with hundreds of endnotes doesn't constitute showing off, then I wonder what would.

I don't understand this logic at all.

First of all, from a technical standpoint, it's often much HARDER to tell a short story than a long one.

And as for IJ -- I mean, maybe that's just the best way he could think of to tell the story he wanted to tell?

I finished drawing a long-ish graphic novel a couple of months ago -- it is "showing off" that I decided to draw a 200+ page GN instead of a 90 page one?
posted by Narrative Priorities at 1:14 PM on September 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yes, and I looked at the first panel and knew it was garbage.
posted by neuromodulator at 1:18 PM on September 6, 2012


I think you are overassigning Mr. Ellis credit for the American Psycho movie in the eyes of the masses.

Does that matter? It still gives his work much longer legs. I'm sure there are people who still pick up American Psycho in airport bookstores because of the movie.

My take on the Ellis books that I have read was that they were fairly compelling, in a sort of prurient and scandalous way, but indifferently written and ephemeral.

Man, I don't know that I'd say that was the case at all. But then, I'm not exactly sure what about Ellis's work suggests this to you. Part of what's compelling about his work is that you can never be sure if he really is writing to scandalize, what the "true" narrative is. Is American Psycho a horror piece or an anti-feminist violent screed or a critique of 80s models of masculinity? Is Lunar Park a fictional story about a real man or a fictional story about a fictional man or a metaphorical story about fame or a protracted coping mechanism for losing one's partner--the partner that one has hidden from the world, all while living in the public eye? Is Patrick Bateman Ellis's father or himself or is he us, the audience? It's never really clear, and I think Ellis is trying to uncover something both personal and visceral through his fiction. Though I'm sure he'd be happy to learn that his work is seen as scandalous, because he clearly enjoys shocking people, I'm fairly convinced by the writing itself and the themes he explores there that he's very, very earnest in his writing. I don't think it's indifferent at all.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:18 PM on September 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


I don't understand this logic at all.

Well, I don't understand people denying the fact that Wallace was a show-off. I loved his fiction (and Brief Interviews is my favorite of his works), but there's no reason to play dumb when people point out the comical level of precocity and self-consciousness in Wallace's work. He may have been humble in interviews, but a large part of his appeal was his trapeze-artist overconfidence.

And why oh why is that a bad thing? Show-offs have produced some of the greatest art ever imagined, folks: where would we be without the hubris of Blake, Swift, Mozart, Picasso?
posted by Fritz Langwedge at 1:21 PM on September 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Well at least nobody has said they want to physically hurt BEE yet. I'm going to re-read Lunar Park, Imperial Bedrooms is just freshest in my mind because it was the first ebook I bought.
posted by Ad hominem at 1:30 PM on September 6, 2012


Ellis doesn't really challenge himself or his readers in any serious way that I can tell, though: Ellis' world isn't a mystery to him. He feels he knows it and understands it all too well already.

Have you read Glamorama? If that's not a headlong dive into unresolvable mystery, I don't know what is. And yeah, it feels very personal.

That said, I think there's a level where Ellis's grasp of the world he's in is very knowing, world-weary, self-impressed. But there's also a struggle going on between that smug, resigned, cynical part of himself, and the part that desperately wants to care, feel, love. His genius (should you care to call it that) is that he finds a way to work this out in compelling (albeit pulpy) fiction.
posted by philip-random at 1:30 PM on September 6, 2012


I think the thing where DFW doesn't describe the climactic actions is as much of a feature as it is a bug. There are parts of this book that live in me in a way that wouldn't be possible if they were fully described.

Hmmmm..... yeah, I wish I could say I appreciated that aspect as much as you. Perhaps on a second reading, I could. But at the time, it was endlessly frustrating. For hundreds of pages, I was like, "When the hell will I find out what happened in C.T.'s office?!!?!?" or "When the hell will I find out what happened after the riot at Ennet House?!!?!" And it was really, really distracting. And then to not finish those scenes in anything like a satisfying way.... I felt like I'd been ripped off. And having read some of the biographical stuff about DFW, I'm left wondering if he did it on purpose, or if he tore himself apart for months trying to write the perfect conclusions to those scenes, only to give up because he couldn't get it JUST RIGHT.
posted by Afroblanco at 1:31 PM on September 6, 2012


...if the act of writing a thousand-page work of fiction with hundreds of endnotes doesn't constitute showing off...

Nthing several of the comments above: but the whole architecture of Wallace's style was not put together just to impress -- if this were the case it'd be a lot easier to call him a fraud. Look closer. Wallace's tricks, his voice and his whole demeanor all point to something beyond themselves, all of them resonating with a shared purpose. Music works the same way, where the sound, intonation and rhythm all contribute to the meaning of the song at least as much, if not more than, the content of the lyrics.

He's not just showing off, I guess is what I'm trying to say. And focusing only on this need to impress misses the entire point he was trying to make with his work.
posted by onwords at 1:32 PM on September 6, 2012 [5 favorites]


I'm sorry - all that coming from Bret Easton Ellis???? Please. Two things:

1. I'm highly suspicious of these tweets as being less sincere opinion and more pure marketing ratchet for an upcoming project he's involved in/new book/dearth of talk show activity.

2. DFW is pretentious, but also takes greater risks and has far better ideas in his work than anything BEE will ever write.

BONUS THING:

3. Only a true literary douchebag would potshot a dead author in this way. DFW's death had more commitment and thought behind it than anything BEE can come up with while tweeting from his fancy wine cellar.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 1:39 PM on September 6, 2012 [5 favorites]


Nthing several of the comments above: but the whole architecture of Wallace's style was not put together just to impress -- if this were the case it'd be a lot easier to call him a fraud. Look closer.

Oh, fuck, man, you mean we have to do more than read the entire goddamn book and the footnotes? It's bad enough that James Joyce James Joyce was guilty of "rendering literature inaccessible".
posted by KokuRyu at 1:39 PM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


And then to not finish those scenes in anything like a satisfying way.... I felt like I'd been ripped off.

Denied your hit of entertainment, were you?
posted by fleacircus at 1:43 PM on September 6, 2012 [10 favorites]


On the other hand, there's no reason to speak ill of the dead. It's open season on the books themselves, though.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:49 PM on September 6, 2012


Oh, ok. I'll just put this over here, in the box with the Recent WIRED with the cover article takedown of dead Steve Jobs.

Jesus what a coward. Tell me, did this Brent guy issue any of his tweets (er, reviews) while David Foster Wallace was alive?
posted by newdaddy at 1:51 PM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Needs more footnotes.
posted by MikeMc at 2:00 PM on September 6, 2012


Well, he's right. But you all knew I'd say that. DFW was the Emperor's New Writer. Absolutely dreadful stuff guaranteed to impress the hell out of a certain type of person.
posted by Decani at 2:00 PM on September 6, 2012


3. Only a true literary douchebag would potshot a dead author in this way. DFW's death had more commitment and thought behind it than anything BEE can come up with while tweeting from his fancy wine cellar.

Ohh burn....I see what you did...ouch!



Unless BEE, like Jay McInerney, also has a fancy wine cellar.
posted by Skygazer at 2:00 PM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hal as a protagonist was pretty flat, except we know he's a stand-in for Wallace, which makes the book even more depressing, since we have the knowledge that DFW eventually offed himself.

So is Gately, to some degree, which is both depressing and inspiring, as far as I'm concerned.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 2:06 PM on September 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Well at least nobody has said they want to physically hurt BEE yet.

Does smacking his hand and firmly saying, "NO!" next time he starts to compose a tweet count? It's for his own good.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 2:27 PM on September 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


So is Gately, to some degree, which is both depressing and inspiring, as far as I'm concerned.

Ooh, good point. I had not considered that.
posted by Afroblanco at 2:29 PM on September 6, 2012


Anyone who starts reading a book with the attitude of "if I'm not being entertained within twenty pages I'm outta here" probably shouldn't be reading books.

It's like giving up on life because the first six months didn't "grab you".


It's a terrible analogy, but it didn't involve a car, so I am confused.
posted by Dark Messiah at 2:30 PM on September 6, 2012


Well, I just read the bio extracts. And BEE would probably have the same trouble in rehab that DFW did--admitting that he is just like everyone else in the room, by virtue of being in the fucking room.

It's how my brother is getting himself through prison. And it's extremely sad and stupid every time.
posted by liketitanic at 2:32 PM on September 6, 2012


Metafilter introduced me to DFW a couple of years ago. I started in IJ and put it down after two or three pages because I wanted to make some coffee. For whatever reason I never picked it up again. Recently I read a bound copy of his commencement speech about fish in water. It didn't resonate with me at all. My girlfriend liked it, though. That about sums up my engagement with DFW. I remember his work like I remember a random bar you end up at through acquaintances and then never visit again. Not because there's anything wrong with the drinks, but because there's nothing to go back for. Ellis' work, on the other hand, feels like a legendary nightclub, a place you feel you know even if you've never been there at all.
posted by deo rei at 2:39 PM on September 6, 2012


I don't know about Bret Easton Ellis and his three names but I'm pretty sure DFW himself wasn't a huge fan of his own three names. So all this talk about the number of names and how that means they're tools, well.
posted by kingbenny at 2:47 PM on September 6, 2012


Ellis' work, on the other hand, feels like a legendary nightclub, a place you feel you know even if you've never been there at all.

Do you mean like Studio 54 with it's coke-sniffing, promiscuous, disco dancing douche bags? I'd never been, but that's the first place I thought about.
posted by Mojojojo at 2:50 PM on September 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


Those are visions floating very high in my mind, in a cloud of implication and conjecture, and they will never come down. Show me another fucking novel that can do that.

Gravity's Rainbow.
posted by mr_roboto at 2:54 PM on September 6, 2012 [8 favorites]


Do you mean like Studio 54 with it's coke-sniffing, promiscuous, disco dancing douche bags? I'd never been, but that's the first place I thought about.

This is something to consider. In American Psycho, they never actually manage to score any real coke.
posted by Ad hominem at 2:55 PM on September 6, 2012


I'm reading DT Max's bio of DFW now and the behind-the-scenes back and forth between editor and writer is really fascinating to me, especially in the case of Infinite Jest. A lot of the comments up-thread concern assumptions or interpretations about DFW's intent and motivation in regards to that book, but the picture Max paints (drawing on correspondence and reflections from DFW's editor and DFW himself) is one of DFW having something important and vital (at least to him) to say and that this was more important than mere entertainment and that he made a lot of concessions for the sake of his publisher and for the "readability" of the novel (the extensive end-notes, for example, appear to be DFWs way of making stuff that he felt were important to the story or to what he was trying to say in the book without having to keep it in the actual narrative, if that makes sense).

In any case, what certainly does not come across is any inkling of needing to impress or show off.

BEE might actually be right in the sense that DFW failed with Infinite Jest (DFW himself wanted to subtitle it "a failed entertainment"). John Jeremiah Sullivan put it best, I think:
When they say that [Wallace] was a generational writer, that he "spoke for a generation," there's a sense in which it's almost scientifically true. Everything we know about the way literature gets made suggests there's some connection between the individual talent and the society that produces it, the social organism. Cultures extrude geniuses the way a beehive will make a new queen when its old one dies, and it's possible now to see Wallace as one of those. I remember well enough to know it's not a trick of hindsight, hearing about and reading Infinite Jest for the first time, as a 20-year-old, and the immediate sense of: This is it. One of us is going to try it. The "it" being all of it, to capture the sensation of being alive in a fractured superpower at the end of the twentieth century. Someone had come along with an intellect potentially strong enough to mirror the spectacle and a moral seriousness deep enough to want to in the first place. About none of his contemporaries—even those who in terms of ability could compete with him—can one say that they risked as great a failure as Wallace did.
posted by AceRock at 2:55 PM on September 6, 2012 [15 favorites]


Gravity's Rainbow.

i see what you did there
posted by Afroblanco at 2:59 PM on September 6, 2012


I'm no fan of the veneration of St. Dave and the legions of self-congratulatory fans who trumpet the completion of a long novel as a personality-defining achievement.

But Wallace -- despite his faults and troubles -- was a remarkably talented, interesting person, whose work I dearly admire. The extent to which I felt grief over his suicide bewildered me. More than any celebrity death I can think of, the loss felt personal.

This isn't surprising to see from Ellis, a standard-bearer of bro-intellectuals if I've ever met one, whose entire career is built on manufactured controversy and hacky echoes of his own previous books. He's like fiction's Ann Coulter, grasping at whatever relevance he can. They deserve each other, I guess.
posted by spanishbombs at 3:02 PM on September 6, 2012 [7 favorites]


No one here has yet said how good this post's title is. So I will and that it made me literally laugh out loud.
posted by litleozy at 3:13 PM on September 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Do you mean like Studio 54 with it's coke-sniffing, promiscuous, disco dancing douche bags

Yeah, that's an excellent example. Especially since Studio 54 hasn't lived up to its reputation in, like, forever now
posted by deo rei at 3:16 PM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


DFW's work was and is simply splendid. Precious, overwrought, often over-rated, but just as often spectacular, and just plain fun.

Ellis is a moderately capable craftsman.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 3:22 PM on September 6, 2012 [5 favorites]


Yeah, that's an excellent example. Especially since Studio 54 hasn't lived up to its reputation in, like, forever now

Hey, I was just following your metaphor where it took me. Apparently, you were thinking of a different legendary nightclub? CBGB's? Oh, they're closed, too. I guess I'm not familiar with very many legendary nightclubs.

I think I'll sit down at my corner bar, you know, Infinite Jest, and read another 30 pages.
posted by Mojojojo at 3:46 PM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


My complaint that DFW comes off as pretentious obviously resonates with some, but let me try a different tack. After portraying the absurdity of life Ellis embraces it and shows that he is inseparably a part of it himself, that it can't be escaped. DFW never does this; he is always apart from the absurdity, if not above it at least separate; it is not part of him, if he is a part of it it is only involuntarily and he resists it with all the might of his intellect.

It's as if both men woke up to find the promised order of the backyard of their life taken over by a swamp. Ellis installed a diving board; DFW was trying to pump it out to his last breath.
posted by localroger at 3:46 PM on September 6, 2012


I couldn't believe the last Tweet referenced Jay McInerney, because if anything Bret Easton Ellis is the poor man's Jay McInerney.
posted by 3.2.3 at 3:50 PM on September 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


from A Conversation with David Foster Wallace
By Larry McCaffery

"You’re just displaying the sort of cynicism that lets readers be manipulated by bad writing. I think it’s a kind of black cynicism about today’s world that Ellis and certain others depend on for their readership. Look, if the contemporary condition is hopelessly shitty, insipid, materialistic, emotionally retarded, sadomasochistic, and stupid, then I (or any writer) can get away with slapping together stories with characters who are stupid, vapid, emotionally retarded, which is easy, because these sorts of characters require no development. With descriptions that are simply lists of brand-name consumer products. Where stupid people say insipid stuff to each other. If what’s always distinguished bad writing—flat characters, a narrative world that’s cliched and not recognizably human, etc.—is also a description of today’s world, then bad writing becomes an ingenious mimesis of a bad world. If readers simply believe the world is stupid and shallow and mean, then Ellis can write a mean shallow stupid novel that becomes a mordant deadpan commentary on the badness of everything."
posted by four panels at 4:10 PM on September 6, 2012 [5 favorites]


Hey, I was just following your metaphor where it took me. Apparently, you were thinking of a different legendary nightclub?

You can flatten your quills now, I'm pretty sure he was agreeing with you and poking fun at Ellis.
posted by WhitenoisE at 4:11 PM on September 6, 2012


Thanks. I do think Ellis is the more universally urgent, or relevant, or resonant writer, but yes, in a garish, delirious fashion, that doesn't necessarily align with what's "good". It's certainly not the case that Ellis is "better" than Wallace. And at the end of the day nothing beats the corner bar, but then we don't all live on the same corner.
posted by deo rei at 4:41 PM on September 6, 2012


Guys, all of the places in American Psycho actually existed, some still exist, the club they went to in the book was Tunnel. That is why it was funny. The book came out in 91. There was no disco. They were going to places full of Michael Alig style club kids wearing suits. That is why they kept getting ripped off buying drugs.

I'm beginning to think I read a different book. In the book I read, everything, everything, was a farce.
posted by Ad hominem at 4:46 PM on September 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


i thought american psycho was depressing and dire and infinite jest was puzzling, but fascinating

william vollman is someone i prefer to either of those
posted by pyramid termite at 4:52 PM on September 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


If the man himself was a bar he would be the bar on the roof of the Gansevoort. Really not super great but attractive people and 30$ drinks.
posted by Ad hominem at 5:00 PM on September 6, 2012


Well, it did just occur to me that if I take Ellis literally, he includes me in a literary pantheon. So I've got that going for me.
posted by COBRA! at 5:01 PM on September 6, 2012


HATE HIM
posted by angrycat at 5:51 PM on September 6, 2012


For anyone who hasn't read Ramon Glazov/John Dolan's DFW takedown, it's a pretty entertaining ride.
David Foster Wallce: Portrait of an Infinitely Limited Mind
posted by PantherModerns at 6:05 PM on September 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


angrycat, in light of your username I posit that from here on out all of your comments should be in all-caps.
posted by MattMangels at 6:13 PM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I started reading this thread having never read either of these writers. After the thread equivalent of "about 20 pages" I have decided I'd probably rather read BEE's books and, the whole deadness thing notwithstanding, probably rather have DFW round my place hanging out, drinnking tea, watching the game or whatever, and shall now skip the rest and proceed to one of the other notable threads vying for my attention.
posted by Slyfen at 6:15 PM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'll try and finally get around to reading some of his essays and shorter works; I hear they're pretty good.

Yeah, afroblanco, I'll second that. I consider myself a big fan but have never read Infinite Jest and may or not get to it; I'm fine either way. But goddamn Consider the Lobster is one of the best nonfiction collections I've read, a series of thoughtful, funny, informative essays on a wide variety of subjects, all beautifully written and relatively fascinating, and one (the title essay, a review of the 2003 Maine Lobster Festival for Gourmet magazine which you can read in its entirety here) a total mindblower that starts out as a cute travel piece, morphs into a zoological treatise and winds up delivering a direct challenge on moral philosophy grounds to the audience of the magazine that hired him. It's brilliant, and I can't recall anything I've ever read from Ellis that even comes close. And despite his obvious horseshit claim in the Guardian that controversy is not something he's interested in generating, all I can recall about Ellis is a series of publicity-hound episodes like this.

Anyway, I kept going with Wallace through the stories in Brief Interviews and Oblivion, completely taken in by his experimentation, his guts and his astonishing ability to write. The occasional clunker just made him more real. Ellis' little tantrum doesn't change any of that.
posted by mediareport at 7:00 PM on September 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


his astonishing ability to write

This, indeed. It may be that I am overfond of... prestidigitation, but I get drunk on language, and am often literally thrilled by the way that DFW played with words. I've always thought it so knowing and hilarious -- imagined him winking broadly at me -- when he would simultaneously leap around like a loon shouting lookit me lookit me!, spin out effervescent, joyously loopy prose, then deliberately hang footnote anchors onto it, as if to slow it down, keep it on the ground. Not to sabotage himself, I don't think, but just out of the sheer muscular egoist joy of playing games with his own power by deliberately throttling it, to show off how deep his talent actually ran.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:19 PM on September 6, 2012


leotrotsky: "Cocaine is a hell of a drug."

In a similar vein, I'm wondering if he's (BEE) is off his meds or taking something he shouldn't or whatever. Unless attacks like this aren't out of line for him. I've not read anything by either author (although I've meant to) nor followed any news about them.
posted by deborah at 7:30 PM on September 6, 2012


I started reading this thread having never read either of these writers. After the thread equivalent of "about 20 pages", I'm glad that I won't be hanging out with either of them.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:36 PM on September 6, 2012


American Psycho was a very unpleasant read that affected me physically. Patrick Bateman's world and mentality were conveyed so vividly that the entire time I was reading it, and for days afterwards, I felt blank and empty, like the wind was blowing right through me. I haven't read Infinite Jest, but Broom Of The System has great stylistic flourishes that really floored me sometimes, although it often felt like a ramble. The ending, for me, really drove this point home - a narrator getting lost in, and disappearing inside of, his own words. I don't know if this MO continues in Infinite Jest, but it's a book that continues to intrigue me.

I am really hesitant to compare these two, because I don't think they were after the same goals with writing. Ellis sought to bring the reader to the edge of the abyss, and push them in. Wallace, at least as far as BOTS was concerned, seemed to be more interested in what the narrative form was capable of. Both of these can produce amazing results, and I'd like to think Ellis is aware of this, so whatever jag his going off on here is beyond me.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 7:39 PM on September 6, 2012


For anyone who hasn't read Ramon Glazov/John Dolan's DFW takedown, it's a pretty entertaining ride.

David Foster Wallce: Portrait of an Infinitely Limited Mind


Oh, snap, that's a good read.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:34 PM on September 6, 2012


The McSweeneyite clique that nurtured David Foster Wallace

Ha ha!
posted by KokuRyu at 9:36 PM on September 6, 2012


Girl with the Curious Hair, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, and Oblivion are three of the best short story collections I've ever read. Cheever, Carver, Wallace.

Two men, four surnames

I don't know about Easton, but Foster is a middle name, isn't it?
posted by mrgrimm at 9:39 PM on September 6, 2012


Does anybody ever try to take down Thomas Pynchon?
posted by mrgrimm at 9:41 PM on September 6, 2012


DFW gave us Michael Pemulis. Bret Easton Ellis gave us Patrick Bateman.

Score, DFW.
posted by xmutex at 9:47 PM on September 6, 2012


I am really hesitant to compare these two, because I don't think they were after the same goals with writing. Ellis sought to bring the reader to the edge of the abyss, and push them in. Wallace, at least as far as BOTS was concerned, seemed to be more interested in what the narrative form was capable of.

I really love Broom of the System, but I do think it's particularly hung up on "cleverness" (and it was an outgrowth of one of his two senior theses, so there is a whiff of creative writing exercise to the whole thing) compared to many of his other works, which while still clever, are also interested in getting at deeper moral and philosophical stuff about the human condition.* I haven't read IJ, so I can't comment on that one, but the short stories and essays all seem to be about a lot more than Fun With Story-Teling.

*And I think one of the major disagreements people have about DFW is whether he's actually saying anything meaningful or not.
posted by naoko at 10:39 PM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


recess: "I pledge to read at least 21 pages"

IIRC, 223 is the target number.
posted by Dr. Zira at 11:01 PM on September 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


IIRC, 223 is the target number.

That's funny. I told my friend he had to get to page 227 or something, I think, post revealing phone call between Hal and Orin. Maybe it was 223 ... I think he got to about 20.

The end of IJ was a sucker punch, and for that, I give him props. I liked Lyle too. And all the anti-Irish humor. It's like 1950 all over again.

The Pale King, however, was unfortunate. It's likely invaluable when considering why he killed himself, but it's just not even anywhere near a complete work. Sketches.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:24 PM on September 6, 2012


Oh, snap, that's a good read.

Really? I thought it was awful. For one, the author seems totally oblivious to the fact that most of the passages he quotes to reveal "Wallace's" blind spots are actually told in the voice of a specific character, and reveal that character's blind spots. Like how the obviously condescending "exotic new facts" bit is quickly revealed to be coming from inside the mind of a middle-class lawyer who can't believe he's ended up in a halfway house with all these weird poor people. Or the idea that Gately's prank with the sign on the methadone clinic proves Wallace "hates ‘doners," when that episode is pretty clearly presented as an instance of Gately's fucked-upness during early recovery. (Seriously, did this guy miss the 6th-grade English class where they tell you that authors are not their characters?) Or the "gleaming red martial column of those militaristic red Southern-U.S. ants that build hideous tall boiling hills" bit -- that's a specific character's voice, and that character always exaggerates and overreaches himself a bit in terms of vocabulary. Either the author of this article is arguing in bad faith, or he actually does not know how to read.

(The kinda weird portrayal of the cross-dressing/transgender/does-Wallace-actually-know-the-difference? character is a separate and more legitimate can of worms. But this author doesn't bring it up. He's too busy bashing Dave Eggers' family and Wallace's taste in music. Seriously, he takes the guy's totally open mention of how he likes pop music and somehow turns it into proof that "secretly, hipsters do like all the dreck they pretend to enjoy ironically." Since when did Wallace pretend to enjoy anything ironically?)
posted by ostro at 1:42 AM on September 7, 2012 [9 favorites]


I'd count myself as a fan of DFW's work, but can see why BEE would feel disdain for it. Wallace's writing is fascinating and enjoyable, but it is pretty middle-of-the-road in that it never really pushes me to any emotional/spiritual extremes or challenges my world view (not that it was ever meant to, of course). I appreciate the cleverness and the sincerity of this infinitely curious genius spitballing and throwing everything he has at his subject, trying to figure it all out. But in the end there's something a little prog-rock about his stuff. I think that quality can enrage someone who's more in Easton's mindset.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 3:20 AM on September 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


David Foster Wallace Endnote Generator
posted by the man of twists and turns at 4:28 AM on September 7, 2012


Unless attacks like this aren't out of line for him. I've not read anything by either author (although I've meant to) nor followed any news about them.
posted by deborah at 3:30 AM on September 7 [+] [!]


I remember when JD Salinger died, there was a todo about him posting on twitter "Yeah!! Thank God he's finally dead. I've been waiting for this day for-f**king-ever. Party tonight!!!"
posted by rollick at 5:44 AM on September 7, 2012


For anyone who hasn't read Ramon Glazov/John Dolan's DFW takedown, it's a pretty entertaining ride.

The way he Wallace-izes quotes from Dog the Bounty Hunter is undeniably hysterical. And maybe the rest is a little too overheated and nitpicky, but it brings up a lot of things I thought while reading Jest. I think the novel is wildly entertaining, but it is also a pretentious mess. I thought Brief Interviews demonstrated Wallace's talent much more effectively.

Like the author of the hatchet-job, I found the avalanche of pharmaceutical factoids tiresome. As others here have noted, none of the characters is particularly well-developed; for the heart of a book so concerned with communication, Gately himself doesn't have much of a voice. Just because his theme is entertainment overkill doesn't excuse interminable descriptions of a suicidal woman preparing freebase or a junkie withdrawing in a public toilet. And yeah, I wondered too why Wallace expended so much brain power making a case for anti-intellectualism. He skewers silly corporate sloganeering and therapeutic truisms so well, I wonder why he exempts AA platitudes from the same treatment.

I know people who wouldn't change a word of Infinite Jest, but I'm not one of them. Either you love it in all its sprawling, obsessive, often tedious glory, or you think the novel is an embarrassment of riches that's less than the sum of its parts.
posted by Fritz Langwedge at 6:29 AM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Infinite Jest was not, in my opinion, a great book. I didn't finish it. It felt weirdly without weight, like so many other modern novels. (It kept reminding me of books I read and only half remembered.)

But then, I didn't finish the book, and i detested dhalgren, and i think Kerouac was a douche.
posted by sonic meat machine at 6:34 AM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


And yeah, I wondered too why Wallace expended so much brain power making a case for anti-intellectualism. He skewers silly corporate sloganeering and therapeutic truisms so well, I wonder why he exempts AA platitudes from the same treatment.

A lot of the Glazov takedown just rang false to me, particularly this argument. Mostly this is because I have been reading DFW's biography and none of Glazov's interpretations of DFW's philosophy or intents are accurate (which is a failure on DFW's part too). For example, it is not so much "anti-intellectualism" that DFW is making a case for, which is why he seems inconsistent with his treatment of corporate sloganeering and AA platitudes. Its that, when he was writing Infinite Jest, he was struggling mightily with depression and addiction and all of his intelligence and intellectualism wasn't helping (nor did it prevent him from hitting bottom) and, particularly frustrating for him, the stupid AA platitudes did seem to help. So these are deeply personal things for him; he's not engaging in some intellectual exercise to promote Calvinism (wtf) or whatever Glazov is trying to pin on him.
posted by AceRock at 6:46 AM on September 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


Have you read Glamorama? If that's not a headlong dive into unresolvable mystery, I don't know what is. And yeah, it feels very personal.

No, and to be honest, it's been so long since I've read anything Ellis wrote (American Psycho, Less than Zero), my impressions might be mistaken. (For that matter, it's been years since I read Wallace, too.) It may be I've misread him in the past. And personal impressions of a work of fiction do always tend to take on exaggerated quality as time passes, so maybe I owe Ellis another chance. Still, despite all the precociousness and literary aerial acrobatics in DFW's stuff, it still always struck me as seeming to be more genuinely engaged with some larger philosophical/artistic project, and less calculated for effect than what little I know of Ellis's bibliography.

(Never even tried to tackle Infinite Jest, though I had lots of friends pushing it on me at one point, but I really loved Girl with Curious Hair and Broom of the System; DFW's short stories were my entry point to his stuff, FWIW.)

but it is pretty middle-of-the-road in that it never really pushes me to any emotional/spiritual extremes or challenges my world view

Weird. I always saw DFW's whole philosophical project as meant to directly challenge the incoherence of our whole current way of life, though without any simple alternatives offered. It always surprises me how many different things people can take away from any work of art.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:05 AM on September 7, 2012


AceRock, I understand your point about Wallace's struggles, but that doesn't refute the blogger's criticism at all. It can't be gainsaid that, for all his verbal obfuscation, Wallace accepts AA's oversimplification of the dynamic of recovery, its cheap moralism, and the higher-power thing. Not for nothing is Gately portrayed as a hero for refusing narcotics in the hospital, as if we're supposed to equate their use in soothing the pain of a bullet-shattered shoulder to their recreational use by an irresponsible drug addict. And Joelle's offhand comment about the ungrammatical slogan "But for the grace of God go I" nearly sends Gately into a relapse, as if thinking too hard about AA propaganda is a sign of dishonesty and weakness.

I'm just being fair here: I think the blogger's hatchet job went overboard, but he made some points I agree with.
posted by Fritz Langwedge at 7:22 AM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]



william vollman is someone i prefer to either of those
posted by pyramid termite at 4:52 PM on September 6 [2 favorites −] Favorite added! [!]


You Bright and Risen Angel!
posted by chavenet at 8:05 AM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ramon Glazov/John Dolan's DFW takedown, it's a pretty entertaining ride.

Entertaining, yes; but so is the shouting guy on the corner with his pants around his ankles. Like a lot of the writing at The eXiled, it's tough to find a point beneath all the zingy insults.

BTW, we did the Glazov piece last year. Contra suspicions that Glazov is Dolan, there's a picture of Glazov at a reading in 2009 here. I must say, I had no idea that the Seventh Doctor was such a foe of "hipster-lit."

Pip Smith, an organizer of the Penguin Plays Rough reading nights in Sydney, Australia, relates a Glazov anecdote at her blog—there's no direct link; it's at the bottom of the page:
"A few months ago, I was stuck for a Penguin Plays Rough reader at the last minute. I electronically bumped into Ramon on facebook and asked if he had any fiction he could read. Ramon said he only really writes creative non-fiction these days. So I asked for the most creative of his non-fiction.

Ramon responded by reading a story about his time fucking a barely legal prostitute in Burma; a story that expended a great deal of wordage commenting on the poor hygiene of her cunt and the stuffed toys on her bed."
Seems like his real beef with Vollman is that Vollman got there first.
posted by octobersurprise at 8:13 AM on September 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


I remember when JD Salinger died, there was a todo about him posting on twitter "Yeah!! Thank God he's finally dead. I've been waiting for this day for-f**king-ever. Party tonight!!!"

Ellis is a Punk -- anything to provoke. Which isn't to say he didn't actually feel this way. Certainly, many in the culture were sick to death of the precious cult of Salinger by the time he died. They were just mannered enough not to mention it (don't speak ill of the dead and all). But not Ellis. That's not his style. He strikes me as being very conscious of The Spectacle and his place in it, and clearly enjoys playing his sometimes nasty part. And like a good Punk, he has no interest in being loved -- just noticed, like sand in the Vaseline. Which isn't to say it's all about just getting noticed. Because I do think he has various points to score when he plays the culture like this -- about the nature of fame, cults of personality, bad writing, bullshit in general.

And if it's any consolation, I don't think he'll mind too much if people trash him when he goes.
posted by philip-random at 8:52 AM on September 7, 2012


David Foster Wallce: Portrait of an Infinitely Limited Mind

I haven't read Infinite Jest, but I'm assuming that the rambling, careening, absurdly extrapolatory style of this piece is meant to reflect it. If so, all I can say is Wow! I get it. From both sides. A. How wildly adventurous it is. B. How fucking annoying it is. Reminds me of a moment from the Larry Sanders show where one of the writers gets fired for being a serial-offender prick.

ARTIE: "You've got to be a fucking genius to get away with shit like that."

(writer starts to take this as a compliment)

ARTIE: "You're not."

Am I saying DFW isn't a genius? How can I if I haven't read his essential stuff? But man, what a highwire act! The writing equivalent of progressive rock. Ambitious, eccentric, breathtakingly assured, indulgent, pretentious, pompous, absurdly complicated -- all of these things, depending on where you're sitting, and how much time you've got on your hands, and how good the dope is.
posted by philip-random at 9:03 AM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Bret Easton Jealous
posted by snofoam at 9:14 AM on September 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


Ha, DFW as Rush. That's priceless. Cheered up my whole day.
posted by unSane at 9:14 AM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


David Foster Useless
posted by unSane at 9:15 AM on September 7, 2012


While I'm not a fan of DFW's, and have always been irritated by the fact that it is impossible to criticize his writing in most MetaFilter threads (and welcome this thread), on the other hand, the guy wrote books, and he wrote books that appealed to a lot of people, which is something. So there is no reason for personal attacks.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:23 AM on September 7, 2012


I haven't read Infinite Jest, but I'm assuming that the rambling, careening, absurdly extrapolatory style of this piece is meant to reflect it. If so, all I can say is Wow! I get it.

Nooooo! Noooooooo! Do not make that assumption! Seriously, don't take the crappiness of this piece and pin it on a different writer entirely! I thought the article came off as rambling because it doesn't earn the places it goes. Which Infinite Jest does, and it makes a lot of difference.
posted by ostro at 9:38 AM on September 7, 2012


Someone who edited both gives us the history of the feud.

Something I find funny about the reaction to this is how many people are acting like BEE is just taking potshots rather than reacting to someone who was a dick to him first. The linked interview is interesting--Wallace is the one who brings up Ellis and seems eager to provide a take-down of him. I mean, if Gerald Howard is to be believed (and I don't see why not), this is an absolutely dick move: The title story, about a bunch of L.A. punks misbehaving at a Keith Jarrett concert, struck me as an obvious and expert parody of Bret Ellis’ affectless tone and subject matter and I said so. David, ever disingenuous about his influences (you could barely get him to admit he’d even read Pynchon) denied ever having read a word of Bret’s work – an obvious lie that I let pass.

Anyway, seems to me that it's in better form to take potshots at the dead than at living writers (though I think a writer has every right to do both), because what do they care, anyway?
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:04 AM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Huh. And in the LA Times, I just read this otherwise unremarkable piece by Burt Bacharach about the recently-deceased Hal David, in which he briefly and firmly takes responsibility for a feud between them...
Like many relationships ours had its bumps. The big bump — a disagreement that arose during the failed attempt to remake the film "Lost Horizon" as a musical — was most unfortunate. Hal and I didn't speak for 10 years except through our lawyers, and I will take the count for that one — my fault. What we might have written in those 10 years we'll never know.
What you say after somebody's dead says a lot about you.
posted by davejay at 10:24 AM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Anyway, seems to me that it's in better form to take potshots at the dead than at living writers (though I think a writer has every right to do both), because what do they care, anyway?

DFW's not in a position to care, but Ellis might consider what he can accomplish here. I think that when the potshot-ee is a recent suicide and having a better career in death than you're having in life (DFW-related publications since his death: memoir about him in 2010, and, all this year, novel fragment, biography, book of interviews, forthcoming essay collection; Bret Easton Ellis publications since the turn of the century: two novels) all you're going to do is look like a jerk.
posted by Zed at 10:27 AM on September 7, 2012


I don't think he cares about looking like a jerk, though. If anything, he wants to look like a jerk.

(He strikes me as the kind of writer who doesn't care at all about being liked, only respected.)
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:38 AM on September 7, 2012


(And by respected, I don't mean "respected as a stand-up guy" but rather "respected for his work.")
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:40 AM on September 7, 2012


And by respected, I don't mean "respected as a stand-up guy" but rather "respected for his work."

I don't think BEE even cares about that. A major theme of his later stuff, and the ongoing theatre production that is his life, is that he finds his own fame and success to be part of the ongoing absurdity.
posted by localroger at 11:05 AM on September 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Does anybody ever try to take down Thomas Pynchon?

Heh, you'd have to read him first, something which few actually do.
posted by Afroblanco at 11:27 AM on September 7, 2012


Heh, you'd have to read him first, something which few actually do.

I'm not going to let that stop me from saying outlandish shit and don't let it stop you. Remember, anyone can read a thing and then comment on it in a critical/intelligent way. It takes courage to NOT read a thing and say something ignorant.

Wait...
posted by Fizz at 11:41 AM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


this is an absolutely dick move: The title story, about a bunch of L.A. punks misbehaving at a Keith Jarrett concert, struck me as an obvious and expert parody of Bret Ellis’ affectless tone and subject matter and I said so

Why is this a dick move? Isn't it creatively superior to engage with another writer in the shape of parody than in a series of contemptuous tweets? Personally, if Ellis chose to produce a parody of Wallace's writing—a 1500+ page monster on an Ellis-ian theme in Wallace's style, exhaustively footnoted, is what I'm thinking—I'd wish him well. That could only be more entertaining than repeating "You Suck" over and over in 140 characters.

but rather "respected for his work.

For a man who wants to be respected for his work, he's spent a lot of his career trying to be the Charlie Sheen of literature. Unless, as localroger suggests, he doesn't care about actually care about his work, either, just the performance, in which case he's just another celebrity with a mouth and a twitter account.
posted by octobersurprise at 11:48 AM on September 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's a dick move to parody someone and then act like you haven't read them.

(It's not a dick move to parody someone.)
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:50 AM on September 7, 2012


It's a dick move to parody someone and then act like you haven't read them.

It's mildly passive-aggressive. And if it's true, then it means that what really bugged Bret about Dave is Dave's adamant refusal to admit of any familiarity with Bret's work.

Holy God, that sounds like grad school.

But I'm struck by Howard's defense of Ellis in that piece, "He is the Loki or Trickster of the literary world (or maybe the Lou Reed), poking sharp sticks in our eyes and daring us to figure out if he could possibly mean that," as if every troll and provocateur who's ever called him or herself a "gadfly," or "just tried to shake things up" hasn't used exactly the same defense. I mean, he actually uses the word "trickster." For a man who finds Ellis' scalding, cynical, brittle, savagely unillusioned worldview so refreshing, Howard sure does love him some clichés.
posted by octobersurprise at 12:49 PM on September 7, 2012


>Does anybody ever try to take down Thomas Pynchon?

Heh, you'd have to read him first, something which few actually do.


I like Vineland which apparently makes me an idiot.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:22 PM on September 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Does anybody ever try to take down Thomas Pynchon?

Heh, you'd have to read him first, something which few actually do.


Read him? Hell, they'd have to find him first.
posted by Lorin at 1:23 PM on September 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


But I'm struck by Howard's defense of Ellis in that piece, "He is the Loki or Trickster of the literary world (or maybe the Lou Reed), poking sharp sticks in our eyes and daring us to figure out if he could possibly mean that," .

For context, this is immediately preceded by:

David’s 2005 commencement speech to the graduating class of Kenyon College, “This is Water,” has assumed the stature of a manifesto and ultimate statement. But, soul-pocked baby boomer that I am, I don’t buy it as a guide for right behavior. It feels uncomfortably close to those books of affirmations, no doubt inspiring but of questionable use when the hard stuff arrives. I truly believe that David was the finest writer of his generation, but his design for living seems to me naive and likely to collapse at the first impact of life’s implacable difficulties. It badly needed an injection of Montaigne or Marcus Aurelius.

I guess this speaks to my tendency as middle age imposes (I'm 53) to hold a tarnished survivor in higher esteem than a shiny dead guy. Because survival is kind of the point, I believe. Anybody can die young, leave a beautiful corpse and a pile of unresolved tangents (and chapters).
posted by philip-random at 1:38 PM on September 7, 2012


Anybody can die young, leave a beautiful corpse and a pile of unresolved tangents (and chapters).

...after a life-long struggle with depression sufficiently severe that its treatment had recently included electroconvulsive therapy.

What a loser.
posted by Zed at 1:42 PM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, that came off as more dismissive than I intended, yet ...

...after a life-long struggle with depression sufficiently severe that its treatment had recently included electroconvulsive therapy.

This does connect rather emphatically with ...

“This is Water,” has assumed the stature of a manifesto and ultimate statement. But, soul-pocked baby boomer that I am, I don’t buy it as a guide for right behavior. It feels uncomfortably close to those books of affirmations, no doubt inspiring but of questionable use when the hard stuff arrives. I truly believe that David was the finest writer of his generation, but his design for living seems to me naive and likely to collapse at the first impact of life’s implacable difficulties.
posted by philip-random at 1:55 PM on September 7, 2012


I guess this speaks to my tendency as middle age imposes (I'm 53) to hold a tarnished survivor in higher esteem than a shiny dead guy.

Well, I don't know about esteem, exactly, but, sure, I'd rather be alive than dead, also. But regarding Ellis, at this point we've gone from Ellis being worthy of esteem because he writes fine books, to Ellis, a jerk who doesn't even care about his own work, being worthy of esteem because he's alive. At any rate, I'm confident that Mr. Ellis can continue to clear that bar for a while longer, at least.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:56 PM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


And if it's true, then it means that what really bugged Bret about Dave is Dave's adamant refusal to admit of any familiarity with Bret's work.

Holy God, that sounds like grad school.


To me, too. He was also slamming his work in interviews and talking about how vapid it was. I'm just saying, sounds like Ellis didn't take the first shot--sounds like Ellis got under DFW's skin, too. I don't think this is the case of only one party being a turd.

Howard sure does love him some clichés.

There's a reason editors aren't writers.

I've been thinking about this on and off all day (and, okay, procrastinating) and I suspect my conclusion is something akin to philip-random's. Part of what is both troubling and interesting about Ellis is that he's sort of . . . inescapable but also not easily condensed down to digestible truths. Like that interview gambit back a few years ago, he deliberately seems to play with people's perceptions of him but that play seems to come from a place of significant psychic pain. His homophobic tweets about the 50 shades casting, for example--what does that mean when it comes from someone whose longest relationship was with a man, who continues to refuse to be labeled gay, who wrote a fictional account of himself as the heterosexual head of a nuclear family? He does explore these things meaningfully in his work--he's not just Charlie Sheen tweeting incoherently--but he was made to be a literary figurehead at a very young age and doesn't seem happy about it and isn't going to just fade into oblivion to let us all be comfortable with the role we played in his downfall. By dying, DFW paved a road for a thousand eulogies. The dead don't troll you in interviews, say offensive things on twitter, resist easily sexual categorization or cute descriptors of their work. They can be easily narravitized, and both Ellis's work and his life seem to be about resisting neat narratives.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:07 PM on September 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


In one interview I think I remember DFW gently but firmly offering a critque of BEE's nihilism.

And I agree with him that writing from a nihilistic point of view is not the ideal position for a writer as an artist.

In Infinite Jest, I found these arcs related to redemption that touched something great in the human experience; I had a feeling I hadn't had in reading since The Adventures of Kavalier and Klay. Some of his short stories were brilliant. Oblivion has gems, horrific tho' they are. I have TPK on my kindle but you know I don't think I'll read it.

I admit it, I only read a few pages of American Psycho. There was some other novel mostly set in LA. His work is repulsive to me. I think that is the role he plays. Which, fine, but fuck off when it comes to DFW. I'll follow into battle his ghost over the living BEE any day.
posted by angrycat at 3:19 PM on September 7, 2012


I suspect one of the more central reasons Ellis despises DFW is that the latter's actual suicide so effectively gives the lie to Ellis' faux cynicism and adolescent impostures of exhausted despair.

In fact, Ellis shows every evidence of enjoying his life immensely, savaging his enemies and friends alike in public and privately, and carousing his way through a life of carefully limited debauchery (it wouldn't do to ring down the curtain on one's pleasures prematurely, not when so few show any sign of being able to see through the act, no matter how prolonged or repetitious).

I'd imagine that the closest he comes to existential dilemma is deciding whether to punch his readers in the gut or kick their genitals-- and in the end he merely laughs and does both, of course. Ellis is not a tortured soul, he is a soul who battens on torture.

It does amaze me that we confuse the two so easily, and choose to coddle and reassure the torturers rather than condemning them and seeking to comfort their victims.
posted by jamjam at 3:47 PM on September 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


the latter's actual suicide so effectively gives the lie to Ellis' faux cynicism and adolescent impostures of exhausted despair.

how so?
you mean, if he was for real, he'd kill himself?
posted by philip-random at 4:10 PM on September 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


The funny thing about BEE and DFW is that their greatest novels, American Psycho and Infinite Jest are both full-bore assaults on the reader. They are actively hostile. Not in the same way, obviously, but they derive much of their power from the rules they break and the lengths they go to to make reading them uncomfortable.

Of course they use different weapons; AP is a dump on the living room floor, while IJ is a 4,000 piece jigsaw puzzle which you find, three quarters of the way through, is missing about 500 pieces and includes an extra thousand from various random other puzzles none of which makes a complete picture either.

BEE and DFW aren't the only writers who ever assaulted their readers, and they both wrote other things that aren't as overtly hostile even if they were challenging, but those are going to be their great books (and they both know this) because if you can write something that hostile which can still hook people and make them read, then you have accomplished something amazing.

Both books draw a great deal of power from the fact that they were published at all. Both owe their existence and distribution to their authors' prior reputation, and both were huge risks that could have destroyed a career.

What is different, also, is motivation. BEE isn't really just a nihilist because a true nihilist would say that snorting coke, getting laid, and being the toast of the brat pack groupie herd is a virtue. Ellis wants to show us that even doing that is absurd. Ultimately there is neither lasting pleasure nor unendurable pain in the farce of life; it is just a series of set pieces that we tell ourselves make sense even when they don't. That is the consistent message of every single word BEE has ever written or uttered in public.

DFW, however, wants to occupy a non-absurd viewpoint. He may not ultimately believe such a viewpoint exists but he (and his characters) damn well want to get there. He wants life to make sense and the fact that it doesn't is tragic and incomprehensible. The fact that he wanted to subtitle IJ "a failed Entertainment" speaks volumes when you consider what happens to people who experience the Entertainment of the story. (Yeah, I can't get more than 20 pages into it either without snoring off, but my wife has read it 5 times and clued me in.)

It's easy to see how BEE's existence must have felt like a constant thorn in DFW's side. Everything came so easy to him and all he did was spout the obvious with no cleverness or flourish. A lot of people piled on to the Brat Packers for their early and many felt undeserved fame for similar reasons.

But I also, being cast from a more similar mold, see how BEE would have taken umbrage at DFW's hostility. In BEE's world a guy of DFW's caliber shouldn't have even known BEE existed, much less lying about reading his books and making savage parodies and cutting remarks. Okay, the fame and fawning and all was absurd but at least it was pleasantly absurd, who needs a guy everyone knows is smarter than you taking defensive potshots because you threaten him, even though your whole world view is that your fame is an absurdity best mocked?

The problem between BEE and DFW is that they basically trolled each other. Each was by his existence a stick in the other's eye. They actually come from very similar perspectives and have a similar contempt for their own readers. The only significant difference is that one took things more seriously than the other.
posted by localroger at 4:10 PM on September 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think characterizing DFW as having contempt for his readers is really at odds with my own take on him. And I suspect that motivates a lot of the hostility I see towards him, which is too bad, from the perspective of my interpretation.
posted by neuromodulator at 4:39 PM on September 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


So, in grad school we were kicking around the idea that IJ is in the tradition of Tristram Shandy, the 18th century Brit novel that was itself based on a French tradition of I think called joke novels. Also in that vein: The Calling of Lot 49

So yeah, it's a 1000+ page trick on the reader. Buuuuut I personally did not feel the way I got to the end of IJ (?! Duuuuuuude whoa okay) as I did when I read the passion of Bateman sodomizing the cut-off head of a woman (!! no no no no no no no)
posted by angrycat at 5:29 PM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think DFW spends nearly all of his time writing celebrating his own intelligence (in the OP "brink of IJ" link it's even overt that DFW's problem was that this wasn't doing it for him any more) and yeah, if you can't keep up with him, fuck you.

Whereas Ellis is more like "fuck you" no matter how smart, connected, or powerful you are.
posted by localroger at 6:16 PM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think a writer in DFW's generation probably would have been exposed to a lot of modernist literature–stuff like Eliot, Pound, or even later moderns like John Berryman and Sylvia Plath. That stuff was all so ambitious and self–consciously literary that a writer like DFW, coming up in an academic setting, must have been scared stiff of coming across as lightweight. I chalk the seeming showiness up partially to what someone once called the "anxiety of influence."
posted by saulgoodman at 6:32 PM on September 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ellis wrote a dirty YA novel when he was within a hair's breadth of still being in high school, and because he was fantastically well-connected, everyone heard about it. For some reason he is still somehow known to some people and even respected lo these many years later, when he's like fifty-something and hasn't written anything of note since the Reagan-Bush era. He is amazing at self-promotion, but so is Kim Kardashian. Kim Kardashian may have more to say; her life is certainly much more interesting. Ellis's two most noted books are remembered mostly because they were made into movies, one of which has as much to do with his novel as the Starship Troopers movie has to do with Robert Heinlein's novel of the same name, and the other of which now plays as a laughably dated evil episode of "Saved by the Bell" starring Iron Man. I guess I can see why he's bitter, but he's taken a literary legacy that's pretty meager and found a way to dine out on it for decades, so I don't see why he's all that bitter.

Anyhow, it makes no real sense for him to attack David Foster Wallace...other than, of course, there's a new biography of David Foster Wallace that is currently getting more attention than anything Ellis has published in a very long while. So hitching to that wagon makes sense. But if it were about literary competition, the guy I'd be pissed at if I were him is Chuck Palahniuk, who has taken Ellis's schtick and popularized the hell out of it. Palahniuk also got a way better movie. So many reasons to get the bitter on.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 7:16 PM on September 7, 2012 [6 favorites]


Ellis wrote a dirty YA novel when he was within a hair's breadth of still being in high school, and because he was fantastically well-connected, everyone heard about it. For some reason he is still somehow known to some people and even respected lo these many years later, when he's like fifty-something and hasn't written anything of note since the Reagan-Bush era. He is amazing at self-promotion, but so is Kim Kardashian. Kim Kardashian may have more to say;

somebody is wrong on the internet
posted by philip-random at 8:00 PM on September 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


So yeah, it's a 1000+ page trick on the reader.

I think Wallace would disagree vehemently with you there.
posted by mrgrimm at 8:48 PM on September 7, 2012


As would I.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:41 AM on September 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Literary Face/Off: Infinite Idiot versus American Enigma?
posted by blue shadows at 2:48 AM on September 8, 2012


Darn late night brain skip. Let's try that again.

Literary Face/Off: Infinite Jerk vs. American Enigma.
posted by blue shadows at 4:11 AM on September 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


somebody is wrong on the internet

If you are quoting XKCD to win an argument, you have already lost that argument.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 5:59 AM on September 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


neuromodulator: I think characterizing DFW as having contempt for his readers is really at odds with my own take on him.

From the brink of IJ link in the OP:
Back then—in a letter in which he said for all he cared readers frustrated by his writing were welcome to think he was an asshole—he had made clear that “[f]iction for me is a conversation for me between me and something that May Not Be Named—God, the Cosmos, the Unified Field, my own psychoanalitic cathexes, Roqoq’oqu, whomever. I do not feel even the hint of an obligation to an entity called READER—do not regard it as his favor, rather as his choice, that, duly warned, he is expended capital/time/retinal energy on what I’ve done.”
posted by localroger at 6:02 AM on September 8, 2012


And that, dear reader, is why he can fuck off.
posted by unSane at 6:37 AM on September 8, 2012


I do prefer Joyce's ideal insomniac reader.

But what I came here to post was, wow, BEE is going nuts on Twitter these past couple of days. He really sounds nuts.
posted by BibiRose at 7:43 AM on September 8, 2012


Not to get in the way of anyone's hate-on, but that's a strangely cherry-picked thing to quote, especially since one of Wallace's most dramatic changes as a writer between Broom of the System/Girl with Curious Hair (ie, as a really young, really immature yet talented writer) to IJ and everything that followed it was his almost 180º flip from hostility toward the reader to serious reader-hand-holding.

Like, if there's one thing to take away from all of these in-depth interviews about his relationship with the average reader, it's that he made this giant switch to constantly regarding the reader's needs, sentence to sentence. That's not to say that his overall style was a breeze to follow; but, he wanted some real communion w/ the reader.

And, that said, there are quite a few stories pre-IJ that are incredibly simple and contain few pyrotechnics, and they're some of his best ("Lyndon," for example).
posted by NolanRyanHatesMatches at 7:49 AM on September 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


Not to get in the way of anyone's hate-on

Look, I don't have anything against DFW; I really like some of his shorter stuff. But it was the OP link that cherry-picked that letter excerpt, and it was obviously picked for the insight it sheds on Infinite Jest in particular.

Wallace wrote stuff that wasn't IJ and Ellis wrote stuff that wasn't American Psycho, but those two works stand out as turning points where each author decided to pull out the jams and see what he could get away with. Of course for Ellis it was his id that he released and for Wallace his ego, but the lack of concern for readers is the same.

And that is not necessarily a bad thing; I have no energy for Wallace's unfinishable jigsaw puzzle but I recognize that the work has power for the people for whom it works, and he's certainly written other stuff I do like. I think IJ derives much of its power from the never-stated but all too obvious conclusion that, even in the face of an intellect like Wallace's which is capable of dredging up and collating so many facts and of handling language so well, in the end the puzzle has no solution and there is only madness to be found. Saying that is easy and cheap, but getting live readers to feel it for themselves is a triumph.

I would also rank AP as one of my favorite BEE books because of its savage fury and insistence that you can empathize with and cheer for a monster, if only because he is the least absurd feature in a world that makes no sense. Like DFW Ellis has written plenty of other things not so challenging, but they are mere normal stories.

In the end I really think the two men ended up at odds not because they are so different, but because they are so much the same, and each was more likely to see right through the other than either's readers are.
posted by localroger at 8:36 AM on September 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


When I say 'trick on the reader,' I only meant that one expects the threads of the different story lines to coalesce in a way that is more of a traditional narrative. That's all. It's one of my favorite books.
posted by angrycat at 8:37 AM on September 8, 2012


somebody is wrong on the internet

If you are quoting XKCD to win an argument, you have already lost that argument.


I was quoting that to bow out of an argument.
posted by philip-random at 9:06 AM on September 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


You know, I really don't understand why, every time Infinite Jest, or just DFW, gets a mention here (or anywhere else I read, for that matter), there are so many people who characterize the book as 'difficult' or 'unfinishable' or whatever.

It's hard to say this without sounding like I'm just trying to tell everyone how goddamned smart I am, but it isn't. It's just not. If you are at all accustomed to reading fiction that is even a little bit challenging, it's a fun, enjoyable read, made ever so slightly annoying (but by no means difficult) by the whole footnote business. It's long, but not nearly so high in wordcount as the endless genre series that people seem so happy to follow these days.

I don't know. People say Ulysses or Finnegan's Wake, to pick the most obvious two in the tradition, perhaps, are hard going, and I'm down with that. Challenging but rewarding, kind of a pain in the ass until you surrender yourself to them. Infinite Jest is a rollicking, breezy tale of adventure by comparison.

I feel like I have to assume that many of the people who talk about the book here on Metafilter haven't actually read it, and are just parroting this received wisdom about how hard it is to get through. But surely, that can't be right. Why would people do that?

I don't know.

But I will say that American Psycho remains possibly the vilest thing I've read in 4 decades of dedicated, avid readership, and the only book in a lifetime of reading and deliberately exploring the transgressive limits of literature that has made me want to punch the author right square in the face. Of course, that's probably something that Ellis would claim he was seeking, which makes me loathe him and his book all that much more, for so lazily manipulating me.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:28 PM on September 8, 2012 [7 favorites]


SPOILER/GORY DETAILS WARNING

After reading this whole thread all I can think of is the part of IJ where Gately is remembering his childhood and he recounts an incident that strongly implies that his father (a Navy M.P.) killed the family's kitten by putting through the garbage disposal. Actually, there's another scene before that where Lenz (I'm pretty sure it was him) finds an almost-dead baby bird on the ground and he condemns it to the same fate as the Gatelys' kitten.

I mean, I liked it, but I like dark humor, especially when taken to its logical (using the term loosely here, pedants!) conclusion. I tried to skip as little as possible, but there was some looong-ass passage1 written phonetically by a character that was fucked up on who knows what that I just couldn't decipher and had to skip.

1. Ahem. I LOL'D.
posted by MattMangels at 1:54 AM on September 9, 2012


Stavros, I think the problem some of us have with IJ is that it isn't really a novel. It's a puzzle. And my problem with it isn't that it's an assault on the reader because it's a puzzle with a bunch of missing pieces; my problem with it is that I can't stand puzzles.

I have friends who cannot resist the lure of a crossword or soduku, and they can't figure out why I never join in the fun. "You'd be so good at this!" they say. Yeah, probably. I can solve hard problems. I do that all day long at work. I get paid for it. I do it as a hobby and the result is cool machines that do stuff.

But just solving a puzzle for the sake of seeing all the boxes filled in? Fuck that. I have no patience at all for empty mental masturbation.

I have tried to read IJ four or five times, and every time I get to a point where I realize I have gone twenty or thirty pages with puzzle after puzzle and no emotional payout, and at a deep atavistic level I realize I am wasting my time and I simply. can't. continue.
posted by localroger at 6:59 AM on September 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


I haven't finished IJ either. Whenever I pick it up, I find it quite engrossing, but after a while it makes me sad. Maybe if he hadn't succumbed to the demons it would be different, but it really feels to me like the writing of someone who had a very hard time on multiple levels. I don't know about payoff; I think it sustains itself from page to page pretty well. Although to get through a huge novel, I need some parts that are lush and gorgeous like parts of Ulysses and Nabokov's Ada are; IJ has not so far delivered for me, in that sense.
posted by BibiRose at 7:37 AM on September 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


But just solving a puzzle for the sake of seeing all the boxes filled in? Fuck that. I have no patience at all for empty mental masturbation.

This is definitely how I felt after a few pages of Gravity's Rainbow, and a few paragraphs of Finnegan's Wake (or was it Ulysses? I know I tried them both). So when I heard Infinite Jest compared to these, I found it easy enough to avoid. That said, I can get into some of William Burroughs' denser stuff. Maybe because it was introduced to me as, "... like reading the Bible". You just randomly open it up and read for a while. Eventually, after a few years, you've read the whole thing and it's inhabited your imagination in a stealthy sort of way. But the notion of picking it up and reading it chronologically from beginning to end, knowing full well that it's not going to deliver -- that just smacks of masochism.
posted by philip-random at 9:42 AM on September 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


But just solving a puzzle for the sake of seeing all the boxes filled in? Fuck that. I have no patience at all for empty mental masturbation.

I have tried to read IJ four or five times, and every time I get to a point where I realize I have gone twenty or thirty pages with puzzle after puzzle and no emotional payout, and at a deep atavistic level I realize I am wasting my time and I simply. can't. continue.


I hate puzzles too -- it's rare that I meet someone who has the same reaction to them, so huzzah! But I am very puzzled (heh) about your take on the book. I don't get the puzzle aspect you describe, at all. Admittedly, it's been a few years since I read the book (I've been through it 3 or 4 times, for fun, but I am truly terrible at remembering details about things I read), and it just seems to me like a not-terribly-complicated tale, relatively plainly told.

But at a certain point, these things do come down to taste and predilection, so all good, I guess.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 3:26 PM on September 9, 2012


Wel stavros I think part of the usefulness of these extreme stories is that they let us explore our differences. The human condition is not homogeneous. I find it fascinating that another person who hates puzzles (huzzah!) got IJ. It's obviously even more complicated than I thought.

Of course there's the fact that my wife adrores it too, which results in Entertainment.
posted by localroger at 3:43 PM on September 9, 2012


You just randomly open it up and read for a while. Eventually, after a few years, you've read the whole thing and it's inhabited your imagination in a stealthy sort of way.

This is exactly how I read IJ now. The first time I read it, I was very disappointed by it, as I had come in expecting that all the various threads would join together in a satisfying way at the end. (I read the whole thing in one day, which can't have helped.) Now I just dip in and read it for an hour or so about once a month, and I love it. (I am a "puzzle person", but once I knew this particular puzzle was intentionally unsolvable I was able to enjoy it for what it is.)
posted by Daily Alice at 6:28 PM on September 9, 2012


once I knew this particular puzzle was intentionally unsolvable

Again, I think the author would disagree vehemently. He's made it clear that there is a definite ending and everything is wrapped up. That means, assume everything that's going to happen happens and you're right.

Stavros, I think the problem some of us have with IJ is that it isn't really a novel. It's a puzzle.

By any definition, the book is a novel. I think a fairer complaint would be that the novel is a series of short stories that don't necessary connect that well.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:33 PM on September 9, 2012


I think a fairer complaint would be that the novel is a series of short stories that don't necessary connect that well.

I think this is what people mean when they say it's an unintentionally unsolvable puzzle though. The puzzle is "how do all these things connect"?
posted by juv3nal at 10:57 AM on September 11, 2012


The puzzle is "how do all these things connect"?

That's not the puzzle. It's pretty clear how everyone connects, right? So what is the puzzle? It's what happens at the end. And DFW strenuously contends the ending is not a puzzle. So use Occam's Razor and that's what happened. Non-puzzle solved.
posted by mrgrimm at 3:24 PM on September 12, 2012


Infinite quest: Though tortured by isolation and his fastidious intellect, David Foster Wallace produced work that will endure
posted by homunculus at 7:50 PM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


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