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December 7, 2009 10:05 AM   Subscribe

All That: "new" fiction from David Foster Wallace.
posted by Lutoslawski (56 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite

 
If Tupac can still be putting out albums, I say why not.
posted by etc. at 10:11 AM on December 7, 2009


i just comically dropped my work papers and pen in excitement for reading this. Pre-favorited?
posted by Lacking Subtlety at 10:12 AM on December 7, 2009


*pours some even-year cabernet on the hot tub for his homie*
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:14 AM on December 7, 2009


I expected this to be a story about the "new" novel... but in some way's it's better than that: actual words.
posted by rokusan at 10:15 AM on December 7, 2009


If Tupac can still be putting out albums, I say why not.

Tupac and DFW have quite a bit in common. Both hailed as the voice of their generation, both loved bandanas.
posted by naju at 10:19 AM on December 7, 2009 [18 favorites]


GalleyCat's report about this excerpt puts The Pale King's publication date now at April 2011.

There is some similarity between this story (and it's mention/use of religion) and the earlier TPK excerpt Good People.

Apparently the POSTHUMOUSLOLAMIRITE tag is missing.
posted by mattbucher at 10:20 AM on December 7, 2009


thanks for the post. I am now filled with a surfeit of ecstasy.
posted by supermedusa at 10:31 AM on December 7, 2009


as I remember
I’m ninety per cent sure
I’m positive it was
I was either five or six, I believe. (I’m not very good with numbers.)
At some point, several weeks or months after Christmas


I see what you did there.

great stuff. thanks for linking. I normally don't read the New Yorker (not for any particular reason) and I always like it when something of particular note gets hipped to me here. also, DFW, obvs, etc...
posted by shmegegge at 10:36 AM on December 7, 2009


Breaks my heart all over again.
posted by nevercalm at 10:38 AM on December 7, 2009


He had me until he started talking about atheism as "a kind of anti-religious religion, which worships reason, skepticism, intellect, empirical proof, human autonomy, and self-determination." It broke the spell. Back to work, Liver.
posted by Liver at 10:39 AM on December 7, 2009


Galley Cat also noted that this is an excerpt from the forthcoming book, and pointed to an older New Yorker post that included high quality scans of the marked up manuscript and some illustrations by Wallace's wife, Karen Green.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:47 AM on December 7, 2009


He had me until he started talking about atheism as "a kind of anti-religious religion, which worships reason, skepticism, intellect, empirical proof, human autonomy, and self-determination." It broke the spell.

Yeah, it's some pretty flakey stuff. Is this meant to be read as autobiographical, or is this the voice of a character in the novel?
posted by anazgnos at 10:51 AM on December 7, 2009


Almost like an idea of the necessity of religion, fake though it is, told through bundled analogy. The two storylines is nice, the slow manifestation of magic then religion in the narrator's life, overlaying the flawed trawl of the parents' life.

It's like 4 metaphors wrapped with twine, although it needs an author still alive to help us breath. A nice read, though, I always like how funny dfw is.
posted by four panels at 10:53 AM on December 7, 2009


He had me until he started talking about atheism as "a kind of anti-religious religion, which worships reason, skepticism, intellect, empirical proof, human autonomy, and self-determination." It broke the spell.

Yeah, it's some pretty flakey stuff. Is this meant to be read as autobiographical, or is this the voice of a character in the novel?


It sounds like the voice of a character in the novel, and from how the short story goes, it sounds like how that character would think and talk.

My experience with DFW is scant, but I liked this story.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:56 AM on December 7, 2009


Can't wait to read this after work!
posted by localhuman at 11:03 AM on December 7, 2009


atheism as "a kind of anti-religious religion, which worships reason, skepticism, intellect, empirical proof, human autonomy, and self-determination."

As an nontheist, I say it sounds pretty well-put to me. This is where DFW especially peeks out of the narrator's voice. In the phrase "anti-religious religion", the former "religious" is what we usually think of as religion -- Christianity, Islam, etc. etc. -- and the latter "religion" is more likely DFW's narrator's shorthand for 'foundational concept' or 'axiomatic argument on top of which all of my arguments lie'. How is this any way "flakey"?

Thanks for the story. I wouldn't have caught it otherwise; nice touches of Nabakov, sort of. What's funny about Wallace is that his writing is so characteristic, that even though he tries to have different characters with different thoughts, they all end up sounding like various versions of his thought processes. It's a sort of literary schizophrenia that isn't quite heteroglossia but rather halfway there, sort of like going to a puppet show and realizing that all of the different voices of the puppets are done by a single guy with two hands backstage. Two wonderfully, masterfully, eloquent hands.
posted by suedehead at 11:03 AM on December 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


He had me until he started talking about atheism as "a kind of anti-religious religion, which worships reason, skepticism, intellect, empirical proof, human autonomy, and self-determination." It broke the spell.

Yeah, it's some pretty flakey stuff. Is this meant to be read as autobiographical, or is this the voice of a character in the novel?


Wallace was a huge science and math geek - see for example the baroque descriptions of ailments and medications in Infinite Jest and/or his book about infinity - but he was also very interested in the limitations of pure science as a philosophy and the basic existential necessity of faith.

If you read his Kenyon commencement address (and you should if you haven't already), it's easy to imagine Wallace himself seeing atheism as less than wholly satisfying as an explanation for the nature of being.
posted by gompa at 11:05 AM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


My god, the sentences have endings and it's readable. I call hoax!
posted by bokane at 11:07 AM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]



He had me until he started talking about atheism as "a kind of anti-religious religion, which worships reason, skepticism, intellect, empirical proof, human autonomy, and self-determination." It broke the spell. Back to work, Liver.


This story is not autobiographical and the narrator is not DFW. Also, the character goes on to say that his parents were tolerant and largehearted enough to allow him the freedom to experience his religious feelings. I can imagine parents, whether they were "religious" or "athiest" not being this tolerant and why not be open to this character's experience of having atheistic parents who he disagreed with? Why dismiss the entire story?
posted by thepalephantom at 11:10 AM on December 7, 2009


He had me until he started talking about atheism as "a kind of anti-religious religion, which worships reason, skepticism, intellect, empirical proof, human autonomy, and self-determination." It broke the spell. Back to work, Liver.
posted by Liver at 1:39 PM on December 7


Yes, because describing atheism as anything but the enlightened truth can be ignored. If you had read further, you would have learned that the narrator is a child of atheists who went on to the seminary, but who also hears voices.

To wit, while I appreciated the description of the war film enmeshed with the additional narrative supplied by the character's voices, reading that last endless sentence felt like having to pee really badly but being denied a bathroom. I don't know if DFW writes like that on purpose, but if he does, he's a fucking asshole.

I'm sorry, I know a lot of you like his writing, and maybe I haven't read enough of him, but I'm physically rejecting that last paragraph-sentence like a foreign tissue transplant. Perhaps the ability to elicit this strong of a reaction is what makes his writing great, in much the same way that chemotherapy drugs are great because they make you suffer and want to die even as they save your life.

Is this from a novel? Because I may want to read it.
posted by Pastabagel at 11:11 AM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


If you read his Kenyon commencement address (and you should if you haven't already), it's easy to imagine Wallace himself seeing atheism as less than wholly satisfying as an explanation for the nature of being.

Good points. I'd rather say though that Wallace _would_ accept atheism as an explanation for the nature of being; it's the certainty with which one chooses an explanation (whether it be religion, science, magick, etc) that he'd more likely point out as always being shaky and unfounded.
posted by suedehead at 11:11 AM on December 7, 2009


Yeah, it's some pretty flakey stuff. Is this meant to be read as autobiographical, or is this the voice of a character in the novel?

Definitely in-character. Unless DFW did a stint in seminary school that he's never mentioned before.

I'm psyched for a posthumous novel, but from it looks like he was only about a third of the way through the manuscript. Are they going to publish just that third, or (shudder) is someone going to try to finish it?
posted by Mayor West at 11:13 AM on December 7, 2009


I welcome any and all DFW FPPs with open arms. Can't wait to read this-- thanks.
posted by NolanRyanHatesMatches at 11:13 AM on December 7, 2009



My god, the sentences have endings and it's readable. I call hoax!
posted by bokane at 2:07 PM on December 7


Did you get to the last sentence? Are you using some new definition of the word "ending" that is based on special relativity? That last sentence didn't end so much as it threw a buffer overrun error.
posted by Pastabagel at 11:14 AM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Almost forgot - for an intimate portrait of Wallace's passion for numbers, read "Derivative Sport in Tornado Alley," the first essay in the utterly awesome nonfiction collection A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again. Here's a typo-riddled online transcription.

(I'm kinda wary of posting the link, actually, because typos this prevalent would've given grammar-obsessed Wallace the howling fantods. But what the hell.)

And on preview, suedehead, Wallace always struck me as fundamentally agnostic - keenly aware both of the extraordinary explanatory power of science and of its limits. If his chemically warped mind had allowed him even an ounce of real lasting certainty - whether of the Dawkins or Dalai Lama variety - I wonder if he might still be with us. On the other hand, it probably would've made him a very different writer. That fevered exhaustive search for complete explanations was such a hallmark (and strength) of his work.
posted by gompa at 11:18 AM on December 7, 2009


I propose a new ending sentence that should wrap things up nicely:

"And they all lived happily ever after."
posted by thepalephantom at 11:19 AM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Count me in as a DFW fan; I just read Infinite Jest again a few months ago.

While there are other writers I "enjoy" more than DFW, he always manages to bring a vulnerable stream-of-consciousness vibe that makes me feel like he's really, truly baring more of himself than most writers do. As to his religious stance - I've always seen him as an uber-existentialist.

I enjoyed this. Thanks for the post.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 11:20 AM on December 7, 2009


That last sentence didn't end so much as it threw a buffer overrun error.

Yeah, but no footnotes or fake-archaic uses of referential "which." I call it a wash.
posted by bokane at 11:20 AM on December 7, 2009


it's easy to imagine Wallace himself seeing atheism as less than wholly satisfying as an explanation for the nature of being.

If someone had the idea that atheism was supposed to provide an "explanation for the nature of being" in the first place, that would be a pretty flakey misapprehension of the nature of atheism. I don't mean for it to sound like I need DFW to have shared my exact worldview in order for me to enjoy his work, though.

Anyway, it does become evident that this is in the voice of a character, having read further. I don't think DFW went to seminary.
posted by anazgnos at 11:32 AM on December 7, 2009


Mayor West: I'm psyched for a posthumous novel, but from it looks like he was only about a third of the way through the manuscript. Are they going to publish just that third, or (shudder) is someone going to try to finish it?

IIRC, they're just publishing what he had, but he left the manuscript with a note to his wife which gave the okay to publish what there was, so we're way out of Nabakov territory here.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:33 AM on December 7, 2009


Pastabagel: That last sentence didn't end so much as it threw a buffer overrun error.

The last sentence has 303 words, which is hardly a record. I suggest you avoid Henry James or Proust.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:40 AM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Sorry to mislead. I didn't dismiss the entire story. I was enjoying it up until that point I described above, then thought to myself, "Hmmm, maybe I should just go back to work." And so I did. For about *checks watch* 2 hours. I'll take another look later, but my point was really how that bit of the story broke my immersion all the sudden.
posted by Liver at 11:41 AM on December 7, 2009


but he left the manuscript with a note to his wife

Not true. Or at least, please cite where you heard this. The DT Max article says "In the garage, bathed in light from his many lamps, sat a pile of nearly two hundred pages. He had made some changes in the months since he considered sending them to Little, Brown. The story of “David Wallace” was now first. In his final hours, he had tidied up the manuscript so that his wife could find it." But that's very different than leaving a note with instructions on how to explicitly handle the publication of it. Little Brown has said they will produce a website with the book that will show drafts, ms pages, and other things related to the novel-in-progress.
posted by mattbucher at 11:42 AM on December 7, 2009


God, sorry. I forgot what website I was commenting on. Shouldn't have said anything about it in the first place.

Thanks to some for reading in a bunch of bullshit that wasn't in any of my comments. You reminded me what a shitty place to post comments this can be.
posted by Liver at 11:45 AM on December 7, 2009


I'm really curious about whether this was something DFW had readied for publication before his death, or whether it was a sheaf of papers, etc. It's a beautiful story, but the ending is quite abrupt (not that this would be a new thing for a DFW short).

Pastabagel: I had exactly the same reaction the first time I read DFW - at first it was like listening to someone with intensely irritating mannerisms tell a fascinating story. Like any difficult prose style, exposure helps. The more of DFW's sentences you read, the more you're able to follow along with those tugged-along trains of thought without getting irritated, and eventually when you naturalize it, you can appreciate the combined rapidity and meticulousness of his settings as its own narrative feeling. At its best, his narrative feeling is like the feeling of rapidly changing momentum on a rollercoaster, except over and over again. He is not always at his best, though. Sometimes it is just clunky, like in some of the middle sections of Infinite Jest, and I'm a huge DFW fan.

If you want to read more and are willing to slog a little, one story that will help is Good Old Neon, which is in the collection Oblivion. It's my favourite DFW short story, and it starts out with extremely short, snappy sentences, and sort of accelerates until it's in the snaky prose style that DFW is now associated with, and then it takes off into the sky. It's also heart wrenching and I dare you to read two pages and not want to read the whole thing.
posted by voronoi at 11:46 AM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


mattbucher: Not true. Or at least, please cite where you heard this.

No, you're right, and that's why I said 'IIRC'-- that DT Max article is what I was (mis)remembering.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:57 AM on December 7, 2009


Little, Brown has said they will produce a website with the book that will show drafts, ms pages, and other things related to the novel-in-progress.

Interesting choice. Good for them.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:01 PM on December 7, 2009


DFW grammar challenge...

IF NO ONE HAS YET TAUGHT YOU HOW TO AVOID OR REPAIR CLAUSES LIKE THE FOLLOWING, YOU SHOULD, IN MY OPINION, THINK SERIOUSLY ABOUT SUING SOMEBODY, PERHAPS AS CO-PLAINTIFF WITH WHOEVER’S PAID YOUR TUITION

1. He and I hardly see one another.

2. I’d cringe at the naked vulnerability of his sentences left wandering around without periods and the ambiguity of his uncrossed “t”s.

3. My brother called to find out if I was over the flu yet.

4. I only spent six weeks in Napa.

5. In my own mind, I can understand why its implications may be somewhat threatening.

6. From whence had his new faith come?

7. Please spare me your arguments of why all religions are unfounded and contrived.

8. She didn’t seem to ever stop talking.

9. As the relationship progressed, I found her facial tic more and more aggravating.

10. The Book of Mormon gives an account of Christ’s ministry to the Nephites, which allegedly took place soon after Christ’s resurrection.

Answers
posted by shothotbot at 12:14 PM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


This just put a big smile on my map.
posted by papercake at 12:18 PM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


shothotbot: DFW grammar challenge...

Please no one tell languagehat about this being here.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:29 PM on December 7, 2009


shothotbot: "DFW grammar challenge..."

I got #1,#4,#5,#6 (although I made it "From where," I think it's equally correct and corrected) and #10. What do I win?

And I found the "answers" for numbers 8 and 9 rather ridiculous and anal retentive.
posted by jckll at 12:57 PM on December 7, 2009


That Wallace "grammar challenge" thingie got the "Prescriptivist Poppycock" tag at Language Log.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:13 PM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


That Wallace "grammar challenge" thingie got the "Prescriptivist Poppycock" tag at Language Log.

"In my own mind, I can understand" is a pet peeve of mine, but I wouldnt call it a grammar problem.

I have enjoyed a good deal of his non-fiction, but for him to say not to annoy people if you dont have to seems really weird, I mean a great deal of his writing is really annoying, I am thinking about footnote madness and unnecessary, non standard abbreviations in print. Why a split infinitive should bother him is sort of beyond me.
posted by shothotbot at 1:21 PM on December 7, 2009


shothotbot: Why a split infinitive should bother him is sort of beyond me.

I think his prescriptivism applied only/mainly to academic writing and the stuff his 101 Writing Effective Prose or whatever students were doing.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:27 PM on December 7, 2009


Two consecutive parenthetical sentences, one with a nested parenthetical. Huzzah.

I had exactly the same reaction the first time I read DFW - at first it was like listening to someone with intensely irritating mannerisms tell a fascinating story. Like any difficult prose style, exposure helps.

I didn't have this problem at all. I don't mean I'm awesome at reading, I mean that there was just a natural instant fitting into place. Encountering DFW for me was like how a computer might feel that has been running interpreted programs its whole existence, and then finally hits a program written in native code. It was like that, the writing just seemed to match the way my brain operated.

I'm not sure it's saying a good thing; DWF's writing is almost crippled under the weight of asides and self-criticisms and shadowboxing CYA clarifications. But (at its best) it keeps zooming ahead fast enough and when you do reach the end of the sentence you look back over this twisty path you took where each step seemed necessary, and it's just amazing.
posted by fleacircus at 2:07 PM on December 7, 2009 [6 favorites]


I really don't know if I should read this. I finished Infinite Jest in August and I haven't been able to get into a novel since. I think it's broken me.
posted by minifigs at 2:45 PM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


him to say not to annoy people if you dont have to seems really weird

Well, the person who posted that quiz described his intention as: don't annoy people without intending to. That is, know all the rules, and know what other people think are the rules, and then you'll be able to have the effect you intend. If you have a purpose in using some annoying device like the footnotes, or you are writing a character who says "aggravate" rather than "irritate", then that's fine.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:46 PM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


And yeah, thanks for posting this.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:49 PM on December 7, 2009


I have enjoyed a good deal of his non-fiction, but for him to say not to annoy people if you dont have to seems really weird, I mean a great deal of his writing is really annoying, I am thinking about footnote madness and unnecessary, non standard abbreviations in print. Why a split infinitive should bother him is sort of beyond me.

There's a big difference there, though. Excessive footnotes, non-standard abbreviations - these are creative elements on Wallace's writing. A split infinitive is bad usage, and that's what makes it annoying. If you don't like certain aspects of Wallace's writing that's one thing, but the usage question is not one of taste, per se.*

* fwiw, if you don't like non-standard abbreviations and footnotes, comments on Metafilter seem the last thing you'd want to be reading, imo, but IANY.

I keed I keed - this is not a personal affront.

posted by Lutoslawski at 2:51 PM on December 7, 2009


(I’m not very good with numbers.)

This has been noted elsewhere. (Blurry pdf, sorry)

And yeah, thanks for posting this.
posted by MtDewd at 3:33 PM on December 7, 2009


A split infinitive is bad usage

No.

The idea that splitting infinitives is necessarily bad usage was old hat even by 1908, when Fowler wrote as follows in The King's English:

The 'split' infinitive has taken such hold upon the consciences of journalists that, instead of warning the novice against splitting his infinitives, we must warn him against the curious superstition that the splitting or not splitting makes the difference between a good and a bad writer.

"To boldly go where no man has gone before" means something very different from "to go boldly where no man has gone before."
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:33 PM on December 7, 2009


Wallace's quiz (or rather, the rationale his former student reports his giving for it) doesn't take a stance on whether the split infinitive is really bad usage or if it's just widely believed to be bad usage. The point of the quiz stands either way.

(I'm not in agreement with some of his points there about which rules are important to be aware of, but at least the rationale for the nitpickery, as reported by the former student, isn't "you must learn the one true set of rules because they're the truth" but rather "you must learn the rules and also the things that people think are the rules, in order to effectively choose what effect you want to have on which readers". So pace concerns about the particular rules he has in mind, at least there's a coherent rationale there that doesn't require a simpleminded prescriptivist stance.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:00 PM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


A split infinitive is bad usage

No.

The idea that splitting infinitives is necessarily bad usage was old hat even by 1908, when Fowler wrote as follows in The King's English:


Oh hurf durf. I was not trying to take a particular stance on the split infinitive thing. Quite frankly, I could care less about its usage status and I'm the opposite of a snoot. I was just trying to point out the difference between an intolerance for a (supposed) usage faux pas and a distaste for certain creative elements.
posted by Lutoslawski at 4:32 PM on December 7, 2009


I was just trying to point out the difference between an intolerance for a (supposed) usage faux pas and a distaste for certain creative elements.

How odd that I thought that your writing "A split infinitive is bad usage" meant that you were saying that a split infinitive was bad usage.

So hurf durf, I was just trying to point out the difference between ungrammatical English and crazy shibboleths. In a world where people routinely write "just between you and I" and "the only people left were John and myself" because of teacherly shibboleths, I think that reinforcing the foolish misconception that split infinitives are "bad usage" is bad teaching.

I'm saying the guy made a mistake in a course assignment, not that he burned down a puppy orphanage on Christmas Eve.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:04 PM on December 7, 2009


I'm saying the guy made a mistake in a course assignment, not that he burned down a puppy orphanage on Christmas Eve.

Every time you make a mistake in a course assignment, God burns down a puppy orphanage.
posted by suedehead at 5:40 PM on December 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


Ok, I've started to read Oblivion, and it is clear, and should have been clear to me before, that Wallace is brilliant. I am also very sad that he has died. :(
posted by Pastabagel at 1:37 PM on December 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


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