You are, unfortunately, a fiction writer.
February 21, 2012 9:50 AM   Subscribe

46 Things to Read and See for David Foster Wallace's 50th Birthday. The writer described as The Best Mind of His Generation would have turned 50 years old today.

One of the best tributes published shortly after his death was by The Onion.

Additionally, here are 3 ways to visualize Infinite Jest.
posted by mattbucher (26 comments total) 73 users marked this as a favorite
It's your birthday so I got you an obsession with earnestness that loops back on itself!
posted by The Whelk at 9:57 AM on February 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

posted by mattbucher at 9:59 AM on February 21, 2012

Here is a nice letter he wrote DeLillo while working on Infinite Jest.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:02 AM on February 21, 2012 [6 favorites]

I think my fiction is better than it was, but writing is also less Fun than it was.

That, I think, is the most frustrating part of it all. For me, IJ is fantastic, but I really don't think it gets better than Girl with Curious Hair.

When he was enjoying himself, I actually liked his writing better. Sure, I loved Brief Interviews and Oblivion, but I always kinda thought he was going the wrong way--an overwhelming obsession with Seriousness > Fun.

I wish we could have seen the man accept his own skin.

Great collection of links, thanks.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:10 AM on February 21, 2012 [4 favorites]

God just reading that makes you uncomfortable and self-conscious, so much energy devoted to "not showing off"
posted by The Whelk at 10:11 AM on February 21, 2012

and you wonder why he killed himself. imagine living with that level of anxiety every day.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:14 AM on February 21, 2012

I really don't think it gets better than Girl with Curious Hair.

I get what you're saying about the fun vs. seriousness, but Curious Hair always comes across as a little too on-the-nose and, sometimes, adhering too close to the ideas to let the characters come into their own (esp. 'Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way,' which is sort of a mess IMO). And at least for my tastes I'd rather have the truth and restraint of his later work than the freewheeling undisciplined early stuff. YMMV
posted by shakespeherian at 10:16 AM on February 21, 2012

#40 is Jessamyn's student evaluation.
posted by mrzarquon at 10:22 AM on February 21, 2012 [12 favorites]

I'm not a big Wallace worshiper (which sometimes make it tough going here on Metafilter), but this is a great collection of links.
posted by OmieWise at 10:25 AM on February 21, 2012

YMMV, indeed. WtCoETIW is a mess, sure, but it is a truly unique mess, imo. I personally love it.

"Life, the truth, will be its own commercial. Advertising will have finally arrived at the death that’s been its object all along. And, in Death, it will of course become life."
posted by mrgrimm at 10:27 AM on February 21, 2012

Oh and while I'm doing the YMMV thing I think Brief Interviews is way more fun and goofy and experimental than Curious Hair while also managing to be better-written and more disciplined. Win win.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:30 AM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

#1 "Roger Federer as Religious Experience" is forthcoming in book form as "Both Flesh and Not: Essays by David Foster Wallace." The "Religious Experience" title was written by the Times.

#6 is a direct link to this AskMe.

#42 "The inventory of what's at the Harry Ransom Center." For the record, there are three DFW-related Finding Aids at the Ransom Center: 1) the main collection acquired in 2009, 2) the Bonnie Nadell [his executor/agent] collection acquired in 2011, and 3) other gifts & purchases 2010-2011. And the Don DeLillo collection holds some correspondence.
posted by mattbucher at 10:39 AM on February 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

I think David Foster Wallace was a good writer, maybe even a great one, but in my opinion, he was not an amazing one. I read all his books but I remain slightly disappointed. I think he's perceptive and thoughtful and articulate, but I do not care for the aesthetics of his writing. His ideas and insights sustained me throughout every page of Infinite Jest, but I just don't like his sentences in that book or in any other. Maybe my opinion will shift when I revisit his work when I'm older, but things like beginning sentences with "and but so," his mixture of esoteric vocabulary words with slang, how on occasion his narrator will suddenly get dogmatic, his use of "like" in that Clueless way, and his radical usage of jargon (especially later in his career) bug the shit out of me. I don't think he ever reached his full potential as a writer. Nevertheless, I think he probably was the best writer of his generation and I am extremely interested in him as a person and anything regarding the editing of his work. Things like that letter from Michael Pietsch (#12 in the first link) fascinate me. I'm hoping for a thorough biography soon.
posted by Houyhnhnm at 10:48 AM on February 21, 2012

I'm hoping for a thorough biography soon.

Every Love Story is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace by D.T. Max will be published in September.
posted by mattbucher at 10:54 AM on February 21, 2012

Here's a list of six Wallace-related books that are set to come out in 2012 or 2013. Does anyone know if there's going to be much "as-yet-unpublished" DFW essays in the Both Flesh and Not collection?
posted by antonymous at 11:01 AM on February 21, 2012

from here
“Omensetters Luck” by William H. Gass (1966)

Gass’ first novel, and his least avant-gardeish, and his best. Basically a religious book. Very sad. Contains the immortal line “The body of Our Saviour shat but Our Saviour shat not.” Bleak but gorgeous, like light through ice.
posted by deanklear at 12:08 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

I just now recopied that Harper's essay Laughing With Kafka to read to some high school students. Kafka is so difficult to explain, but Wallace makes the point that Kafka was meta-funny (no, that's my phrase...Wallace wouldn't be that clunky). I don't know if they'll get it or not. I had thought I was the only one - apart from K and his friends - who found Kafka funny.
posted by kozad at 1:22 PM on February 21, 2012

Westward was simply the most fun I ever had reading something he wrote, so it always surprises me when I hear people say they found it to be a difficult, inaccessible mess. But a lot of people do seem to feel that way about it.

To each their own though! Nice post.
posted by mannequito at 2:30 PM on February 21, 2012

The way I prefer to visualise Infinite Jest is...

...oh, okay. I'll let it lie. This time. But man, you people make far too many posts about this very naked emperor. ;-)
posted by Decani at 2:37 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Good job letting it lie.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:44 PM on February 21, 2012 [5 favorites]

For all its sophomoric humor and clunky philosophical literalism, "The Broom of the System" is probably the most purely fun Wallace book to read. It is truly very funny, and although he felt it was show-offy, it also feels like a book that he had fun writing. "Operation Total Yang" is still, to me, a pretty hilarious dramatization of what's really a very serious and common problem. I feel like it gets overlooked a lot.
posted by rusty at 2:57 PM on February 21, 2012

The way I prefer to visualise Infinite Jest is...

...oh, okay. I'll let it lie. This time. But man, you people make far too many posts about this very naked emperor

I prefer to visualize Infinite Jest in the hands of your very naked mom. You'd think a book that size would cover up some of the naughty bits, but she's holding it to the right so I can see everything. Does that hand get tired I wonder. She has been holding it there for a long time. Now she's telling me about a nasty fantasy about a three way with Hal Incandenza and Don Gately. It is kind of a turn off actually.1

1. Turn ons include Tennis and Experimental Films.
posted by humanfont at 4:34 PM on February 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

#40 is Jessamyn's student evaluation.

Aww man they spelled my name wrong.
posted by jessamyn at 6:31 PM on February 21, 2012

I think that Five direly underappreciated U.S. novels >1960 is a great list of novels that are, with the exception of Blood Meridian, still vastly overlooked.

In particular Wittgenstein's Mistress, by one of my all-time favorite writers, David Markson. Wallace wrote a long essay on it called "The Empty Plenum", originally published in the Review for Contemporary Fiction. It can be found here (PDF).
posted by fryman at 10:43 PM on February 21, 2012

Apparently, he was no fan of AC\DC
posted by holdkris99 at 9:02 PM on February 22, 2012

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