David Foster Wallace's unfinished opus
March 1, 2009 6:16 AM   Subscribe

Excellent; I needed something to cry about this morning.
posted by penduluum at 7:11 AM on March 1, 2009

"Lane Dean had filed far less 20s than protocol called for." Very strange -- DFW is the kind of guy who would rankle at "less" for "fewer," so this is on purpose, but why?
posted by escabeche at 8:03 AM on March 1, 2009

Thanks for this.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 8:45 AM on March 1, 2009

I think DFW would have been aware that fewer was more on the prescriptive end of usage, but not necessarily the vernacular. Notice the sentence ends in a preposition.
posted by oldleada at 8:50 AM on March 1, 2009

so this is on purpose, but why?

The 3rd-person narrative in Infinite Jest often has grammatical and even diction or spelling errors in it, because Wallace's technique involves telegraphing the thoughts of the character that he's currently following around. I don't have the energy right now to go find you an example, but I recall plenty of Orin-centric passages where the narration uses the wrong multi-syllabic word for something, and several Don Gately-centric passages where historic figures' names are wrong, etc. Also see the narration for all of the Marathe/Steeply scenes, which is written from Marathe's POV and therefore sounds like someone for whom English is not a primary language.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:53 AM on March 1, 2009 [4 favorites]

This actually reads like a parody of DFW's style. "He did this obscure technical thing and then narrated his thought processes and then pop culture reference pop culture reference and then description of bodily function which reasserts our common humanity and then another technical thing and then another technical thing I DID RESEARCH FOR THIS BOOK and then pop culture reference and then parenthetical insertion of sexuality as an outlet for boredom and then sesquipedalian word used for no particular reason and then reference to existential angst and meaninglessness the triviality of which is tempered by yet another pop culture reference and then...."
posted by nasreddin at 9:00 AM on March 1, 2009 [3 favorites]

The 3rd-person narrative in Infinite Jest often has grammatical and even diction or spelling errors in it

I'd forgotten this, thanks.
posted by escabeche at 9:12 AM on March 1, 2009

nasreddin has it. DFW was an obdurate stickler for English usage, so any grammatical errors would almost surely be deliberate. From one of my all-time favorite footnotes in his excellent essay, "Authority and American Usage" in Consider the Lobster.

"I am so pathologically obsessed with usage that every semester the same thing happens: once I've had to read my students' first set of papers, we immediately abandon the regular Lit syllabus and have a three-week Emergency Remedial Usage and Grammar Unit, during which my demeanor is basically that of somebody teaching HIV prevention to intravenous-drug users."
posted by zoomorphic at 9:32 AM on March 1, 2009 [4 favorites]

The Wiggle Room piece reminded me of the description of how workers at a computer keyboard factory in Guangdong, China are treated:
The workers sit on wooden stools, without backrests, as 500 computer keyboards an hour move down the assembly line, twelve hours a day, seven days a week, with just two days off a month.

Every 7.2 seconds a keyboard passes each worker, who has to snap six or seven keys into place—one key every 1.1 seconds.

The assembly line never stops. The workplace is frantic, monotonous, numbing and relentless. Each worker inserts 3,250 keys an hour; 35,750 keys during the official 11-hour shift; 250,250 a week, performing over one million operations a month.

Workers are paid 1/50th of a cent for each operation they complete.
The article goes on to detail the working conditions and average lifestyle of a typical worker. It's unthinkably horrific.
posted by Rhomboid at 10:19 AM on March 1, 2009 [3 favorites]

dammit. i don't have time to read all of this today, so i can't in good conscience comment. but i did need to post a fat thank you for this, oldleada. i've always gravitated to writers who deliberately create demanding fiction. and dfw is a favorite, and an inspiration in my own meager attempts at fiction. maybe tomorrow i'll make it through all this . . . .
posted by barrett caulk at 10:21 AM on March 1, 2009

Freakingly amazing Steeply passage previously.
posted by troybob at 10:23 AM on March 1, 2009

I went into Infinite Jest fully expecting to find the same smirking self satisfaction that I see in Dave Eggers and the folks he crews with. What I found instead was a writer and a story that were clearly never satisfied, with themselves or otherwise. When I reached the end of the book, I immediately re-read it (this time taking notes.) It was one of the richest literary experiences of myself, and I genuinely get choked up about DFW's passing, if only out of my own selfish desire to be able to synthesize an experience like that again.

Infinite Jest the book is, for me, the closest real-world approximation I have ever found to Infinite Jest the samizdat. I honestly wonder if I will ever feel so engaged by a piece of art again.
posted by orville sash at 10:57 AM on March 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

Goddamit I still miss his writing and his soul.

We were talking to Karen Green the night he ended it. We were at her gallery in Claremont, chatting away, probably exchanging some blithe, trite comment on her art around the time he did it.

Not fair. Not fair at all.

Two quotes from the essay:

“Maybe dullness is associated with psychic pain, because something that’s dull or opaque fails to provide enough stimulation to distract people from some other, deeper type of pain that is always there, if only in an ambient low-level way, and which most of us spend nearly all our time and energy trying to distract ourselves from.”

“Writing fiction takes me out of time,” he said in his first interview, in Arrival, published when he was in Tucson. “That’s probably as close to immortal as we’ll ever get.”

Maybe you were against nepenthes but I say your writing and its absolute anti-dullness gave us a much needed taste of immortality. There is a lack and you are missed.
posted by lalochezia at 12:15 PM on March 1, 2009

Wow, I remember reading an interview/short piece (been so long that I can't remember) years ago where Wallace talks about taking an accounting course as a lark and joked about his B-level grades. I kept thinking how weird it could have been to be in some Accounting 102 course outside Normal, IL, looking over and thinking, "Man, if THIS guy is only getting a B+ in here ..."

Since The Pale King and its contents aren't totally public and organized yet, I guess it's tough to guess about the ultimate contents/structure; but, possible shades shared between Pale King and Pale Fire? Since Wallace's death and the outpouring of biographical info (and the probably autobiographical), I've thought about Nabokov and some quote from maybe Strong Opinions where he describes himself as an essentially calm, happy, content creature. The more I end up thinking about it, the more VN and DFW's emotional bios contrast themselves wildly, in really interesting ways.

The Max piece is completely wonderful; excited to read "Wiggle Room" later today. Thanks, oldleada.
posted by NolanRyanHatesMatches at 12:26 PM on March 1, 2009

Ugh, just noticed that the accounting bit came from an old Gus Van Sant / DFW interview, which is included in exerpt in the oldleads' "unfinished novel" link:

DFW: I'm on leave this year. I'm auditing a class but I'm not
teaching. The class I'm auditing is a real bitch but somehow I'm
holding on at a high C or low B.

GVS: What's the class?

DFW: It's ah, it's advanced tax accounting, which is a long story and
you probably don't want to know about it but it's wa-a-a-y over my
little noggin'. It's a Will Hunting class.

GVS: Oh my God.

DFW: 35 pages of incredibly dense, you know, CPA stuff at night and
then you get tested on it the next day.

posted by NolanRyanHatesMatches at 12:30 PM on March 1, 2009


Thank you, nasreddin. I have no idea what that means, but it sounds all kinds of awesome.
posted by spicynuts at 1:13 PM on March 1, 2009


thank you, nasreddin. I am one, and it always excites me to see others use the word :)
posted by supermedusa at 1:51 PM on March 1, 2009

Of all my old young-man heroes who have died or killed themselves in the last few years -- Hunter Thompson, George Carlin, Kurt Vonnegut, all the rest -- Wallace's death breaks my heart the most.

He was only a few years older than me and in some ways wrote the way I'd always wanted to, but never had the courage, or maybe just the talent. I was so much hoping to learn more from him.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:52 PM on March 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

Can you imagine how it would have mortified DFW to have this thing published before he was done with it? Before he'd scrubbed out all the easy pretense, or written through it searching for what was true about it? Before he'd found exactly the right words for every single sentence? It would have killed him, I think. I'm not sure I want to read it. (But I will, of course.)
posted by gleuschk at 5:59 AM on March 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Before he'd found exactly the right words for every single sentence?

This. One hundred times, this.

I'm full of mixed emotion about this news, wanting to read it, but not eager to read things he wasn't eager to publish (yet).
posted by kingbenny at 9:07 AM on March 2, 2009

Can you imagine how it would have mortified DFW to have this thing published before he was done with it?

That he bundled a portion of the manuscript together and left it to be found in his work area the night he died tells me he was mindful of postmortem publishing possibilities; I have to imagine that any anguish he felt over that was dwarfed by the anguish that led him to his final decision.

(Long a DFW fan, I am only now soon to finish Infinite Jest for the first time. I wish like hell I'd read it before...well, ya know. I can't help but read it through the lens of "author killed himself," and it adds this grim sort of meta-sadness to an already largely bleak (though oh so rewarding) work.)
posted by /\/\/\/ at 4:21 PM on March 2, 2009

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