The archives are a window into his mind
March 8, 2010 6:48 PM   Subscribe

The Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas today announced that it has acquired the papers of David Foster Wallace. The collection includes "manuscript materials for Wallace's books, stories and essays; research materials; Wallace's college and graduate school writings; juvenilia, including poems, stories and letters; teaching materials and books." The Center's blog has more details.
posted by Horace Rumpole (25 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
I hope they're not just holding them for Ransom.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:01 PM on March 8, 2010

I'm glad I'm not the only one who draws specs and fangs on author photos.
posted by sallybrown at 7:21 PM on March 8, 2010

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by
madness, starving hysterical naked...

DFW's work is unparalleled. I'm glad these materials are safe but I hope his wife and editor have some control. I don't know what things he might or might not want seen. I'm oddly protective of him for someone I've never met and never can. Still after Broom of the System, Girl With Curious Hair, Oblivion, Consider the Lobster, A Supposedly Fun Thing..., and Infinite Jest I count his words as a primary source for who I am today. I feel protective of him and his work as though I was an older brother.

I had never been to AA when I read Infinite Jest. Later after my first few weeks of AA I re-read the long [of course it's long - duh] section where Gately describes Boston AA and how it seeps into him and is infuriating because it seems to work without making any damn sense. My first meetings were a sort of coming home because I recognized my surroundings from what I'd already read. Then when I re-read I was moved to tears by the accuracy and unflinching cold tenderness of that section.

His ability to simultaneously evoke the terror, comedy, hopelessness, and optimism of life demonstrates the empathy he had for the universe. That kind of empathy is hard to sustain when the universe can be such a cold empty place.
posted by Babblesort at 7:53 PM on March 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

Why UT? Sorta sad they couldn't keep this stuff in his native Illinois or perhaps California where he taught or Massachusetts where he spent time. Texas?

There is sort of an explanation here. Essentially, I guess they bought the stuff.
posted by Mid at 7:56 PM on March 8, 2010

Why UT?

The Ransom Center is kind of a big deal. They have a Gutenberg Bible, too.
posted by Nattie at 8:01 PM on March 8, 2010 [4 favorites]

The Ransom Center archives are really incredible. That they have acquired these papers is not a bad thing at all. They will be well cared for.
posted by louche mustachio at 8:35 PM on March 8, 2010 [3 favorites]

I'll be glad to go through his papers, be fun to see how he organized his writing, novels in particular, and mostly with the unfinished novel, as he might have had a system down by then, towards the end there...

Anyone coming to town for SXSW, you might want to sleaze on over to the Ransom Center, a mile from downtown max, probably not even that, a twelve minute walk or so, very interesting collection and usually a good show or two displayed at any given time. I used to walk over for lunch, once a week maybe, when they had the UT art collection displayed there, all those years, spectacular collection of Mexican art, all of that now moved to the Blanton museum, also close, worth going if you're burnt out on music and partying and standing in lame lines or whatever; SXSW can get a bit much if you're at it more than a day or three.

Mid: "Why UT? Sorta sad they couldn't keep this stuff in his native Illinois..."

Think he was native somewhere on the east coast, moved to IL when his father took a job as a professor mid-state IL.
posted by dancestoblue at 9:15 PM on March 8, 2010

The Ransom Center is kind of a big deal. They have a Gutenberg Bible, too.

I'm pretty sure that they have TWO Gutenberg Bibles. Crazy.

Why do the archives of so many great writers end up in Texas?
posted by ColdChef at 9:28 PM on March 8, 2010

This news gives me the howling fantods
posted by MattMangels at 9:57 PM on March 8, 2010

Unexpectedly, the archive included a small cache of letters between Wallace and DeLillo, a correspondence initiated by Wallace when he was struggling through his colossal novel, Infinite Jest. Wallace’s letters show a writer who was deliberate, funny, and often uncertain, but most clearly, they show a writer who took painstaking care with his art.

posted by mecran01 at 10:24 PM on March 8, 2010

Seriously, I'd love to read those letters between him and DeLillo.
posted by CRM114 at 5:22 AM on March 9, 2010

Delillo's archives are also there, which is interesting bc Wallace considered him a bit of a hero and some people think that some of Infinite Jest was loosely based on End Zone, by Delillo.
posted by nevercalm at 9:23 AM on March 9, 2010

empatterson: Words DFW circled in his dictionary

One of those words is "cete" which apparently means "a number of badgers together". I am extraordinarily happy to know this.
posted by davidjmcgee at 9:33 AM on March 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Wow. This will be the fodder for grad student theses for decades.
posted by jabberjaw at 10:45 AM on March 9, 2010

Tom Staley is simply continuing the tradition that preceded him at the HRHRC ... Decherd Turner was no slouch when it came to snagging collections (actually Turner got the first Gutenberg in the house, which came from the Pforzheimer Collection, the entire collection of which was later bought as well by Turner -- our running joke was "Don't have a Gutenberg? Well, go buy one!" ). Turner was just a little more focused on the book arts than Staley, who is going after writers and their papers. The vast variety that has resulted from the stamp of the directors' choices has made it unique.

It's what makes the HRHRC one of the gems of research institutions; the photographic collection is mindboggling and then there's the film/theater collection ... definitely not in Kansas, anymore (yes, there's the ruby slippers as well as original story boards from "Gone With The Wind" there ... ). Oh, a copy of the Venerable Bede, just for sheer variety ...

Glad to see that they can still buy things for the collections.
posted by aldus_manutius at 12:45 PM on March 9, 2010

I took a few shabby pics of the DFW stuff on display in the lobby today. Can't wait to go back this fall and see the whole shebang.
posted by mattbucher at 1:47 PM on March 9, 2010

Thanks mattbucher, for posting those. Very cool. Do you know what the notes on the "for retinas only" page were about? Which handwriting was his? And what's the garbage thing about? Was that a reader's opinion, his own self-deprecation, or a note to remember something about the concavity?

What's the state of wallace-l these days? I was on there...god, I'm not even sure how long ago....15 years? Can that even be right? I never left, just forgot to renew the domain under which I was getting the mail (always kind of felt bad about it, too). Looks like it's dead, no?
posted by nevercalm at 3:52 PM on March 9, 2010

I believe that all the handwriting on that page is his. I have no idea about how those comments are structured—if he just used that page as a place to jot down notes or whatnot as he was writing those sections of the novel. I think the garbage note refers to one of the big themes of the book (the concavity, the Pynchonian WASTE allusion, the wilderness, etc.), like maybe it was a note to insert more about garbage? Who knows.

14 years later, wallace-l is still alive and kicking! The static URL has changed (if I owned I'd clean that up a bit), but we have about 800 members and we're bitching about movies this very day! Email me if you are interested in joining and I can add you manually.
posted by mattbucher at 4:30 PM on March 9, 2010

Did they get the footnotes?
posted by neuron at 9:57 PM on March 9, 2010

posted by grapefruitmoon at 6:36 AM on March 10, 2010

Tom Staley is a man of handshakes and one who conjures money at the wave of his hand. It's amazing, really. Acquiring DFW is nice to see after a few questionable investments in the past few years, like the Watergate papers.

That's the good side. Unfortunately, I have a good source that says he's a tyrant with a mind turned to mush in his old age. But that's what happens when powerful people think you're irreplaceable.
posted by spamguy at 7:16 AM on March 10, 2010

Blog post at the New Yorker with (I think) a couple new images in the gallery at the bottom.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 9:08 AM on March 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

What great timing. I saw this thread on day 5 of my honeymoon. I took Infinite Jest with me on the trip for my second reading, as a tribute. I got about 450 pages done. It was really amazing rereading this book knowing what I know now about our friend DFW. I first read it in about 2000 or so but I'm getting so, so much more out of it this time. Thanks for posting this.
posted by vito90 at 12:35 PM on March 10, 2010

I first read it in about 2000 or so but I'm getting so, so much more out of it this time.

I bought IJ on the day it came out at a little bookstore across from Amherst College, curious about this local kid made good I'd been hearing so much about. I was an English major, and taking a 400 level course in James Joyce, carting Ulysses and IJ around everywhere I went, alternating between assignments and whatever I could fit in on my leisure time.

I've read it maybe four times, then spent a few days in the hospital with it with nothing to do but leaf around at random. Plus, it was my bedside insomnia read for a good three months at a really bad time. I've read the hell out of that book. And every single time I pick it up I find something I hadn't noticed (sometimes even just a word or two that reads just right) or see something a different way, whatever. It's the first book I recommend if anyone asks, and I've even read it along with other people bc they didn't want to go it alone. I love this book, I'm still heartbroken, and I'm thinking about going to Austin just to go see this stuff when the bulk of it goes on display.
posted by nevercalm at 3:00 PM on March 10, 2010

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