Los Angeles Review of Books – What Would DFW Do: Maria Bustillos, Eric Been, And Mike Goetzman On “Both Flesh And Not” And All Things Foster Wallace

Perhaps we ought to be a little more understanding of the compromises involved in creating art, and that getting bent out of shape once certain liberties are exposed (when just a minute ago we were so thoroughly enthralled!) seems a reaction based more on our uneasiness with our own vulnerability and credulousness than any serious authorial wrongdoing.

Los Angeles Review of Books – What Would DFW Do: Maria Bustillos, Eric Been, And Mike Goetzman On “Both Flesh And Not” And All Things Foster Wallace

Death is Not the End – David Foster Wallace: His Legacy and his Critics – The Point Magazine

Man, The Point seems like a fantastic magazine (see also). This is one of the better DFW appreciations I’ve read, looking past the form and into the function, his mission, if we may call it that. Special focus is given to E Unibus Pluram and Infinite Jest. It’s one of those articles that makes me want to read more. Great, great stuff.

Death is Not the End – David Foster Wallace: His Legacy and his Critics – The Point Magazine


[Published on the announcement of FaceTime, the video-calling feature that’s part of iPhone 4.]

“It turned out that there was something terribly stressful about visual telephone interfaces that hadn’t been stressful at all about voice-only interfaces. Videophone consumers seemed suddenly to realize that they’d been subject to an insidious but wholly marvelous delusion about conventional voice-only telephony. They’d never noticed it before, the delusion — it’s like it was so emotionally complex that it could be countenanced only in the context of its loss. Good old traditional audio-only phone conversations allowed you to presume the person on the other end was paying complete attention to you while also permitting you not to have to pay anything even close to complete attention to her. A traditional aural-only conversation — utilizing a hand-held phone whose earpeice contained only 6 little pinholes but whose mouthpiece (rather significantly, it later seemed) contained […] 36 little pinholes — let you enter a kind of highway-hypnotic semi-attentive fugue: while conversing, you could look around the room, doodle, fine-groom, peel tiny bits of dead skin away from your cuticles, compose phone-pad haiku, stir things on the stove; you could even carry on a whole separate additional sign-language-and- exaggerated-facial expression type of conversation with people right there in the room with you, all while seeming to be right there attending closely to the voice on the phone. And yet — and this was the retrospectively marvelous part — even as you were dividing your attention between the phone call and all sorts of other idle little fuguelike activities, you were somehow never haunted by the suspicion that the person on the other end’s attention might be similarly divided. During a traditional call, e.g., as you let’s say performed a close tactile blemish-scan of your chin, you were in no way oppressed by the thought that your phonemate was perhaps also devoting a good percentage of her attention to a close tactile blemish-scan. It was an illusion, and the illusion was aural and aurally supported: the phone-line’s other end’s voice was dense, tightly compressed, and vectored right into your ear, enabling you to imagine that the voice’s owner’s attention was similarly compressed and focused … even though your own attention was *not*, was the thing. This bilateral illusion of unilateral attention was almost infinitely gratifying from an emotional standpoint: you got to believe you were receiving somebody’s complete attention without having to return it. Regarded with the objectivity of hindsight, the illusion appears arational, almost literally fantastic; it would be like being able both to lie and to trust other people at the same time.

Video telephony rendered the fantasy insupportable. Callers found they had to compose the same sort of earnest, slightly overintense listener’s expression they had to compose for in-person exchanges. Those callers who out of unconscious habit succumbed to fuguelike doodling or pants-crease-adjustment now came off looking rude, absentminded, or childishly self-absorbed. Callers who even more unconsciously blemish-scanned or nostril-explored looked up to find horrified expressions on the video-faces at the other end. All of which resulted in videophonic stress.

Even worse, of course, was the traumatic expulsion-from-Eden feeling of looking up from tracing your thumb’s outline on the Reminder Pad or adjusting the old Unit’s angle of repose in your shorts and actually seeing your videophonic interface idly strip a shoelace of its gumlet as she talked to you, and suddenly realizing your whole infantile fantasy of commanding your partner’s attention while you yourself got to fugue-doodle and make little genital-adjustments was deluded and insupportable and that you were actually commanding not one bit more attention than you were paying, here. The whole attention business was monstrously stressful, video callers found.”

—Just one of several brilliant “videophony” passages from David Foster Wallace’s 1996 masterpiece, Infinite Jest. It only gets better from there (complete with “high-def mask-entrepreneurs” and more).

What writers have is a license and also the freedom to sit—to sit, clench their fists, and make themselves be excruciatingly aware of the stuff that we’re mostly aware of only on a certain level. And if the writer does his job right, what he basically does is remind the reader of how smart the reader is. Wake the reader up to stuff that the reader’s been aware of all the time.

David Foster Wallace quoted in The Howling Fantods Q&A with David Lipsky. Like I said, I wish Wallace had done stand-up comedy, too, because this attitude seems perfect for it. Isn’t that what many great comedians do? A voice in the wilderness kind of thing, standing apart or going deep and observing and noticing more than you, and pointing out these things in a way that makes you happy.

Q&A: David Lipsky | Mark Athitakis’ American Fiction Notes

From an interview with David Lipsky (via), here’s David Foster Wallace on the philosophical depth of country music:

Because that’s like pretty much all there is, when you’re tired of listening to Green Day on the one college station. And these country musics that are just so—you know, “Baby since you’ve left I can’t live, I’m drinking all the time.” And I remember just being real impatient with it. Until I’d been living here about a year. And all of a sudden I realized, what if you just imagined that this absent lover they’re singing to is just a metaphor? And what they’re really singing to is themselves, or to God, you know? “Since you’ve left I’m so empty I can’t live, my life has no meaning.” That in a weird way, they’re incredibly existentialist songs. That have the patina of the absent, of the romantic shit on it, just to make it salable… But that if you cock your ear and listen real close—that it’s deep, you know?… That we find, that art finds a way to take care of you, and take part. Kind of despite itself.

Q&A: David Lipsky | Mark Athitakis’ American Fiction Notes

Some wisdom before school starts




“How do you remember Amherst? What are the experiences—in and out of the classroom—that shape those memories? Similarly, what aspects of your Amherst education served you best? And what are the things about Amherst that, in hindsight, disappoint you?”


“I don’t know that many would remember me at all… I was cripplingly shy at Amherst. I wasn’t in a fraternity and didn’t go to parties and didn’t have much to do with the life of the College. I had a few very close friends and that was it. I studied all the time. I mean literally all the time…

So ‘the things about Amherst that, in hindsight, disappoint [me]’ are things not about Amherst but about who I was when I was there. I let almost no one know me, and I lost the chance to know and learn from most of my peers. It took years after I’d graduated from Amherst to realize that people were actually far more complicated and interesting than books, that almost everyone else suffered the same secret fears and inadequacies as I, and that feeling alone and inferior was actually the great valent bond between us all. I wish I’d been smart enough to understand that when I was an adolescent.”

— David Foster Wallace interviewed by Amherst magazine

It seems like the big distinction between good art and so-so art lies somewhere in the art’s heart’s purpose, the agenda of the consciousness behind the text. It’s got something to do with love. With having the discipline to talk out of the part of yourself that can love instead of the part that just wants to be loved.

David Foster Wallace, quoted in Greg Carlisle’s Liverpool Keynote Address on David Foster Wallace – Consider David Foster Wallace Conference, University of Liverpool, July 29-30, 2009

David Foster Wallace, on success


Bookselling This Week: What has been the most satisfying part about all your success?

David Foster Wallace: What do you mean by success?

BTW: Being accepted by a major publisher, all the acclaim.

DFW: Well there’s no better feeling than working hard at something and having it come out good, even before you put the stamp on it. But with all the public stuff… it’s sort of how you like people to be nice to your child. There’s so much bullshit to trying to get accepted – reading a mean letter from someone you don’t even know, getting rejected. I think you need to invest way more into how it feels when you are in a room writing by yourself.

Full DFW interview with American Booksellers Association


David Foster Wallace reads Laughing with Kafka, which was later published in Consider the Lobster. Other speakers at the Metamorphosis: A New Kafka symposium included Paul Auster, E.L. Doctorow, Susan Sontag, and David Remnick. (via bibliokept)

Infinite Summer

“Join endurance bibliophiles from around the web as we tackle and comment upon David Foster Wallace’s masterwork, June 21st to September 22nd.”

This could be good.

Infinite Summer

It kind of puzzles me that people seem so keen on asking fiction writers straightforward interview-type questions, since if the fiction writers really thought interesting stuff could be talked about straightforwardly they probably wouldn’t have become fiction writers.

TV is the epitome of Low Art in its desire to appeal to and enjoy the attention of unprecedented numbers of people. But it is not Low because it is vulgar or prurient or dumb. Television is often all these things, but this is a logical function of its need to attract and please Audience. And I’m not saying that television is vulgar and dumb because the people who compose Audience are vulgar and dumb. Television is the way it is simple because people tend to be extremely similar in their vulgar and prurient and dumb interests and wildly different in their refined and aesthetic and noble interests. It’s all about syncretic diversity: neither medium nor Audience is faultable for quality.

…David Foster Wallace in his essay E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction [pdf], collected in A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, which I am loving so far.