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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

I keep bumping into David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace

I have thus far managed to avoid reading any books by David Foster Wallace, although I have a copy of Infinite Jest on my Kindle, waiting for when I have a lot of time on my hands. In a sense he is the anti-RAW, a cult writer who has a LOT of fans and doesn't need any help from me, or any other obscure blog.

What I'm struck by is the synchronicity that I keep running into Wallace in all kinds of odd ways.

Recently, I was followed on Twitter by @madampsychosis, a "book hoarding sea witch." Sounds like a good person to know! I looked at her Tweets and noticed she is a big Wallace fan.

The Alan Moore interview in the New York Times mentioned in a recent blog post surprised me because of Moore's recently-acquired Wallace fanaticism. "I’ll try not to burden this volley of questions and answers with too many mentions of David Foster Wallace."

Then Supergee points to an essay by Amy Hungerford, "On Not Reading."  The money quote: "My small act of countercultural scholarly agency has been to refuse to continue reading or assigning the work of David Foster Wallace."

What is the universe trying to tell me? And who should I listen to, the sea witch or Amy Hungerford?


michael said...

DFW committed suicide 8 yrs ago, as of Sept 12th, so there's some remembering going on, but I too was surprised Alan Moore seems to like him so much. DFW in one essay called himself a "Puritan."

Jesse Singal had a piece in New York mag the other day, writing about DFW's short story "The Depressed Person," and how it was the best piece to read on...THAT level of depression...and the worst because it's so freaking dark to think about.

Roman said...

I also read Amy Hungerford's piece "On Not Reading" and was struck by a reversal of sorts: she has read some of DFW's nonfiction and short stories, and has avoided the massive Infinite Jest, while I have read (devoured, really) Infinite Jest and have just barely dipped into the nonfiction and shorter stuff. Only Infinite Jest impressed the hell out of me, and I never really liked anything else he'd written--it paled in comparison (no pun intended there for the unfinished "The Pale King").

Infinite Jest will definitely eat up a lot of your time, but I think it's worth it. Then again, I've never reread it, though I've tried. I suspect that's partly because I read it when I was in my 20s (it's a perfect book for a bookish 20-something), and also because I was living at the time in Allston, Massachusetts, on Commonwealth Ave, literally around the corner from the Enfield Tennis Academy and the Ennet House Drug and Alcohol Recovery House, the two main settings in the book. I was also consuming my fair share of pot at the time (ok, maybe a bit more than my fair share), which also resonated with the book, so all in all, I felt like I was *part* of the whole goddamn massive block of words that is Infinite Jest. It was *my* book, so to speak.

So long story longer, like all memorable reading experiences, the set & setting is inexorably tied to how deep a book will burrow under your skin. I now have Arno Schmidt's massive Bottom's Dream (1496 pages!) to contend with, but I feel that the timing is right, so I'm taking the plunge. I'd recommend the same re Infinite Jest, Tom: slip into it when the timing is just right, otherwise it won't stick. (So when do we know when the timing is right? The answer's in the gut somewhere.)

Eric Wagner said...

I read two of his books this year. Michael Johnson and Rafi Zabor both like Wallace a lot, and that means a lot in my book.

fyreflye said...

Follow the basic point of Hungerford's essay and don't read anything that the literary/market-based complex says you *should* read. And take note of Doris Lessing's suggestion to read whatever you feel like but toss it away if it turns out not to satisfy your needs of the moment. If you *must* read a huge overstuffed novel why not get "War and Peace" instead of "Infinite Jest?" It's been in print longer :)

Rarebit Fiend said...

I was also frankly surprised by Alan Moore's love of Wallace. He always seemed like the darling of kids trying to look smart and Infinite Jest always seemed a lot like Gravity's Rainbow (everyone owns a copy and has carried it around but very few people actually read it stereotype) but I liked Pynchon. So I'd always written him off because of his academic/faux-academic crowd.

I find out I'm wrong most of the time and when it is over unreasonably hostile opinions it is a relief. Really I just do anything Alan Moore says.

Jerusalem is startling and amazing by the way!

chas said...

"The Depressed Person" made me laugh out loud. I've known a lot of depressed persons, and have on occasion "been" a depressed person. Perhaps that is a factor in why I found it more humorous than horrifying. It's the first thing I've read by DFW, and so it probably won't be the last.

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

@fyreflye I actually read "War and Peace" when I was in college, so that's out of the way already. There was a pretty long winter break between semesters, so I spent several hours a day on it until I finished it.

@Roman, I'm sure I'll take on "Infinite Jest" pretty soon.