david foster wallace

  • D.T. Max, the writer of the New Yorker article about David Foster Wallace's work on his third and unfinished novel, answers a few reader questions about his piece. There are few more glimpses at The Pale King:
    I don’t think characterization was what Wallace found hard in “Pale King.” There are several rich characters, among them Wallace (or his double) and a college student named Chris Fogle, who is “called to account” by one of his professors. Wallace chronicles Fogle’s story in some seventy pages. From the pages I saw, what was difficult was then setting them in motion in an interesting way, the architecture of a novel.
    (thx, ben c.) (0) #

David Foster Wallace's unfinished novel

Today's a big day for David Foster Wallace in The New Yorker magazine. First, they have a long article about his struggles to complete his third novel, The Pale King, which apparently took place much in the accounting world. Second, they have a few pictures of manuscripts from that work, and a few pieces of art from his wife. Third, they published a previously unseen excerpt called "Wiggle Room." I haven't read these yet, but today is an airport day so I intend to do so soon. Check out The Howling Fantods for more information.

Sun, 03/01/2009 - 9:11am
  • The Sonora Review is putting out a double issue with one half devoted to David Foster Wallace. Supplies are supposedly limited, but you can pre-order a copy by following the instructions on their site. Here are the contents of the Wallace volume, which includes contributions from his wife:
    Including an uncollected story, Solomon Silverfish, and essays and reflections from Sven Birkerts, Michael Sheehan interviewing Tom Bissell, Charles Bock, Marshall Boswell, Greg Carlisle, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers, Ken Kalfus, Glenn Kenny, Lee Martin, Michael Martone, Rick Moody interviewing Michael Pietsch, and art and prose from Karen Green.
    (0) #
  • The New York Times Magazine has an article that attempts to explain, in layman's terms, David Foster Wallace's philosophy thesis from his senior year at Amherst.
    A highly specialized, 76-page work of semantics and metaphysics, it is not for the philosophically faint of heart. Brace yourself for a sample sentence: “Let Φ (a physical possibility structure) be a set of distinct but intersecting paths ji–jn, each of which is a set of functions, L’s, on ordered pairs (), such that for any Ln, Lm in some ji, Ln R Lm, where R is a primitive accessibility relation corresponding to physical possibility understood in terms of diachronic physical compatibility.” There are reasons that he’s better known for an essay about a boat.
    Until his recent death (but not because of it), the thesis was generally unavailable to the public until this past September. (0) #

Memorials of Wallace

There have been several recent memorials of David Foster Wallace. There was a public memorial in New York City, attended by his sister, Zadie Smith, Don Delillo, Jonathan Franzen, and his longtime editor Michael Pietsch, among others. One account of the memorial talks about an assigned nonfiction Wallace essay we'll never see:

...a piece on Barack Obama and rhetoric, commissioned earlier this year by GQ. [Wallace's agent] Bonnie Nadell... described conversations between the two and Wallace's wife Karen on their enthusiasm and excitement over Obama as presidential candidate. The assignment was to focus less on Obama (there was no way he'd get close to the candidate, Nadell said) and more on his speechwriters, those young turks tasked with putting the words of inspiration in Obama's mouth during stump speeches, town hall meetings and of course, the Democratic National Convention.

And Amherst has a lengthy audio file of the memorial recently held there -- it gets emotional at times, and I was particularly affected by a remembrance from a college friend who talks about Wallace's thoughts about the "spinal" nature of music, mentioning Brian Eno's "The Big Ship" as a favorite of his. (It is a favorite of mine as well.)

Fri, 10/24/2008 - 9:39am
  • Rolling Stone has a new in-depth article about the life of David Foster Wallace (although currently the online version is abridged). Much of the piece comes from an involved interview by David Lipsky in 1996 that ended up not being published, although he also covers the last year of Wallace's life based on interviews with those close to him. Until you get a copy of the magazine, or a full version appears on the web, RS also has an interview with Lipsky about writing the article that you can read. (via matt b) (0) #
  • Powell's has a short interview with Neal Stephenson, whose Anathem I just started dipping into yesterday. He mentions David Foster Wallace, "who I think was the best we had, and who influenced me in the sense of making me try harder and wanting to do better." (0) #

More on an Infinite Jest film adaptation

That adaptation of Infinite Jest that I wrote about two years ago? Variety says it's still in early production, despite DFW's agent saying that the option ran out. I've read a draft of Keith Bunin's screenplay and though it was well-written, I didn't particularly like it. (Although if the rumor about a Jon Brion score is true, that would fit nicely.)

It's been awhile since I read the draft, but I wasn't a fan of it because it focused on the global crisis aspect of the novel, and left out what I think is the emotional heart of the book. I vastly preferred the approach of Matt Earp's stage version that he wrote and directed at Wesleyan in March of 2001, which concentrated on the students at the tennis academy, Hal, Madame Psychosis, and Mario. I drove from Boston to see that play and it was worth it. Here's a picture of the Eschaton scene from Matt's play, and here's a summary I wrote about it <gulp> eight years ago.

Hollywood: option Matt's play and build it into a feature, and then have him write a second feature that focuses on Gately. Or better yet, make it a cable TV miniseries.

Fri, 09/19/2008 - 4:59pm

An exchange on wallace-l

An exchange on the David Foster Wallace mailing list after reading this remembrance from a Pomona colleague:

Me: Since you mentioned it, I have to ask: was he fond of The Wire? The Wire, to me, comes very close to the ideal he wrote about in his Dostoevsky essay about the modern novel, even if it was more of a telenovel.

KF: He was, in fact, extremely fond of The Wire -- he stopped me in the hall one day last year and said, look, I really want to sit down and pick your brain about this, because I'm really developing the conviction that the best writing being done in America today is being done for The Wire. Am I crazy to think that?

And all I could think was -- David Foster Wallace wants to pick MY brain?

For some reason, this exchange put me in a much better mood.

Tue, 09/16/2008 - 4:11pm
  • McSweeney's will be posting remembrances of David Foster Wallace every day for the rest of this week. (Although they are more about David Wallace the human than David Foster Wallace the writer.) The first batch include several from his former students, and a few from fellow writers, including Dave Eggers and Zadie Smith. (0) #
  • Here's something that's been around for awhile but is more relevant to read now: an anonymous letter written for the Grenada House about the writer's time spent recovering there for drug addiction in the late 1980's. This has been pretty much confirmed as written by David Foster Wallace. (And will strike a major chord if you've read Infinite Jest.) (0) #


Based on how many of you have emailed me about David Foster Wallace's recent death by his own hand, I perhaps don't need to remind you all of how important his writing has been in my adult life. (But you can see how much I've written about him on this site.) I may have to sit with this news for a few more days before I can say more intelligently.

Sun, 09/14/2008 - 3:15pm
  • A WSJ interview with David Foster Wallace on the occasion of the publication of McCain's Promise, a repackaged version of an excellent article he wrote in 2000 about following McCain's campaign for two weeks. He gets into the current election a little as well:
    The truth—as I see it—is that the previous seven years and four months of the Bush Administration have been such an unmitigated horror show of rapacity, hubris, incompetence, mendacity, corruption, cynicism and contempt for the electorate that it's very difficult to imagine how a self-identified Republican could try to position himself as a populist.
    (thx, bill s.) (8) #
  • An interview with John Krasinski of NBC's The Office on the release of Leatherheads. But more interestingly, the interview touches upon his first directorial effort: making David Foster Wallace's Brief Interviews with Hideous Men:
    [A]ll of a sudden I got “The Office,” and right after we shot the pilot, I took pretty much all the money that I had made on that and bought the rights for a film. His agent said no at first, so I flew out to L.A. and sat with her, and said: “I know that I’m young, and I haven’t really done anything, but your client, he wrote an incredible book. I just wanted more people to know about David Foster Wallace.”
    (thx, bill) (3) #
  • A new Neal Stephenson interview has been published, conducted in 2006 but still the most recent one out there. Unfortunately, it's part of Tomorrow through the Past: Neal Stephenson and the Project of Global Modernization, an academic book going for $80 on Amazon. Dr. Jonathan Lewis, the author and an English professor at UNCP, also studies the works of David Foster Wallace:
    “I am looking at Wallace and Stephenson and how their storytelling techniques have been influenced by the Web,” Dr. Lewis said. “It is a style with multi-threaded stories that may be moving at different speeds in a way that is similar to the way people use the Web.”
    Sounds interesting, but I always thought Infinite Jest's multi-threaded narrative was more influenced by Tom Clancy (and fractals) than the Web.

    Update: I was able to read the interview thanks to a library and a friend. Nothing revelatory, but we're currently in a Stephenson void so it was good to read something. The best line, in reference to why his old pen name books have been republished with his real name:
    [The] perception of secrecy or furtiveness tends to make people behave irrationally.
    (4) #
  • Just published (and purchased by me): Elegant Complexity: A Study of David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest by Greg Carlisle. From the book description:
    Elegant Complexity is the first critical work to provide detailed and thorough commentary on each of the 192 sections of David Foster Wallace's masterful Infinite Jest... Carlisle explains the novel's complex plot threads (and discrepancies) with expert insight and clear commentary. The book is 99% spoiler-free for first-time readers of Infinite Jest.
    I've seen some sections of this, and I get the feeling that this will become the authoritative critical book on Infinite Jest. Disclosure: I am online acquaintances with both the author and editor of this book. (15) #
  • David Foster Wallace's introduction to The Best American Essays 2007, as its editor. In typical Wallacean fashion, he spends most of the time unpacking the meaning of the collection's title, and expounding on his selection methodology as "the Decider."
    Part of our emergency is that it's so tempting to do this sort of thing now, to retreat to narrow arrogance, pre-formed positions, rigid filters, the "moral clarity" of the immature. The alternative is dealing with massive, high-entropy amounts of info and ambiguity and conflict and flux; it's continually discovering new areas of personal ignorance and delusion. In sum, to really try to be informed and literate today is to feel stupid nearly all the time, and to need help.
    (thx, kyosti) (0) #
  • Five video clips of David Foster Wallace talking about various things at Le Conversazioni 2006, an annual gathering of elite writers held in Italy. "Various things" include: the Italian language, kissing (with reaction shots from his attractive wife), soccer, and how he wants to be labeled as a writer. (thx, tim) (6) #

"Good People"

David Foster Wallace has a new short piece of fiction at the New Yorker titled "Good People" about a religious, unmarried young couple dealing with an unwanted pregnancy. This story has ignited some debate on the wallace-l mailing list:

  • Did DFW write this with the expectation that the subject matter (sincere but doubtful religious feelings) would challenge typical New Yorker readers?
  • Does the story represent a Classical Prisoner's Dilemma?
  • Would it be out of place in a traditional religious magazine?
  • Is it a commentary on "Good Country People" by Flannery O'Connor?
  • Are the two main characters "good people?" Or is just one of them "good people," as in, "She's good people" in the common vernacular?

Maybe this sounds like an English assignment to you, but I'm always interested in what Wallace is trying to do with his writing (see his Dostoevsky essay in Consider the Lobster), and hey, it's only for extra credit.

Wed, 01/31/2007 - 1:57pm
  • New David Foster Wallace interview, translated from German.
    [T]he first part of [Oblivion], the roughly eighty pages of Mister Squishy, took me about four months. I write a lot by hand, draft by draft, and only later do I start to type it all. And after the like tenth draft I'm only thinking about the single lines and how they sound.
    No wonder he hasn't followed up Infinite Jest with a third novel. (thx, nm) (1) #
  • I have been hearing some details through various sources about an upcoming film adaptation of David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest. Sam Jones, known for his documentary on the band Wilco, is attached to direct a script written by Keith Bunin. Jon Brion has evidently been tapped to do the score. I have my doubts that a feature-length film could capture what's great about the book, but we shall see. --SBC (11) #