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Home News by Category Conferences Final Thoughts - Infinite Wallace 2014

Final Thoughts - Infinite Wallace 2014

Final Thoughts - Infinite Wallace 2014

-Tony McMahon

Well, your faithful correspondent has made it safely back to Australia, is slowly recovering from his jet lag, and is beginning to formulate somewhat coherent thoughts on the overall tenor of Infinite Wallace.


Most of the blogs I’ve posted here have concerned the exciting new directions I saw Wallace studies as taking through the lens of the conference, so I won’t bore you with any more of that. In order to flesh out my reporting, I will endeavour to describe in a more detailed manner some of the specific talks that went into making the event such a success.



Thursday, September 11

Institut du monde anglophone, Sorbonne-Nouvelle

9:30 Performance, entertainment, media I


Bart Thornton spoke entertainingly about Wallace and the Situationists. Since my paper was concerned with similar themes, I tried my best to listen. As has already been noted in earlier posts, your reporter was, well, let’s just say petrified of taking the stage, which made paying attention not just a difficult task, but flat out impossible.


Mike Miley has some serious Wallace game. Again, though, fear prevented me from making any legible notes. I did write stuff down, but I’m looking at it now and it appears to be either hieroglyphics or some dead language I didn’t know I could speak. (This will soon change, I promise. After I present my paper I start to feel a lot more relaxed).

11:15 Performance, entertainment, media II


Tony McMahon did not, it seems, make quite as much of a tool of himself as he thought he would (more here).


Jay Johnson. Sorry, Jay, but I barely caught a word. I was too busy wiping sweat away. Something about Canada maybe? Sounds as if it would have been really interesting.


Okay, so, your correspondent was feeling much better by this stage, and the Plenary by Professor Marshall Boswell actually makes, you know, sense. Boswell spoke of Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot as a kind of literary love triangle where Eugenides and Wallace (through the character Leonard Bankhead, widely believed to be based on Wallace) face off for the affections of the reader. Boswell also made the simple but poignant point that the trope of suicide in Wallace’s work should not be conflated with Wallace’s actual suicide, which, of course, is not a trope, but a real life, tragic event.


15:15 Wallace the auteur / Questions of reading and writing I


Tim Groenland spoke of the wraith in Infinite Jest as the return of the putatively dead author, and Jackie O’Dell suggested that the same book’s titular cartridge was a play on the anxiety between serious art and entertainment. In question and answer session following their talks, the two scholars touched on the paradox that, for a writer who seemingly subscribes to the death of the author theory (except, maybe in ‘Greatly Exaggerated’), Wallace was obsessive about controlling the way he was read.




Friday, September 12

Institut du monde anglophone, Sorbonne-Nouvelle

9:30 Influences and transmissions I


Calvin Thomas is the author of a book called Male Matters, a copy of which he apparently sent to Wallace. Thomas then proceeded to suggest that Wallace’s story ‘The Suffering Channel’ was influenced by same. Although this sounds, on paper at least, like the musings of someone who is – okay, I’ll say it – up themselves, Thomas delivered his talk in a humorous and self-deprecating manner. He also gets extra credit for explaining the origins of the term ‘front bottom’ to replace vagina. Would have been an absolute ripper to have walked into half way through.


Stephanie Lambert examined something of the differences between postmodernism and post postmodernism, a subject that will no doubt inform not just Wallace scholarship, but academic thinking more widely, for some time to come. Really won me over when she dragged one of my favourite philosophers, Henri Lefebvre, into the proceedings.


Lefteris Kalospyros and Kostas Kaltsas teamed up to talk about Wallace and Pynchon, making the excellent point that comparisons of the two writers are everywhere, but little attention has been paid to the details of the similarities. Kaltsas gets extra credit for being the only presenter that I know of at Infinite Wallace to have the last line of Infinite Jest tattooed on his forearm.


11: 15 Influences and transmissions II

The paper presented by Tore Andersen was an absolute hoot. I don’t need to say too much more about this as I believe it will be making an appearance on this very website.

Daniel Mattingly was one of the few scholars here who spoke about influence from the other direction: namely the writers Wallace has inspired. Special mention needs to be made of the fact that Mattingly was due to submit his PhD on the Thursday following the conference. A superhuman effort, really.


Pater Waldstein was the only monk to present at Infinite Wallace. ‘Nuff said? Probably. But it’s also worth noting he was one of the only people to mention Wallace’s undergraduate thesis, his non-fiction book Everything and More and Franzen’s (some would say horrible) Kenyon College commencement speech.

14:30 Post-secular Wallace? I


Christopher Kocela spoke eloquently on Wallace and Buddhism. This, for me, marked a real turning point in the conference overall, a bit of a Light Bulb Above the Head moment when the idea that Wallace Studies could potentially go anywhere seemed to really take hold.


To wit: Jason Ford spent a good deal of time examining minor characters from Wallace’s work. Steeply and Marathe’s wife fromInfinite Jest were two examples.

16:15 Post-secular Wallace? II

David Hering is arguably one of the world’s leading Wallace scholars, and his talk was commensurate with this lofty status. Hering began by dragging Russian high literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin into the proceedings, and your hapless reporter’s head started to ache. But pens went almost unanimously to notebooks when Hering mentioned that he’d recently discovered in the archives that Hal was originally called Dave in an earlier draft of Infinite Jest. Then the speaker and Adam Kelly, another superstar Wallace guy, got into some ultra interesting back and forth during the Q&A, and wannabes like me just kind of cowered.

19:00 In an evening presentation, Bill Lattanzi, a native of Boston, took us on a psychogeographic tour of the town where Wallace’s most famous book is, of course, set. With a slide show to absolutely die for, and your reporter’s already well-documented interest in Situationism, the words pig in shit come to mind. What a way to end day two!



Saturday, September 13

École normale supérieure

10:00 David Foster Wallace and philosophy I

Michell Cunningham discussed allegory in ‘The Soul is Not a Smithy’ and proved that Australian Wallace scholarship is indeed alive and well, and up there with anything else from any other part of the world.

Camus got a guernsey when Jacopo Cozzi started talking up Wallace as ‘The Rebel’.

11:15 David Foster Wallace and philosophy II

Hadrien Laroche is one of France’s leading writers, and it was a real pleasure to hear his take on DFW.

Lee Konstantinou is another Wallace superstar and somehow managed to answer the question: What is a Turdnagel?

16:15 Humor, Sentiment, Communion II

Ralph Clare took a seriously left field view of Wallace scholarship, some of which has been examined in earlier posts here and here.

Mary Holland See earlier post.

Adam Kelly Ibid.



-Tony McMahon

Last Updated on Monday, 29 September 2014 01:16  

The Howling Fantods