Kathleen Fitzpatrick (of Planned Obsolescence
) posted a draft of her article about Infinite Summer
online for comment today. It's to appear as part of a collection of essays entitled The Legacy of David Foster Wallace: Critical and Creative Assessments
, edited by Lee Konstantinou and Samuel Cohen, and to be published by the University of Iowa Press in 2011.
What made Wallace’s work so phenomenally powerful for so many readers, I would argue, has to do with its ability to connect three consistent impulses in contemporary fiction in a way that no other writer has managed quite so well. In Wallace’s work, we repeatedly see wed high-modern/postmodern experimental pyrotechnics not only with an incisive cultural critique but also with a deeply personal concern for quotidian human suffering. That is to say that Wallace’s fiction combines rich investments in form, in ideas, and in emotion. Any number of writers of the last fifty years can be read as bringing together two of these strains in contemporary fiction, but hardly anyone else has managed all three in a way that feels to the reader not simply sincere but unflinchingly honest. And it’s these three factors together, I would argue, that have something to do with the degree of connection that readers have felt with Wallace’s writing: not only is that writing serious enough to make the reader work non-trivially in its apprehension, and not only does the writing cause the reader to think seriously about the world in which she lives, but it also helps the reader, on some too often devalued level, to understand herself within that world.