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Home News by Category Critical Analysis Stephen King is Cervantes compared with David Foster Wallace

Stephen King is Cervantes compared with David Foster Wallace

In Lorna Koski's, The Full Harold Bloom, (WWD Eye Scoop), Bloom is asked about David Foster Wallace:

Asked about novelist David Foster Wallace, who took his own life in 2008, but who has a new book out, “The Pale King: An Unfinished Novel,” put together from manuscript chapters and files found in his computer, Bloom says, “You know, I don’t want to be offensive. But ‘Infinite Jest’ [regarded by many as Wallace’s masterpiece] is just awful. It seems ridiculous to have to say it. He can’t think, he can’t write. There’s no discernible talent.”

It’s all a clear indication, Bloom notes, of the decline of literary standards. He was upset in 2003 when the National Book Award gave a special award to Stephen King. “But Stephen King is Cervantes compared with David Foster Wallace. We have no standards left. [Wallace] seems to have been a very sincere and troubled person, but that doesn’t mean I have to endure reading him. I even resented the use of the term from Shakespeare, when Hamlet calls the king’s jester Yorick, ‘a fellow of infinite jest.’

“It’s sort of a dark time. Imaginative energy I think is very difficult to summon up when there are so many distractions. There’s a kind of Grisham’s law [in literature]; the bad drives out the good.”

I'm more than a little surprised by this. In my experience even readers who have read Wallace and not particularly enjoyed his writing wouldn't respond with,  "He can’t think, he can’t write. There’s no discernible talent." Which leaves me wondering if Bloom has actually read Wallace at all. He doesn't see any continuation/development/growth/exploration beyond the also mentioned Pynchon, Roth, McCarthy and DeLillo?

*shrug* Each to their own, I guess.

I just hope this doesn't become the kind of flippant crititque without argument that sticks.


Little Aside...

A recent thread over at the Wallace listserv brought up this Infinite Jest endnote:

366 Sounding rather suspiciously like Professor H. Bloom's turgid studies of artistic influenza — though it's unclear how either Flood- or dead-ancestor discussions have any connection to S. Peterson's low-budget classic The Cage, which is mostly about a peripatetic eyeball rolling around, other than the fact that J. O. Incandenza loved this film and stuck little snippets of it or references to it just about anywhere he could; maybe the 'disjunction' or 'disconnection' between the screen's film and Ph.D.'s scholastic discussion of art is part of the point.a

a. (Which of course assumes there's a point.)


Last Updated on Wednesday, 06 July 2011 06:26  


#1 JoshW 2011-07-05 09:53
Somewhere, Bret Easton Ellis is overjoyed that finally one other person in the world agrees with him.
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#2 keithrondinelli 2011-07-06 02:28
Bloom is in thrall to the old guard, and this comment comes off as very fogeyish, which is to be expected, because he's a fogey, plain and simple. It's one thing to admit to not liking "Infinite Jest" – I'm a diehard Wallace fan and it took me three tries to get through it – but to say "no discernible talent" is a ridiculous statement, almost embarrassing. That said, "Jest" is pretty much on a page-by-page basis dealing with ideas and themes which I imagine Bloom, at his age and position, would find difficult to relate with. Wallace was attempting to, among other things, get across the fractured and disassociated quality that comes along with being a part of a certain generation that grew up with television, the internet, media, etc – all the little bits of information that cloud the world. I don't think Bloom lives in this world. "Jest", in that way, is sort of a countercultural piece of "cult" literature the way "Naked Lunch" was back during the beat years – you either get it immediately, feel it, or you don't.
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#3 Schwa 2011-07-06 08:56
King v. Cervantes? That's an unfair comparison: I can *finish* a Stephen King novel. But I do concur that Bloom appears to be openly engaging in the worst sort of cultural provincialism: dismissing the works of Author X because said works were produced after some pre-determined (by Mr. Bloom, who of course is an Expert) "cutoff period", which if you're on the losing side of, sorry, your artistic endeavors are culturally irrelevant, gotta wait another hundred years for the next Harold Bloom to emerge and load you into the canon. It reminds me of Neil Postman. I like him and respect his ideas, but by his own "standards" he probably wouldn't have cared to read "Bear v. Shark" even though he's name-dropped like crazy in it. But that doesn't mean I can't enjoy both Postman and Bachelder. Cervantes is still a dismal slog, though.
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#4 Dennis 2012-12-07 03:33
In the text that the footnote refers to, David referred to Bloom's academic work as turgid s#^!. It would be difficult for Bloom to have an objective opinion. The "Anxiety of Influence" was a culmination of his lifelong work and why he became renowned in academic circles. The irony is that IJ is a good example of the anxiety of influence: it went beyond Pynchonian post-modernism and created a new novelistic approach.
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#5 Sam 2013-03-14 03:48
"I just hope this doesn't become the kind of flippant crititque without argument that sticks."

A very silly statement. You can hardly expect the man to recite an essay of points orally in an interview, can you? An entire review even?

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#6 Roscoe 2013-09-11 11:36
Bloom was right. The Emperor is butt-naked.
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#7 tolstoink 2014-06-07 20:11
Bloom is right. He is also the only critic alive who will be required reading 100 years from now. How anyone can believe the inane minutia of dfw's work is anything other than the stoned out slop of a narcissistic loser is quite beyond comprehension. Basically a work for childish college students looking to appear smart and grown while spending mommy's money on marijuana, which seems to be the books real selling point. It makes no other
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#8 Kevin S Bailey 2018-08-26 15:11
In 100 years, Harold Bloom will be forgotten. Another crotchety critic will wear his mantle, as ever was, as ever will be. But David Foster Wallace will still be known as one of the finest American writers ever.
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