The Howling Fantods

David Foster Wallace News and Resources Since March 97

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Home News by Category DFW Biography The Atlantic and Other Reviews

The Atlantic and Other Reviews

Menachem Kaiser's extended piece about Wallace and the book, The Challenge of Writing About David Foster Wallace, for the Atlantic:
Some personalities lend themselves well to biographies and profiles. These lives can be neatly packaged, edited, and bound. They can be organized into chapters, narratives, lists, and an index. And though these biographies might not make great literature, they can be thrilling to read (cf: Richard Burton). But some lives can't be defined by the adventures therein; some possess an intellect so vast and frenetic that, consequently, it's mostly inaccessible to the profiler and, in turn, the reader. See: Wallace, David Foster.
Paul Debraski continues his initial thoughts with a Soundtrack overview and full review:
The focus of Lipsky’s questioning is multifold.  Lipsky is a fan of DFW’s work, and since he himself is a young writer, he seems to have a personal interest in writerly ambition, fame, the effects of fame, and the effects of fame on the writing process.  Also, his angle for the piece is clearly “what’s it like to be DFW, savior of literature?”

And the answer is interesting because of the type of person DFW is:  he’s very smart, but he’s also very uncomfortable with showing off his smartness (Lipsky describes him as being very Midwestern in this regard).  He’s a gentle generous person who is very protective of himself and his family.  And so, rather than just being a profile of a hip young author, the focus turns into what happens to a shy, unassuming hip young author when the spotlight shines on him.
The book contains what would have to be a significant amount of everything that Wallace said during their conversation over these five days or so, and it is clearly an important primary source for scholars interested in him. It also seems clear to me (and to Lipsky, both at the time and certainly in retrospect) that Wallace was exceptionally wary of him and was concealing himself or acting a part in much of their conversation. Lipsky seems to identify this fairly quickly, and a good part of what’s in the book is Wallace’s typically self-reflexive discussion of the various ethical and epistemological issues caused by this preparation of a face to meet the faces you meet, etc. I was somewhat annoyed by how Lipsky wanted to capture the code-switching in Wallace’s speech by phonetic spellings and such. I’m sure that just a mention of a different accent or voice pattern in the bracketed sections would work better than the inconsistent “dudn’t” and “in’”s that distract the reader.

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