The Howling Fantods

David Foster Wallace News and Resources Since March 97

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DFW and Music: The Grunge Writer and the Hitherto Criminally Overlooked Importance of Signifying Rappers'

Tony McMahon blogged for The Howling Fantods while at the Infinite Wallace conference, but he was also there to present. Here is his slide show and talk from Day 1. Enjoy! (Title edit - I got the old and new titles mixed up. Sorry, Tony)

David Foster Wallace and Music: The Grunge Writer and the Hitherto Criminally Overlooked Importance of Signifying Rappers'

Tony McMahon (RMIT University, Australia)

Abstract: David Foster Wallace is rightly considered one of the twentieth and twenty-first century’s most media-immersed of writers. Yet despite his being the co-author of a book on rap, little academic attention has been paid to the potentially rich scholastic area of Wallace and music. It is my contention that Wallace scholarship would benefit immeasurably from exploring more closely the author’s relationship to this media. I begin this process by interrogating Wallace’s problematic status as a ‘grunge’ writer. Greil Marcus’ Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century provides a matrix for an examination of the relationships between avant-garde movements such as Dada, Situationism, punk and grunge, and how these relate to Wallace’s overall project. I also attempt to reinvigorate one of the author’s lesser known and extraordinarily under-theorised texts, Signifying Rappers, and present it as one of the keys to understanding Wallace’s work, as well as his development as a writer famed for the idiosyncratic use of language. In endeavouring to begin this revitalisation, I continue and develop arguments made by Tara Morrissey and Lucas Thompson in their paper ‘“The Rare White at the Window”: A Reappraisal of Mark Costello and David Foster Wallace’s Signifying Rappers’. Finally, I conclude that this potentially fruitful new area of Wallace Studies will not only provide fresh insights into the author’s work, but also have significant ramifications for the study of literature more widely.

Download Tony McMahon's talk here: t_mcmahon_talk.docx

Download Tony McMahon's slides here: t_mcmahon_slides.pptx

Last Updated on Friday, 19 September 2014 08:36

Antrim and Wallace

John Jeremiah Sullivan's piece in the NYT Magazine, Donald Antrim and the Art of Anxiety, includes a very moving story about Wallace supporting Antrim through hard times of his own. It turns out this is the story Antrim told at the 2008 NYC Wallace Memorial:


They told him they wanted him to undergo electroconvulsive therapy. He could take time to think about it. A nurse led him back into the hallway and down to his room.

The news destroyed him. Not because he didn’t believe them, that it was the best thing for him, nor even because he feared the pro­cedure itself (though naturally it terrified him to face it), but because he believed it would mean the end of him as a writer. That his talent would be scattered. His brains scrambled. The mechanism disassembled. Not to write? A living death. What would it even mean to go about your day?

Also he felt that it was, he said, “a confirmation that I would never leave hospitals.”

He sat down on a chair. “Not 20 minutes later,” he said, “a patient called out, ‘Mr. Antrim,­ there’s a phone call for you.’ ” He shuffled down to the phones near the medication dispensary. He picked up.

“Donald,” a voice said, “this is Dave Wallace. I heard you were in bad shape.”


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For more John Jeremiah Sullivan don't miss Too Much Information - his wonderful essay/review about DFW from GQ in 2011.

[Thanks, Matt, for remembering all the connections]

Last Updated on Friday, 19 September 2014 01:47


Sorry about the extended downtime everyone. The host changed php versions automatically which appears to have caused a conflict with one of the installed modules. PHP version rolled back, module fixed, rolled forward and we're up again.

Last Updated on Sunday, 05 October 2014 17:18

DFW 2015: Call for Papers

It really is a golden time for Wallace scholarship! I've still got some more reports, photos, and presentations to post about last weekend's Infinite Wallace 2014 Conference in Paris to come over the next week or so, but until then... how about a call for papers and presentation of original work for The Second Annual David Foster Wallace Conference? Once again being held at Illinois State University, May 28th and 29th, 2015.

The Keynote speaker is Dr. Stephen J. Burn (David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest, Second Edition: A Reader's Guide, Conversations with David Foster Wallace)

For the last four years, Burn has been working with the David Foster Wallace literary estate to produce an edited volume of Wallace’s letters. This volume is not intended to be a biography in letters, but rather a biography of Wallace’s writing: charting his reflections on his own writing; documenting his reading; mapping his changing intellectual investments; and sharing some of the virtuoso linguistic performances he saved for his letters. In this keynote, Burn will discuss the scope of Wallace’s letters, asking how the letters enhance or complicate our understanding of Wallace’s work, and how they help us understand Wallace’s place amongst contemporary American writers.​​

DFW 2015 ISU Website

DFW 2015 Facebook page

Call for Papers and Presentations of Original Work direct .pdf link

Last Updated on Tuesday, 16 September 2014 13:39

Erasing Infinite Jest: Five Poetic Approaches

Forgot I had this bookmarked! Check out this interesting article by Jenni B. Baker revealing some of the creative processes behind Erasing Infinite. (Here's my interview with Jenni from Aug '14)

Erasing Infinite Jest: Five Poetic Approaches:


Knowing how to erase the text is just the first step in the process — the bigger challenge comes in when I’m forced to “find” new poems in each page of Wallace’s novel, ones that aren’t simply distillations of the original text but which reinterpret, respond or react to it in new ways.

In an early iteration of this project, I attempted to craft poems from entire sections of the text at a time. This approach ultimately failed; I found myself reading the text and writing poems whose topics and tone were too close to those in the novel. I have to work one page at a time, removing each page’s contents from the book’s broader context, in order to divorce myself from the literal subject matter.
Once I’ve isolated a page for erasing, I usually apply one of five approaches to arrive at the final poem.


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Last Updated on Tuesday, 16 September 2014 13:12

Jason Segel's 6 Favorite Books

Via The Week, Jason Segel's 6 Favorite Books:

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace (Back Bay, $18). I had the honor of playing David Foster Wallace in an upcoming film. I feel that Infinite Jest did a real service to humanity in an age where you're told to sit and accept television and advertising. Wallace makes you work for satisfaction. As you trudge through the difficult sections and progress through the book, you feel a real sense of accomplishment. It changed my life and my relationship to reading.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 16 September 2014 11:42

Why Lawyers Love David Foster Wallace

Tamara Tabo writes for Above The Law, On The Anniversary Of His Death: Why Lawyers Love David Foster Wallace:


David Foster Wallace was a lawyer’s writer, if ever one could use that label without intending insult. DFW was not a lawyer, though he famously became friends and collaborators with legal writing expert Bryan Garner. Garner’s co-author Justice Antonin Scalia is also said to be a fan. Countless attorneys who haven’t cracked a novel in years will brighten at the mention of DFW. Analytical, language-obsessed, and neurotic, he may have captured the modus operandi of many lawyers as well as any novelist or essayist could.


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