William's Beutler explains:
David Foster Wallace News and Resources Since March 97
William's Beutler explains:
In the introductory post for this series, published in mid-July, I mentioned that my reasons for visiting Boston to investigate its relationship to David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest would “become apparent at a later date.” I am pleased to announce that this date has arrived. I am even more excited to tell you about this project, which has been almost exactly two years in the making. As the headline has already given away, I’m calling it The Infinite Atlas Project. The underlying idea is simple to explain: my goal was to identify, place, and describe every cartographic point I could find in the novel—whether real, fictional, real but fictionalized, defunct or otherwise. This would not have worked with just any novel. As profound a work of imagination as Infinite Jest is, a significant majority (ballpark figures below) of the locations described in its 1,079 pages have some non-trivial basis in reality. And not just in Boston: this holds true across North America, and even the globe. The manifestation of this research effort turned into something I could not have imagined at the outset: a multi-part collaborative research and art project, of which this website has only been the iceberg’s tip. Today I’m announcing the launch of a limited-edition print series and a free web resource drawn from this research. I am calling them, respectively, Infinite Map and Infinite Atlas.
In the New York Times Books article, Searching the Ashes of an Exploded Life, Michiko Kakutani reviews D.T. Max's biography of David Foster Wallace, Every Love Story is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace:What Mr. Max’s book does do — and does powerfully — is provide an emotionally detailed portrait of the artist as a young man: conflicted, self-conscious and deeply thoughtful, like so many of his characters a seeker after an understanding of his own place in the world and a Melvillian “isolato,” yearning for connection yet stymied by the whirring of his own brain and the discontinuities of an America reeling from information overload.
Here's the Kirkus Review of Every Love Story is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace [from 15/8/12]:
A thorough, understated account of the life of the pioneering author and how his addictions and fiction intersected.
Before his suicide, David Foster Wallace (1962–2008) pursued a host of paths as a writer. He was a showy ironist who drafted his Pynchon-esque debut novel, The Broom of the System (1987), while an undergraduate student at Amherst. He was a bright philosopher who wrote at length on Wittgenstein and infinity. He was a skilled (if not always factually rigorous) reporter who covered state fairs, politics and tennis with intelligence and style. But the biggest inspiration for his admirers was the compassion, wit and understanding of our media-soaked age that emerged in later novels like Infinite Jest (1996) and the posthumous The Pale King (2011). In this appropriately contemplative biography, New Yorker staff writer Max (The Family that Couldn't Sleep: A Medical Mystery, 2006) avoids overdramatizing climactic events in Wallace’s life, though it had plenty of emotional turmoil. Wallace was hospitalized for addiction and depression multiple times, and even at his steadiest he could collapse into rages. (Max chronicles in detail Wallace’s disastrous relationship with memoirist Mary Karr.) Max emphasizes the psychological tug of war within Wallace, who struggled to reconcile his suspicion of mass media with a habitual gulping down of hours of it; his high-minded pursuit of art with a need for emotional and sexual attention; and his resolve to blend entertaining fiction and dense philosophy. Max draws upon the rich trove of Wallace’s papers (he was an inveterate letter writer) and dozens of interviews, from Alcoholics Anonymous sponsors to literary contemporaries like Jonathan Franzen. Wallace’s family relationships get relatively short shrift, but it’s clear that under the veneer of a successful, brainy novelist was an eager-to-please native Midwesterner.
A stellar biography of a complicated subject: Max's portrait skillfully unites Wallace’s external and internal lives.
There's an excerpt from D.T. Max's biography of David Foster Wallace, Every Love Story is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace, over at Newsweek Book Beast, David Foster Wallace on the Brink of ‘Infinite Jest’:
In 1990, David Foster Wallace, only 28, had already lived a chaotic life: he’d been a literary star, a teacher, and a depressive, had attempted to take his own life and then found his way into drug and alcohol rehab. After a month in a facility, he had entered a halfway house in Brighton, Mass. His collapse had taught him that the things that had once mattered most to him—cleverness, facility, pyrotechnics—were no longer enough to sustain him. But if he wasn’t supposed to light up the page with his brilliance, how was he supposed to write?
The only thing Wallace knew for sure was that he desperately wanted to be a novelist again but some piece of him still felt too fragile to attempt an effort so key to his well-being. The problem, he felt, was not really the words on the page; he had lost confidence not in his ability to write so much as the need to have written. Jonathan Franzen, with whom he had struck up an epistolary friendship, offered to get together that April when he was in Boston. Wallace said fine but stood him up after they made plans. But because one tenet of recovery is to make amends to those you have wronged, he wrote to his friend explaining his behavior. “The bald fact is that I’m a little afraid of you right now,” he wrote. He begged to be allowed to bow out of their embryonic competition, to declare a truce against this writer who was so “irked by my stuff,” because Wallace was no longer “a worthy opponent in some kind of theoretical chess-by-mail game from which we can both profit by combat.”
He went on: “Right now I am a pathetic and very confused young man, a failed writer at 28, who is so jealous, so sickly searingly envious of you and Vollmann and Mark Leyner and even David F--kwad Leavitt and any young man who is right now producing pages with which he can live ... that I consider suicide a reasonable—if not at this point a desirable—option with respect to the whole wretched problem.”
His avoidance of his only literary friend made him mad at himself, but to be sitting at a table discussing how to create art would be an inherently false gesture, he felt, because, as he explained to Franzen, he was no longer really an artist: “The problem’s details are at once shameful to me and boring to anyone else. I always had great contempt for people who bitched and moaned about how ‘hard’ writing was, and how ‘blockage’ was a constant and looming threat. When I discovered writing in 1983 I discovered a thing that gave me a combination of fulfillment (moral/aesthetic/existential/etc.) and near-genital pleasure I’d not dared hope for from anything.”
Franzen quickly wrote to reassure him there were no hard feelings. He had only been hoping for “some laffs and companionship from a late afternoon with you in Cambridge.” He too had felt “joyless” in his writing lately. Wallace, though, like a cancer patient having to explain himself to a headache sufferer, did not think their discomfort was equivalent. His anguish, he wrote, had multiple sources, from a fear of fame to a fear of failure. Behind the ordinary fears lurked the fear of being ordinary.
Even as Wallace was complaining that he had lost his old reason for writing, Franzen in his letters was quietly suggesting a replacement. He would remind Wallace of the pleasure Franzen took in creating characters he loved and how the stories he had liked in Girl With Curious Hair, Wallace’s story collection, had given him the same satisfaction; both were part of “the humble, unpaid work an author does in the service of emotion and the human image.” A year before when Franzen had suggested something similar, Wallace had dismissed it as twaddle. Back then—in a letter in which he said for all he cared readers frustrated by his writing were welcome to think he was an asshole—he had made clear that “[f]iction for me is a conversation for me between me and something that May Not Be Named—God, the Cosmos, the Unified Field, my own psychoanalitic cathexes, Roqoq’oqu, whomever. I do not feel even the hint of an obligation to an entity called READER—do not regard it as his favor, rather as his choice, that, duly warned, he is expended capital/time/retinal energy on what I’ve done.”
But now he wondered if his resistance toward a more supportive idea of the writer’s relationship with the reader wasn’t the cause of his blockage. He responded to Franzen: “I’d love to hear more on what ‘humble, unpaid work an author does in the service of emotion and human image’ is ... And how, as a vastly overselfconscious writer, might one still go on having faith and hope in literature and some kind of pleasure ... ? I admit it: I want to know. I have no clue. I’m a blank slate right now. Tabula rasa or whatever.”
Wallace stayed in the halfway house for six months. After, he faced the ordinary expenses of a Boston-area resident. He was back against a problem he knew well—that if he taught he might not write, but if he didn’t teach he would not eat.
Continue reading over at Newsweek Book Beast.
Pre-order Every Love Story is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace from Amazon now.
In case you've been wondering where the up to date content is...
I'll just jump straight to it, a family member is seriously ill in hospital. I've been spending a lot of time there, and my motivation to find and publish content here is very low right now.
So I need your help. If you find an interesting piece about DFW please let me know (thanks to those of you who have already done so).
I'm still managing to keep an eye on twitter to tweet bits and pieces, so either follow me (I tweet almost exclusively about DFW content), or keep an eye on the little twitter update box in the left column.
So what's on the horizon?
Thanks for reading.
Brief Interviews with Hideous Men at the ICA, London, 30 August 2012 - 31 August 2012.Andy Holden and David Raymond Conroy have adapted for the stage a selection of pieces from David Foster Wallace’s collection of short stories; a book that though a series of unspoken questions, examines the possibility of complete sincerity and truth within a modern relationship.
Brief Interviews with Hideous Men is a book which on first reading, we found to be simultaneously inspirational and crushing. In his book, perhaps a collection of short stories or possibly a kind of high postmodern novel, Wallace had produced, at least for us, an almost perfect work. It is not flawless but maybe that helps. It speaks about judgment and value, about seduction and disappointment, about comedy, and obsession and pathos. It seems to be able to propose incredibly difficult unsolvable questions in the most straightforward way, and it does this by being written in this amazingly rigorous reflexive prose. It breaks your heart whilst telling you it is doing it; whilst telling you how it is done. But what do you do when you love something? You share it, you hold it up, you take it apart to see why it makes you love it so. You give yourself to it because it gave itself to you.
- Andy Holden and David Raymond Conroy
|The Broom of the System|
|Girl with Curious Hair|
|Supposedly Fun Thing|
|Everything and More|
|Consider the Lobster|
|This is Water|
|The Pale King|
|Both Flesh and Not|
|New to DFW?|
|Interviews and Audio|
|The B.I. Project|