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.
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.
While participating in Infinite Summer Reeves Wiedeman kept track of all the quotes he really enjoyed and has recently categorised and blogged about his fave bits. Check out his Infinite Words project over at Meanderings
. (Obvious spoilers if you have not read Infinite Jest).
Some have complained that Lipsky himself was too present in the text, that he peeks in with a too-high frequency with brief bracketed interpolations. I found the interjections helpful and well-meaning where others have found them self-serving and annoying.
The deeper into the book I got, the more pages I dog-eared, so that by the end, I figured I might as well just enlist the help of a strong friend and fold the corner of the whole book down on itself. The two men talk about movies, parties, fame, loneliness, the genesis of Infinite Jest, and much more, and it’s all riveting.
Last Updated on Friday, 23 April 2010 18:49
Andrew Shaffer's review
at Print is Undead.
Zach Baron's review for BookForum.com
(this is a repost, but I snuck it in at the end of another piece so it may have been missed).
If you’ve never read DFW before, here’s a list of the highlights—and if you have opened one of his books, you probably already know it’s almost all highlights. David Wallace had the rarest gift for a writer. He made you feel smarter while and after you read him. He’s like a mental vitamin pill. And it’s not the kind of brightness that makes you feel stubby, the brightness of the kid who keeps raising a hand in class. It’s a brilliance that welcomes you, that says, “I know you noticed this, come over here and be smart with me.” Wallace was aware of this, too. He said, “What writers have is a license and also the freedom to sit—to sit, clench their fists, and make themselves be excruciatingly aware of the stuff that we’re mostly aware of only on a certain level. And if the writer does his job right, what he basically does is remind the reader of how smart the reader is. Is to wake the reader up to stuff that the reader’s been aware of all the time.” David Wallace’s work is a wake-up pill, a slug of coffee; that’s what the following stories, essays and novels stories are like.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 21 April 2010 19:10
While the book is interesting and yields neat stuff that makes you appreciate Wallace's humanity – he surprisingly asks Lipsky what “seigneurial” means – the problem is that the interview hasn't been silently corrected: It's full of gaffes. I know it's Wallace unplugged, but it's vexing to read pages of “I mean I know, you know, I mean I . . .” or “and uh, so, so no.”
Still, it's nice to have Wallace's brainvoice in your head, and Lipsky does turn up some finds. That Wallace loved velvety cotton and consequently appropriated his sister's softer blouses; that he felt inferior to novelist William T. Vollmann; that he was a towel boy at a private club and a security guard for Lotus Software Corp. (after two books and O. Henry and Whiting awards!). Also, that he never heard of Kurt Cobain until after Cobain's suicide, drank two six-packs of pop a day, loved Enya's music and burned for Alanis Morissette.