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Oblivion Movie Interview

 

With only a couple of days to go for the Oblivion movie funding drive, Francesco Marchione kindly took some time to answer some questions about the campaign. Please consider helping him out with a contribution.

THF: Hi Francesco, would you mind telling us a little about yourself?

Francesco Marchione: I'm an Ohio native living in Brooklyn, New York. I grew up in a strong traditional Italian-American household in a family of fine artists. Painting, stained glass, marble and mosaic design, music, dance and culinary arts all run in my family, but I've known since I was a teenager the only thing I ever wanted to do was make movies. I moved to New York 6 years ago to pursue that path and worked in production for several years on everything from big budget features to no-budget independent shorts. I knew I wanted to make my own films and if I wanted that to happen I had to write. Now I have a stack of scripts I feel confident about and Oblivion is the best and most fully developed of the bunch.

 

THF: When did you first become interested in David Foster Wallace?

FM: I had the luck of having an incredible professor, John Panza, for an Advanced Composition class my freshman year of college. This would have been in 1999-2000. We were walking across campus having a discussion about something we read for class, and he noticed I was carrying a Bret Easton Ellis book. In no uncertain terms he told me the guy I should be reading was David Foster Wallace. Based on the respect I had for his passion and depth of knowledge with literature, I took his advice as gospel, and it changed the way I read and write to this day. He recommended I steer clear of Infinite Jest and first start with some short stories, but naturally I went straight to Barnes and Noble and bought Infinite Jest. I actually had to special order a copy because they didn't have it in stock. I had never encountered anything like it, and I considered myself a pretty serious reader. Even still I only got through a few hundred pages before hitting a wall, so I went to the library and took out Girl With Curious Hair and Brief Interviews.

 

THF: What is most interesting to you about his work?

FM: Reading David Wallace opened my eyes to how deeply personal writing could be, it felt as if I was negotiating these dazzling compositions and mining deep into the psyches of these characters in order to reveal some truth about myself. I hadn't had that kind of personal connection to literature before, and I had only scratched the surface of his writing.

 

THF: Why Oblivion?

FM: Oblivion [Oblivion: Stories] is an inherently cinematic story, whether its written by Wallace or anyone else.

As a screenwriter I am always reading with one eye toward adaptation, but only rarely does a story "make the head throb heart-like" to steal a Wallace phrase, and jump off the page as being appropriate for a visual medium.

I could talk about this all day, but one aspect that makes Oblivion so interesting and compelling as a film project is Wallace's longtime appreciation for David Lynch, who is also a huge influence on me. He wrote extensively on Blue Velvet, Lost Highway, and Twin Peaks, but the  Oblivion story is where that love of all things Lynchian manifested itself in his writing, literally. The story is full of both obvious and subtle references to the world of Twin Peaks, which invites a lot of fun questions about the 'storyteller' in Oblivion and how the story should be interpreted and understood.

 

THF: How long have you been developing the film for? Has it been a collaborative approach?

FM: As far back as early 2011. My good friend Liz Magee, who I'd worked with on a feature film here in New York, was the first person to read a draft, and her enthusiastic response was the trigger to take action. I optioned the story from the David Foster Wallace Literary Trust and Hill Nadell Agency long before I had a film-able draft. I'll be the first to admit that at the outset I was too tied down to the source material, and it made for an extremely confusing script. Getting it where it needed to be to make a compelling film was a very long process. Oblivion is a demanding story to take apart because the narrative is fractured and buried in layers upon layers, so finding the right way to tell it for a different medium was a challenge.

There's a constant push/pull with staying true to the story while fulfilling a completely different set of responsibilities as a screenwriter and visual storyteller. Once I got past that initial hurdle and was able to take the story apart and put it back together again, it became something much bigger than just adapting this famous writers work, it took on a life of it's own, and that's what you want, that's why you put in the work.

An interesting thing though is that the script almost never changed in length through over a dozen or so drafts, it's always remained between 25 and 30 pages, so there was never any question in my mind that it would be anything other than a short film.

Also during the writing I decided that to I wanted to create Randall's highly subjective point of view with in-camera effects and avoid CGI, which led me to get in touch with Jimmy Ferguson, an award winning cinematographer, and his experience with exactly these types of organic effects gave me the confidence to plan the Oblivion shoot this way. He was drawn to the script because he could see the images right there on the page, and some pages had no dialogue at all.

The various collaborators I've added the team along the way have been instrumental in fleshing out different aspects of the production and what form it will take, but the primary reason the project has stayed afloat is my stubbornness and confidence that it will make a great film. It doesn't bother me in the least it's been so long in the making because anything worthwhile takes time.

 

THF: I really excited about your in-camera non-cgi approach. Many years ago (before I had children!) I used to make silly Lego stop motion animations, I particularly enjoyed working with effects in camera.

I also loved the process, but found I loved the control I had over the whole process even more. What kind of film-maker are you?

FM: I've made movies since I was 17 years old with my brother Damien and my close friends. Dozens of short films, including adaptations of Dickens, Jack London, and several of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. I played assorted small roles but was mainly responsible for writing, shooting, directing the actors, editing, and adding soundtrack. I liked having control of every step of the process, but obviously since I want to make films as a professional I can't do that, so it's been a great joy to meet like-minded people who are specialists in their respective fields who see Oblivion as a film the same way I do, and help to both reign in my crazy ideas as well as show me exactly how they can bring my crazy ideas to life.

 

THF: I understand Greg Carlisle's analysis of Oblivion (and the whole collection, Nature's Nightmare) has influenced the project. How so?

FM: The script was actually pretty much locked when I first reached out to Greg about his book. One of the trickiest things in adapting the Oblivion story was the almost complete lack of any critical writing about the title story itself. Most reviews ignored it, or made passing mention of it. James Wood's piece in the New Yorker completely misunderstood it. And there wasn't much else. I felt I was onto something, but it's a damn complex story, and even though after all the work I'd put in, there was little to nothing to confirm or deny I was on the right track.

After I'd finished the script, I really needed to find out what others thought about the story. I came across Wyatt Mason's lengthy piece on Oblivion from the London Review of Books, which was very important. Greg's book on Infinite Jest, "Elegant Complexity" is absolutely essential, so when I found out he was writing a similar volume on the Oblivion stories, I contacted him right away and he was generous enough to send me his work on the story. We deconstructed the story in very different ways. I can't elaborate much more without spoiling some major plot points for those who haven't read it and are looking forward to seeing it, but Greg's explication and analyses opened up a lot of the secrets that I had been busy trying to creatively re-bury, if you will, and yet we came to very similar conclusions about what the story means. I shared my draft with him and his positive response to the disparate ways in which we approached the story was instrumental in boosting confidence in my approach.

 

THF: I've backed many projects on Kickstarter (mostly board games, my other obsession). Tell us about the original Kickstarter campaign.

FM: The Kickstarter campaign came out of necessity. Of course I would have preferred to work in my usual mode and do it all myself, but bringing Oblivion to the screen is a very complex project, even stripped down to the essentials, because of the nature of the story, and it became apparent that I could not fund or complete such an effort in the DIY, catch as catch can mode a lot of short films are made in these days.

Even still, the Kickstarter campaign only came about after much handwringing and head-scratching about crowdfunding as a whole. It will be interesting to see how crowdfunding progresses as more platforms allow for a Return on Investment, because as it stands you walk a very fine line between getting the idea out there in front of everyone vs. exploiting it. I'm very sensitive to that, and I won't be the guy handing out tshirts and trinkets for pledges. At a certain point it drains energy out of the project to put time into making pitch videos, designing web pages, incentivizing contributions with substantial, thoughtful stuff as opposed to muddying the waters and distracting people from what's really important, which is getting the film made. Kickstarter's name recognition was a huge boon to the original campaign and got us a lot of exposure. Articles ran in the Los Angeles Times, NY Daily News, Bookforum, and plenty of others. We received a lot of support and generous pledges of almost $13,000, but since we didn't hit our $30,000 funding goal, we were back to square one.

 

THF: I have to admit I've now backed a few unsuccessful Indiegogo campaigns and for some I've felt not totally satisfied (e.g. not seeing end products or results). Why did you choose to move to Indiegogo? How is the campaign going?

FM: The one and only reason for moving to Indiegogo was their "flexible funding" model, which makes it so every pledge of support goes straight into the films budget, whether or not we hit 100% of our funding goal. Because, again, the important thing is making the film, not running crowdfunding campaigns.

Again, time spent measuring the pros and cons of Kickstarter and Indiegogo takes time and effort away from writing and making movies. In a perfect world, the platform shouldn't matter. But now, not only does the platform matter, but it can make or break a great idea, and unless you have a lot of money to throw at a company who will promote your campaign and get you "eyeballs", pay a PR firm to get placements and articles in publications, or have a story involving dragons and vampires, it's a very steep uphill climb to get the project any kind of attention. The Indiegogo campaign hasn't gone as well as I hoped, but in the end every single contribution helps get the film made, so we're hoping the final few days of the campaign see a significant jump and allow us to begin shooting this Fall. The idea that anyone at all is into the idea enough to pledge financial support is inspiration enough to keep going.

 

THF: Will the film get off the ground if you don't meet your funding goal?

FM: Yes, and it will be difficult, I'm under no illusions there, but Oblivion is going to make a really entertaining film and we will begin putting whatever funds we have available to use immediately, in addition to my own personal investment in the project to keep things moving along. We have our eye on several major film festivals in 2015 so work will begin right away with every dollar we have at our disposal toward that goal.

 

THF: What other options do you have from here on out?

FM: There are numerous options, but the only good option is making the movie, so with that said, as we progress I hope to find investors willing to produce the film the old fashioned way. Anyone interested in supporting the film privately can reach out to me at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it at any time. Another crowdfunding campaign is probably unlikely, but nothing can be ruled out. The scenes we shoot with the support from the Indiegogo campaign will allow us to show investors how we intend to complete the film and ask for completion funds, an extremely valuable tool, so this campaign will determine to a large extent how much we have to work with.

The greatest thing having a budget allows us to do is shoot the film all at once. The less resources we have to work with, the more we'll have to split up the shooting and approach it scene by scene, which is more of a strain on cast and crew, not to mention the logistical headaches and lengthening of the production. However, if I wasn't confident we can overcome these obstacles and still make a great film, I wouldn't be doing this. Oblivion's journey to the screen has been full of ups and downs and unexpected turns, so I look forward to what the next chapter will bring.

THF: Thanks for your time, Francesco. good luck with the rest of the campaign!

There are still a few days to go in the campaign, please consider helping Francesco out with a contribution.

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Last Updated on Sunday, 05 October 2014 15:51
 

Final Thoughts - Infinite Wallace 2014

Final Thoughts - Infinite Wallace 2014

-Tony McMahon

Well, your faithful correspondent has made it safely back to Australia, is slowly recovering from his jet lag, and is beginning to formulate somewhat coherent thoughts on the overall tenor of Infinite Wallace.

 

Most of the blogs I’ve posted here have concerned the exciting new directions I saw Wallace studies as taking through the lens of the conference, so I won’t bore you with any more of that. In order to flesh out my reporting, I will endeavour to describe in a more detailed manner some of the specific talks that went into making the event such a success.

 

 

Thursday, September 11

Institut du monde anglophone, Sorbonne-Nouvelle


9:30 Performance, entertainment, media I

 

Bart Thornton spoke entertainingly about Wallace and the Situationists. Since my paper was concerned with similar themes, I tried my best to listen. As has already been noted in earlier posts, your reporter was, well, let’s just say petrified of taking the stage, which made paying attention not just a difficult task, but flat out impossible.

 

Mike Miley has some serious Wallace game. Again, though, fear prevented me from making any legible notes. I did write stuff down, but I’m looking at it now and it appears to be either hieroglyphics or some dead language I didn’t know I could speak. (This will soon change, I promise. After I present my paper I start to feel a lot more relaxed).


11:15 Performance, entertainment, media II

 

Tony McMahon did not, it seems, make quite as much of a tool of himself as he thought he would (more here).

 

Jay Johnson. Sorry, Jay, but I barely caught a word. I was too busy wiping sweat away. Something about Canada maybe? Sounds as if it would have been really interesting.

 

Okay, so, your correspondent was feeling much better by this stage, and the Plenary by Professor Marshall Boswell actually makes, you know, sense. Boswell spoke of Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot as a kind of literary love triangle where Eugenides and Wallace (through the character Leonard Bankhead, widely believed to be based on Wallace) face off for the affections of the reader. Boswell also made the simple but poignant point that the trope of suicide in Wallace’s work should not be conflated with Wallace’s actual suicide, which, of course, is not a trope, but a real life, tragic event.

 

15:15 Wallace the auteur / Questions of reading and writing I

 

Tim Groenland spoke of the wraith in Infinite Jest as the return of the putatively dead author, and Jackie O’Dell suggested that the same book’s titular cartridge was a play on the anxiety between serious art and entertainment. In question and answer session following their talks, the two scholars touched on the paradox that, for a writer who seemingly subscribes to the death of the author theory (except, maybe in ‘Greatly Exaggerated’), Wallace was obsessive about controlling the way he was read.

 

 

 

Friday, September 12


Institut du monde anglophone, Sorbonne-Nouvelle


9:30 Influences and transmissions I

 

Calvin Thomas is the author of a book called Male Matters, a copy of which he apparently sent to Wallace. Thomas then proceeded to suggest that Wallace’s story ‘The Suffering Channel’ was influenced by same. Although this sounds, on paper at least, like the musings of someone who is – okay, I’ll say it – up themselves, Thomas delivered his talk in a humorous and self-deprecating manner. He also gets extra credit for explaining the origins of the term ‘front bottom’ to replace vagina. Would have been an absolute ripper to have walked into half way through.

 

Stephanie Lambert examined something of the differences between postmodernism and post postmodernism, a subject that will no doubt inform not just Wallace scholarship, but academic thinking more widely, for some time to come. Really won me over when she dragged one of my favourite philosophers, Henri Lefebvre, into the proceedings.

 

Lefteris Kalospyros and Kostas Kaltsas teamed up to talk about Wallace and Pynchon, making the excellent point that comparisons of the two writers are everywhere, but little attention has been paid to the details of the similarities. Kaltsas gets extra credit for being the only presenter that I know of at Infinite Wallace to have the last line of Infinite Jest tattooed on his forearm.

 

11: 15 Influences and transmissions II


The paper presented by Tore Andersen was an absolute hoot. I don’t need to say too much more about this as I believe it will be making an appearance on this very website.


Daniel Mattingly was one of the few scholars here who spoke about influence from the other direction: namely the writers Wallace has inspired. Special mention needs to be made of the fact that Mattingly was due to submit his PhD on the Thursday following the conference. A superhuman effort, really.

 

Pater Waldstein was the only monk to present at Infinite Wallace. ‘Nuff said? Probably. But it’s also worth noting he was one of the only people to mention Wallace’s undergraduate thesis, his non-fiction book Everything and More and Franzen’s (some would say horrible) Kenyon College commencement speech.


14:30 Post-secular Wallace? I

 

Christopher Kocela spoke eloquently on Wallace and Buddhism. This, for me, marked a real turning point in the conference overall, a bit of a Light Bulb Above the Head moment when the idea that Wallace Studies could potentially go anywhere seemed to really take hold.

 

To wit: Jason Ford spent a good deal of time examining minor characters from Wallace’s work. Steeply and Marathe’s wife fromInfinite Jest were two examples.


16:15 Post-secular Wallace? II


David Hering is arguably one of the world’s leading Wallace scholars, and his talk was commensurate with this lofty status. Hering began by dragging Russian high literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin into the proceedings, and your hapless reporter’s head started to ache. But pens went almost unanimously to notebooks when Hering mentioned that he’d recently discovered in the archives that Hal was originally called Dave in an earlier draft of Infinite Jest. Then the speaker and Adam Kelly, another superstar Wallace guy, got into some ultra interesting back and forth during the Q&A, and wannabes like me just kind of cowered.


19:00 In an evening presentation, Bill Lattanzi, a native of Boston, took us on a psychogeographic tour of the town where Wallace’s most famous book is, of course, set. With a slide show to absolutely die for, and your reporter’s already well-documented interest in Situationism, the words pig in shit come to mind. What a way to end day two!

 

 


Saturday, September 13


École normale supérieure


10:00 David Foster Wallace and philosophy I


Michell Cunningham discussed allegory in ‘The Soul is Not a Smithy’ and proved that Australian Wallace scholarship is indeed alive and well, and up there with anything else from any other part of the world.


Camus got a guernsey when Jacopo Cozzi started talking up Wallace as ‘The Rebel’.


11:15 David Foster Wallace and philosophy II


Hadrien Laroche is one of France’s leading writers, and it was a real pleasure to hear his take on DFW.


Lee Konstantinou is another Wallace superstar and somehow managed to answer the question: What is a Turdnagel?


16:15 Humor, Sentiment, Communion II


Ralph Clare took a seriously left field view of Wallace scholarship, some of which has been examined in earlier posts here and here.


Mary Holland See earlier post.


Adam Kelly Ibid.

 

 

-Tony McMahon

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Last Updated on Monday, 29 September 2014 02:16
 

Random Factoids 3: On Translations, Translators and Gately

RANDOM FACTOIDS /3 : On Translations, Translators and Gately

-Ariane Mak

Here’s a (way too) small selection of some interesting or funny things which were said during the Paris conference, during presentations or in their margins.


 

*** Infinite Jest Spoiler Warning - To those of you involved in a group read right now... beware! ***

 

 

 

 

The Translator’s insight: Gately’s fate at the end of Infinite Jest

During one of the very stimulating talks I had with Laura Kreyder during the Paris conference, we discussed the ambiguity of Gately’s fate at the end of the novel. Laura told me a very interesting anecdote recounted by Edoardo Nesi, one of the Italian translators of Infinite Jest 1, in his acclaimed book, Storia della mia gente.  


Many thanks to Laura for sending me the aforementioned page of Nesi’s book and for summarising it to me!


When Wallace came to Capri, Nesi asked Martina Testa, one of Wallace’s Italian translators, to ask him whether Gately died at the end of IJ or not.

Wallace answered: “I had a first draft version where D.G. died, but this version had terrible problems… So I think it is truer that he doesn’t die (there are three hints in the definite version that he doesn’t die).”

Gately’s fate remains of course open to interpretations. (But what are these three hints? Laura and I could only track two of them…) 

I am sure this anecdote is well known by Italian readers and by many in the DFW community but I had never heard of it. And it strengthened my belief that DFW’s translators have a lot to tell us about his work, and not only those who had the chance to discuss with Wallace. Immersed as they are in his writing (Ulrich Blumenbach spent six years translating Infinite Jest into German for instance), they surely have made many discoveries and came up with new analysis we readers would be eager to hear.

 

Translating DFW

I was very excited to meet Jill McCoy at the Paris conference, who assisted Charles Recoursé on the translation of some tricky sections of the Pale King, and Eric Guéant who discovered DFW through these French translations.

We were reminded at the conference that David Foster Wallace had declared that Infinite Jest was “untranslatable”. It is certainly an immense challenge to say the least: dialects, at times wrong Québécois French, idiosyncratic expressions, professional jargon and slang, neologisms, puns… French readers are all the more eager to discover the French translation of Infinite Jest, which should be published around September 2015 at the Editions de l’Olivier. The novel appears to be in good hands with Francis Kerline who has already masterfully translated Will Self, Jonathan Lethem and Jonathan Franzen.

Readers discussed a lot during the conference about which title the French translation might adopt: “La plaisanterie infinie”, “La farce sans fin”, “L’infini divertissement”?  To preserve the reference to Hamlet, one could turn to French translations of the famous sentence “Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio, a fellow of infinite jest” 2 . We would then get “L’infinie gaieté” 3, “la drôlerie infinie” 4. But none of these seem to be a satisfying solution. The title chosen for the German translation was “Unendlicher Spass”, which translates into “Unending Fun/Happiness” 5, while the Italian version kept “Infinite Jest” which appears to be quite common in Italy 6.

The difficulty of translating DFW’s French Québécois also popped up several times during the conference, as well as the difficult rendering of the numerous American references. Aili Pettersson Peeker, a grad student who came all the way from Sweden to attend the conference, told me for instance that the Swedish translation of This is Water had erased many American references as well as many hints that the text was a speech, at times excluding whole chunks of text altogether. Learn more about this by reading her very interesting analysis of the Swedish translation 7- The United States in Swedish: How to Translate the Untranslatable (pdf).

What is certain is that French readers have plenty DFW books to discover in the meantime. Tout et plus encore: une histoire compacte de l’infini (Everything and more) has been published this year by éditions Ollendorff & Desseins. Otherwise most of Wallace’s work have been published at Le Diable Vauvert: La fonction du Balai (The Broom of the System), La fille aux cheveux étranges (Girl with Curious Hair), Brefs entretiens avec des hommes hideux (Brief Interviews with Hideous Men), Un truc soi-disant super auquel on ne me reprendra pas (A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again), Le Roi Pâle (The Pale King), C’est de l’eau (This is Water).

Charles Recoursé who translated many of these books, said that translating The Pale King “means major difficulties in each page, moral dilemmas every five minutes, never-ending notes.”

He just finished translating Lipsky’s road trip/interview with Wallace, Although of course you end up becoming yourself. I’m very eager to discover his French translation, Même si, en fin de compte, on devient évidemment soi-même – out this month!

 

-Ariane Mak

1. The three Italian translators of Infinite Jest are Edoardo Nesi, Annalisa Villoresi and Grazia Giua.
2. Véronique Thireau Aldridge and Nick Aldridge, who are currently working on a new translation of Hamlet into French, pointed to the parallel between “a fellow of infinite jest” and “a king of infinite space” (Hamlet, II, 2). They also highlighted that “infinite” and the king’s fool/jester were both solar attributes in opposition with the saturnine themes of melancholia, and darkness. Many thanks to both of them for these stimulating remarks!
3. François-Victor Hugo translated the sentence into « Hélas ! pauvre Yorick ! Je l’ai connu, Horatio ! – C’était un garçon d’une gaieté infinie » (1865)
4. « (…) d’une drôlerie infinie », translation by Jean-Michel Déprats (2002)
5. Many thanks to Jill and Christian from the conference!
6. Infinite Jest has been translated into Spanish as La Broma Infinita (The Infinite Joke) and in Portuguese as A Piada Infinita (tThe Infinite Joke but also its result: The Infinite Entertainment).
7. A comment by Aili regarding this text: "Please note that it was written as a university assignment and that some of the parts might not make very much sense to someone not in that particular class. The assignment was part of the examination in a "world lit" class, so we had to refer to all the literature (both primary and secondary) of the course. Hence the crammed in, sometimes very stretched, references to theorists and novels."

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Last Updated on Monday, 29 September 2014 01:43
 

Random Factoids 2: Turdnagels, Ghosts and Autism

RANDOM FACTOIDS /2: Turdnagels, Ghosts and Autism - Paris 2014

-Ariane Mak


Here’s a (way too) small selection of some interesting or funny things which were said during the Paris conference, during presentations or in their margins.


Ghostwriters in the machine

David Hering explored motifs of possession and the “narrating ghost” from The Broom of the System to Oblivion. He showed that these leitmotivs were associated with a concern over the authenticity of the speaking voice and anxieties of influence, symbolised by possession and counter-possession. 

The theme of “ownership” is central to The Broom of the System and becomes a leitmotiv of ontological anxiety in “Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way” [GWCH]. And while Infinite Jest is the novel where the motif first appears in earnest with Jim’s wraith, an initial draft of the text also included the first occurrence of the author’s metapresence. Indeed, in the conversationalist scene, which was among the first written by Wallace, “Hal” was initially named “David”. “The Soul is Not A Smithy” [Oblivion: Stories] then presented a “dramatizing of linguistic possession” before multiple sites of possession appeared in “Good Old Neon” [Oblivion: Stories] (which weaves motifs of ghost, ghostwriter and metapresence).    

David Hering’s analysis of The Pale King was particularly stimulating. His study of the archives at the Harry Ransom Center revealed the importance of the phantom motif in the initial narrative structure for The Pale King. He examined one of the first versions of the novel demonstrating that it was to be narrated by a ghost. In this initial draft, IRS agent Shane Drinion is also a porn actor nicknamed “Sir John Feelgood” whose face is systematically digitally replaced by that of any viewer. David Hering suggested that this draft might have become “Good Old Neon” [Oblivion: Stories] and showed that at one point the novel was supposed to be narrated by both a ghost and a ghostwriter, “before these elements evolved into the more familiar metafictional structure that is present in the published text.”


What is a Turdnagel?

Listening to Lee Konstantinou’s paper we discovered (at last!) what a Turdnagel was and, more importantly, why this was actually a key question.

“Turdnagel” was the name of one of Wallace’s dogs, one of his email handles too.
But, above all, we know “turdnagels” as a special class of IRS employees in The Pale King. They basically extract and put data in computer systems and, as Lee Konstantinou stressed, are known for being very tight-knit and exclusives:

“I had come to a paragraph in the book [How to make people like you: An Instant Recipe for Career Success] that explicitly recommended loud laughter at someone in a group’s joke as being more or less an automatic way to signal or invite inclusion in that group […]. The turdnagels, though, never turned their heads or even acknowledged my laughter, which was definitely loud enough to be audible even against the background noise.” The Pale King.

Where does the term come from? Lee Konstantinou traced the first occurrence to Don DeLillo who uses it in Players as an obscure piece of slang. 

But drawing on The Pale King notebooks at the Harry Ransom Center, Lee’s presentation showed that Wallace actually connected the expression with American philosopher Thomas Nagel.

His work is concerned with “the human capacity to view the world in a detached way, and argues that analytic philosophy has become too prone to objectification”. In his famous 1974 essay “What is it like to be a bat?” Nagel examines “the subjective character of experience”. To put it very simply, we can’t really imagine “what it is like to be a bat” because we are rooted in our own perspective and our own perception. 


Thomas Nagel

The presentation showed that Nagel’s philosophical work resonated deeply with some of the central themes in the “John Feelgood drafts” of The Pale King mentioned earlier: abstracting yourself from your own desire, the irreducibility of subjectivity, the risk of solipsism and transformation of person into persona. What is a turdnagel then? What we become when we ignore subjectivity and are in perpetual war with our ghost.

By tracing Nagel’s influence on DFW's work, the presentation challenged the paradigm according to which Wallace’s interest in philosophy had mostly been an early preoccupation, dating from the time he was an undergraduate at Amherst College, and progressively superseded by his commitment to humanistic concerns. Lee Konstantinou demonstrated that DFW was still vigorously engaging with philosophy when he wrote The Pale King, although maybe in a subtler way than in The Broom of the System (which, according to Wallace himself, wore its philosophical references on its sleeve).


Autism and Posthuman Empathy

Ralph Clare picked up on the numerous Wallacian characters who could be situated at one point or another on the autism spectrum.

The autistic Lunt of “Little Expressionless Animals” [also GWCH], the seemingly cold doctor Kate Gompert meets in Infinite Jest and Mario come to mind.


Some characters point specifically towards Asperger syndrome: J.O.I.; Hal and his ability to consume tons of data, even if it is DMZ-induced [But is it? - Nick}; Sylvanshine, the “fact psychic” who can’t control the flow of data that surges onto his mind. [And one might add Avril Incandenza as obsessive behaviours have long been considered traits of autism.]


Even Wallace himself seems to have displayed some traits of Asperger syndrome. He apparently joked about it, saying that he was “semi-autistic”.

Ralph Clare connected this with Wallace’s posthuman paradigm which he defined in these terms: “Paul Giles has argued that David Foster Wallace is a “sentimental posthumanist” whose work admits to the fact that media, technology, and global networks have irreversibly fractured and complicated one-time notions of human identity, while nonetheless still exploring human affectivity, emotion, and longing as they persist within such techno-environments.”

These characters’ relation to data as well as their difficulties with human connection address the posthuman paradigm. But some of The Pale King characters seem to point towards a novel conception of the posthuman for Wallace, one that suggests a more radical mode of empathetic behaviour. Mario is deeply empathetic; Fogle possesses a secret sequence of numbers which gives him the power of total concentration; Drinion is depicted as a great listener despite his computer-like way of thinking.
All these suggest a new understanding of the autistic traits as potential qualities to better negotiate “what it is to be a fucking human being”. 


Still more "random factoids" to come!

-Ariane Mak

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Cover Suggestions for Critical Insights: David Foster Wallace

Philip Coleman is editing a new volume of essays about David Foster Wallace for the Critical Insights series and he's after cover ideas. See below for information about the contents and the great field of writers lined up for this collection (cross-posted from Wallace-l with Philip's permission). If you can help out email him at philipcoleman[at]hotmail.com, over to Philip:

Hi everyone,

I'm editing a new volume of essays on DFW for the Critical Insights series published by Salem Press/Grayhouse Publishing. The book will be out next Spring, and I'm happy to share the final table of contents here (see below). I'll provide more details, with titles of essays, in a few weeks.

For now, though, I was wondering if I could get the help of the Wallace-l community in choosing a cover image for the book. Ideally I'd like a previously unpublished photograph (high res) of Wallace, which could be used without cost, but other suggestions will also be considered. Time is tight, but if anyone has any suggestions, including personal art/photography, feel free to send them to me directly at philipcoleman[at]hotmail.com.

Cheers,

Philip

Critical Insights: David Foster Wallace
Table of Contents
About this volume (up to 2,000 words)  Philip Coleman

Career, Life, and Influence
On David Foster Wallace (5,000 words)  Philip Coleman
Biography of David Foster Wallace (2,000 words)  Philip Coleman

Critical Contexts
Critical Reception  Adam Kelly
Cultural and Historical Context  Kiki Benzon
Critical Lens  Clare Hayes-Brady
Compare/Contrast  Mark Sheridan

Critical Readings
1.    Aisling O’Gara on The Broom of the System
2.    Steven Gronert Ellerhoff on Girl With Curious Hair
3.    David Hering on Infinite Jest
4.    Alex Resar on Infinite Jest
5.    David Coughlan on Brief Interviews with Hideous Men
6.    Charles Nixon on Oblivion
7.    Ron Callan on A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again
8.    Ira Nadel on later non-fiction
9.    Tim Groenland on The Pale King
10.   Jorge Araya on The Pale King and race
11.   Áine Mahon on DFW and philosophy
12.   Aengus Woods on Everything & More and infinity

Resources
Chronology of David Foster Wallace’s Life  Philip Coleman
Works by David Foster Wallace  Philip Coleman
Bibliography  Adam Kelly

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Last Updated on Monday, 22 September 2014 22:16
 

Random Factoids 1 - Zen Buddhism and Pynchon

RANDOM FACTOIDS /1 : Zen Buddhism and Pynchon


Roger Federer, 12 Sept. 2014, Geneva. REUTERS/Denis Balihouse.

-Ariane Mak

Here’s a (way too) small selection of some interesting or funny things which were said during the Paris conference, during presentations or in their margins.

Zen Buddhism and Tennis

Strangely enough, we learned from Christopher Kocela that Zen Buddhism was one of Wallace’s favourite comparisons when talking about sports.

In “Derivative Sport in Tornado Alley”, Wallace mentions “my Zen-like acceptance of things as they were on court”.  In “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again”, he says that “3P Winston and I have both reached that level of almost Zen-like Ping-Pong mastery where the game kind of plays us”. And what about Coach Schtitt’s advice to see the net and the opponent as “allies in the quest for self transcendence”?

We knew already from reading D.T. Max’s biography that DFW had abruptly left his two-week meditation retreat with Zen Master Thich Nhat Hahn in Plum village, France, supposedly because he was unsatisfied with the food (!).

But Christopher Kocela’s paper brought new light on the relationship between meditation and Wallace’s writing practice. By showing the importance of Buddhist themes on Wallace’s earliest journalism and on IJ, he also challenged the idea that Wallace’s fiction had shifted from a focus on the critique of irony (“E Unibus Pluram”) to a focus on commitment and belief (This is Water).


“The – the – the “P” guy comes into mind”


“I bristle sometimes at getting compared to […] these classic postmodern guys. The - the – the “P” guy comes into mind. I won’t even say his name”, said Wallace in 1997.

How indeed did Thomas Pynchon become the recurring postmodern model to which Wallace was almost systematically compared? According to numerous reviewers, The Broom of the System held many resemblances to The Crying of Lot 49 and Infinite Jest was hailed as a second Gravity’s Rainbow.    

Tore Andersen provided a fascinating answer to this question.
He showed that these Pynchon-comparisons were born from Wallace’s publishers’ presentations of his books to readers and marketing strategies. In other words, they are to be traced to the paratexts (Genette)- blurbs, book descriptions, dust jackets- of Wallace’s work.






Many thanks to Tore Andersen for sharing these pictures with us!

One example was particularly telling: the strong similarities between Michiko Kakutani’s review of the Broom of the System, and Viking’s description of the book.

From its opening pages onward through its enigmatic
ending, ''The Broom of the System'' will remind readers
of ''The Crying of Lot 49'' by Thomas Pynchon.

-Michiko Kakutani’s review of The Broom of the System, The New York Times, Dec 1986.

The inventiveness, reach, and fine disdain for 'reality' of this novel will remind many readers of the works of John Irving, Vladmir Nabokov, John Barth, and especially the Thomas Pynchon of The Crying of Lot 49.

-Viking’s dust jacket of The Broom of the System.

 

Viking’s description of the Broom of the System

In that sense Tore Andersen contended that the paratext had acted as blinkers.
Indeed Wallace wrote to Franzen that he was actually glad everyone focused on Pynchon because it meant that people wouldn’t see how much the book took from DeLillo. To Tore Andersen, the DeLillo comparisons were in fact delayed by Pynchon’s massive presence in the (editorial) paratext of Wallace’s work.

He concluded with a spot on remark on the fact that since Wallace’s death in 2008, Pynchon had been almost completely absent of the paratext (with no more mention of him on the blurbs and book covers of The Pale King, Both Flesh and Not or This is Water).

To me, Tore’s brilliant paper pertains to a new trend in Wallace studies which favours the analysis of paratext but also “avant texte” (drafts and marginalia) to offer a new oblique reading of DFW’s work.

More “random factoids” to come.

-Ariane Mak

Download Tore Andersen's paper here: t_andersen_talk.docx

Download Tore Andersen's slides here: t_andersen_slides.pptx

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Last Updated on Monday, 22 September 2014 22:26
 

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

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Last Updated on Friday, 19 September 2014 08:36
 
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