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David Foster Wallace News and Resources Since March 97

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Random Factoids 1 - Paris 2014

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

Last Updated on Saturday, 20 September 2014 03:41

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.”


Continue reading...


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.


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.


Continue reading...

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
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