ZDF: California can be pretty depressing, especially if you're on your way to David Foster Wallace, a literary genius, no matter how strange that may sound. He lives somewhere in a less populated area of California. How he looks like? Who could answer that question? He still has this picture from his youth printed on his books.
ZDF: Wallace hates interviews. Two days ago he was actually planning to cancel on us. To visit him at home? Impossible. His two dogs are supposed to be feared for their fierceness.
ZDF: (Elevator-scene) Against all expectation, on 3 a.m. sharp David Foster Wallace leaves the elevator of the hotel he had suggested for our meeting. Accepting the harsh fate of being interviewed by us now. Somehow, we had pictured him differently. Wilder. Less timid. Despite the grotesque and vulgar way in which he paints the world, Wallace is no cynic. One almost never experiences anyone wearing himself down for the truth.
ZDF: (TV-sequence) That's the universe of many of his characters. Old and desperate people, who give anything to distract themselves from their mortality, thus in effect truly failing their lives.
DFW: This is one enormous engine and temple of self-gratification and self-advancement, and in some ways it works very well. In other ways it doesn’t work all that well, because it, at least for me, it seems as if there are whole other parts…of me that need to worry about things larger than me, that don’t get nourished in that system.
ZDF: Suffering people populate Wallace's short stories and novels. Depressed and narcissist, hurt and reckless, unhappy, dying to be liked. Everyone is beyond salvation.
DFW: American economic and cultural systems that work very well, um, in terms of, in terms of selling people products and keeping the economy thriving, do not work as well when it comes to educating children or helping us help each other know how to live…and to be happy… if that word means anything. That feeling of having to obey every impulse and gratify every desire, is, it seems to me to be a strange kind of slavery. Nobody talks about it as such, though. [Everyone] talks about it as freedom of choice, and you have the right to have things.
ZDF: The stars as ego-monsters keep the entertainment-machine running, and keep looking down on all the others and their mediocre lives.
DFW: Here’s what’s really interesting, and I don’t know if you can translate this, talking about this now, I feel ashamed, because my saying all this sounds to me like an older person saying all this, like a person lecturing, which, in American culture, sets me up to be ridiculed. It’d be very easy to make fun of what I’m saying…, you know, be very easy to make fun of what I’m saying, and I can hear in my head a voice making fun of this as I’m saying it.
ZDF: The United States are a in a state of war. Cinematically, it stages its readiness. You're either with something or against something. There is no in-between in U.S. politics. Almost childish are their reactions to threats.
DFW: The country’s reaction to feeling frightened and insecure is to buy Sports Utility Vehicles that are large and massive and tank-like and make individual people feel safer.
DFW: And yet are voting for people who are deciding to go over and very possibly… kill hundreds of thousands of civilians in order to kill a few enemies. The speed with which it’s become, um, those bad people, those bad fanatics, they’re evil, what they really hate is our freedom, and our way of life, which is just hard to swallow, right, like who hates freedom? People hate people, not freedom. Not since I was a little boy and I worried about the US and the Soviet Union having an intercontinental, [Makes gesture indicating…rocket’s arc?] I remember…And this is totally personally, but I’m more scared of us.
ZDF: Wallace is writing at a time in which language has descended into banality and emotion into cliché. Wallace overcomes all this. And he has no illusions. Not even about himself.
DFW: Imagine this show were running on American TV and I were sitting in this hotel watching it, OK, and you’ve got this pointy-headed nerdy guy talking about this stuff, or I’ve got Pamela Anderson running on a beach or a hilarious comedy, which one am I gonna watch?
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