I’ll be honest. I think of myself as a fiction writer. I’m real interested in fiction, and all elements of fiction. Fiction’s more important to me. So I’m also I think more scared and tense about fiction, more worried about my stuff, more worried about whether I’m any good or not, or I’m on the wrong track or not.
Whereas the thing that was fun about a lot of the nonfiction is, you know, it’s not that I didn’t care, but it was just mostly like, yeah, I’ll try this. I’m not an expert at it. I don’t pretend to be. It’s not particularly important to me whether the magazine, you know, even takes the thing I do or not. And so it was just more, I guess the nonfiction seems a lot more like play. For me.
—From an interview Tom Scocca did with David Foster Wallace in 1998.
Seth Colter Walls takes a look through the David Foster Wallace archives at the University of Texas at Austin, peeking at childhood writing, notations on works by Joyce and other authors, materials from classes he taught and looks at excised bits from early drafts of Infinite Jest. Unsurprisingly, the archives look utterly fascinating, even to someone like me who was always more partial to DFW’s essays/journalism than his fiction. Do go take a gander.
Predictably, I’m interested in a Jonathan Franzen interview just to see what he has to say about David Foster Wallace. From the Onion A.V. Club:
A.V. CLUB: Was any of this book informed by observing his struggle with depression? Was any of it finished in time for him to read?
FRANZEN: [Pauses.] I actually didn’t need Dave to have some experience with the ins and outs of non-major hospitalized depression, but nonetheless, I know a thing or two about it. I did not need to consult with Dave about it. Dave—it’s a funny thing. The book was just getting going. I finally wrote the first pages for the book the days he was making his real first serious suicide attempt in the summer of 2008. He was not in the position to be reading anything that summer. But the book got written, to some extent, in emotional response to his death, certainly.
You should read the whole thing, if you are so inclined.
I’ve written before about David Foster Wallace’s 2005 commencement address at Kenyon College (of course, so has half of the Internet). It’s a really great speech and even if Wallace isn’t your particular brand of whiskey, I highly recommend giving it a read.
But if you don’t feel like reading it, perhaps you’d enjoy this short film created by the folks over at The Glossary. It doesn’t cover the entire speech, instead using an audio excerpt to bring some of it to life:
You can listen to audio of the entire address here.
There were other things to focus on today, but I did want to note that it was the fourth anniversary of David Foster Wallace’s death. It feels like there’s been quite a lot of D.F.W. love online recently — even moreso than usual, or at least coming in a more concentrated period of time due to the publication of D.T. Max’s recent biography of the late writer. All of the excerpts, related articles and other discussions this has spurred are like catnip to someone like me. (The New Yorker‘s Page Turner blog has hosted some great, engaging stuff.) I’ve previously posted some of my favorite Wallace stories here, so you can dig through these archives if you are so inclined.
This week’s edition of Newsweek is drawing quite a bit of criticism, mostly because of that error-ridden, comically incorrect cover story by Niall Ferguson. But apparently there are other things in the magazine, stories that aren’t riddled with mistakes and intentional obfuscations.
One such story: An excerpt from D.T. Max’s forthcoming David Foster Wallace biography. That’s a worthwhile story! It’s just a shame it had to run in Newsweek during one of Tina Brown’s more successful “How can we get attention this week, and remember I will accept any and all suggestions, no matter how journalistically flawed?” gambits. (Another example: David Ansen’s story about “The Master.” That is also a story worth reading.)
Max wrote about DFW for the New Yorker following the author’s 2008 suicide. His book, “Every Love Story Is A Ghost Story,” comes out on Aug. 30.
Read obituaries. They are just like biographies, only shorter. They remind us that interesting, successful people rarely lead orderly, linear lives.
Okay, so you have probably seen this already, as it has been online for days and quickly reached maximum Internet exposure because everybody already posted it on Facebook and tweeted it and emailed it. But some of us only just saw it! Some of us saved it to read later and then we forgot and then the Heat game was on, and the next thing we knew we had forgotten to read that thing everybody had already seen and shared.
So I’m going to share it again because hey, maybe you also missed it, maybe you just didn’t see it because it’s a big bad Internet out there and sometimes you get caught up in things and miss that one item everybody has already seen. Here’s that list of things your commencement speaker won’t tell you, and it really is quite good if you haven’t read it already. (I particularly like the lowered expectations: “I am not asking you to cure cancer. I am just asking you not to spread it.”)
I don’t remember a single thing my commencement speaker said. Not a word. Probably something about graduation? Not really sure. But since it is graduation time for many students, I will also link to two of my favorite commencement addresses: Conan O’Brien’s speech to Harvard students in 2000 and David Foster Wallace’s famous “This Is Water” address to Kenyon College in 2005. (Here’s audio of the DFW speech, if you’d rather listen.)
And he refers to him as “D².” It’s delightful.
David Foster Wallace, who took his own life on Sept. 12, 2008, would have turned 50 today. I was going to spend a frankly ridiculous amount of time combing the Internet for the best and sharpest DFW links, which I really need no excuse to do, but this Awl post does a wonderful job of rounding up the best things to read, watch and listen to on this occasion. (These moving reminiscences were new to me, for instance.)
As I said, I need no excuse to wander down the rabbit hole of DFW-related errata sprinkled across the Internet. But today, when this great writer would have, could have and should have turned 50, the excuse will do.
Update: Another worthwhile link, which guides you to many of his stories and essays.
Today in Incredibly Distressing News (for a very particular subset of the population): Jonathan Franzen was interviewed by David Remnick at the recent New Yorker Festival. According to Eric Alterman, Franzen up and dropped the H-bomb of astonishing revelations (I might be exaggerating a bit, but it’s certainly a cataclysmic shock for a certain, relatively small, number of people):
Anyway, it was all pretty interesting, but the moment of actual drama came when Franzen was discussing David Foster Wallace and told Remnick that Wallace felt free to make stuff up for his non-fiction, including, particularly his famous cruise piece for Harper’s….But anyway, I’m not sure Franzen should have said it, and Remnick appeared awfully surprised, but he also mentioned that Wallace never published any non-fiction in The New Yorker.
The cruise story is among Wallace’s most famous works of journalism. Jonathan Franzen was very close with Wallace and has spoken (and written) about his late friend several times since Wallace died in 2008. I can’t speak for Franzen’s mindset and don’t know why he chose to share this particular tidbit, but I can speak as a Wallace fan and say this gives me the vapors (yes, saying the fantods would have been too cliched).
Now we clearly need to know more about what Franzen means. If this is true, we have to ask: What did Wallace make up? Did he exaggerate his own mindset during his recollections, or did he invent wholesale details and anecdotes? Simply saying that Wallace felt free to make stuff up leaves an incredible amount of information unspecified, and considering the import and impact of Wallace’s work it is rather important to clarify this.
(Also — again, if this is true, and considering Franzen’s relationship with Wallace there’s no reason to doubt him — this is a huge bummer. It doesn’t matter if countless other writers do it. It doesn’t even matter if he fictionalized very little, or made stuff up only that one time. It’s just a bummer to hear. If it’s true, obviously.)
[The Nation via Vulture]