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]
“I think I’m supposed to buck up and be the professional widow,” she says, with another quick laugh, “and I have found that very hard. Very hard. I mean one day you are a couple living in a little house and watching The Wire box-set for the third time, and letting the dogs do their antic stuff, and then suddenly you are supposed to be functioning as the great writer’s widow. That wasn’t how we lived when David was alive. I felt about him like I would if I had been married to a sweet school teacher. So I ignored everything for a long time. Until now, really.”
— Karen Green talks about David Foster Wallace and a lot of other things.
One surprise was the number of popular self-help books in the collection, and the care and attention with which he read and reread them. I mean stuff of the best-sellingest, Oprah-level cheesiness and la-la reputation was to be found in Wallace’s library. Along with all the Wittgenstein, Husserl and Borges, he read John Bradshaw, Willard Beecher, Neil Fiore, Andrew Weil, M. Scott Peck and Alice Miller. Carefully.
— Maria Bustillos looks through the DFW collection at the University of Texas and explores his notes on self-help books. She says other stuff, too, and it’s all worth a read.
AHHHHH. Somebody has read “The Pale King,” and that somebody reviewed it in Publishers Weekly. They call it “an unfinished novel,” which, yeah. Quoth: “It is, however, one hell of a document and a valiant tribute to the late Wallace, being, as it is, a transfixing and hyper-literate descent into relentless, inescapable despair and soul-negating boredom.” AHH. April 15, people. April 15.
This week’s New Yorker has new fiction from David Foster Wallace. New fiction! DFW! Enjoy:
Every whole person has ambitions, objectives, initiatives, goals. This one particular boy’s goal was to be able to press his lips to every square inch of his own body.
His arms to the shoulders and most of his legs beneath the knee were child’s play. After these areas of his body, however, the difficulty increased with the abruptness of a coastal shelf. The boy came to understand that unimaginable challenges lay ahead of him. He was six.
Actually, I don’t understand the whole concept of form and forms very well, nor the various ways different forms and genres get distinguished and classified. Nor do I much care, really. My basic MO is that I tend to start and/or work on a whole lot of different things at the same time, and at a certain point they either come alive (to me) or they don’t. Well over half of them do not, and I lack the discipline/fortitude to work for very long on something that feels dead, so they get abandoned, or put in a trunk, or stripped for parts for other things. It’s all rather chaotic, or feels that way to me.
— I could link to DFW interviews all goddamn day, every day, for forever. Anyway, here’s Dave Eggers interviewing David Foster Wallace in 2003.
I don’t have much to add to this excellent story in the Chronicle of Higher Education about how academics have been studying David Foster Wallace in earnest since his untimely suicide in 2008. But this is a particularly choice quote: “Wallace’s status has rapidly evolved from marginal writer, noted for long, experimental work, to indispensable reference point for people writing about almost anything—from college football to WikiLeaks,” said Stephen Burn, an English professor editing a collection of articles about Wallace.
It’s particularly worth noting because as the years go on, you’re going to keep seeing a lot of writers who were introduced to Wallace in the 1990s and 2000s emerge into more and more of the mainstream. If somebody read “Infinite Jest” a decade ago and now they’re writing about, say, college football, of course there’s going to be something that’s going to remind them of something Wallace wrote. He’s that kind of writer: he seemed to say everything about everything (and no, that was not a jab at his wordiness, which I never found off-putting).
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.
The first issue of Rolling Stone hit newsstands 43 years ago this week. This seems like a perfectly reasonable time to complain about how the magazine has become a parody of itself, a neverending parade of celebrity skin and alternately fawning coverage of trifling new acts and hagiographical reminiscences of The Good Old days, while still intermittently producing interesting reportage as well as stories that actually effect change and have real world consequences (and then there’s this DFW story on John McCain circa 2000 that I can’t find online for some reason, but it’s great). And there’s a lot of angry Matt Taibbi, if you’re into that sort of thing.
But I’m just not feeling that right now. This was a magazine of substance, once upon a time. This was an important magazine, once upon a time. It is still occasionally important, as this summer showed. Obviously its most famous luminary was Hunter Thompson, gone five years now. The next time you spot it in a bookstore and the cover screams “THE 73 BEST GUITAR SOLOS, 1973-1976,” at least you’ll know how long they’ve been doing that.