“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.
Just as this lumpy but often stirring new novel emerges as a kind of bookend to “Infinite Jest,” so it demonstrates that being amused to death and bored to death are, in Wallace’s view, flip sides of the same coin. Perhaps, he writes, “dullness is associated with psychic pain because something that’s dull or opaque fails to provide enough stimulation to distract people from some other, deeper type of pain that is always there,” namely the existential knowledge “that we are tiny and at the mercy of large forces and that time is always passing and that every day we’ve lost one more day that will never come back.”
Happiness, Wallace suggests in a Kierkegaardian note at the end of this deeply sad, deeply philosophical book, is the ability to pay attention, to live in the present moment, to find “second-by-second joy + gratitude at the gift of being alive.”
Although “The Pale King” was pieced together by Wallace’s editor Michael Pietsch from pages and notes that the author left behind when he committed suicide in 2008, it feels less like an incomplete manuscript than a rough-edged digest of the themes, preoccupations and narrative techniques that have distinguished his work from the beginning. After all, Wallace always disdained closure, and this volume showcases his embrace of discontinuity; his fascination with both the meta and the microscopic, postmodern pyrotechnics and old-fashioned storytelling; and his ongoing interest in contemporary America’s obsession with self-gratification and entertainment.
— Michiko Kakutani on “The Pale King.”
John Jeremiah Sullivan delves into DFW and “The Pale King,” and I am trying to avoid devouring this story out of the fear that it will spoil a single word or syllable in the forthcoming book. That’s going to be tough. If you are interested in such a read, here it is.
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).
If you’re always late filing your taxes, don’t fret! The IRS has announced that they have extended the filing deadline to April 18. I swear, my first thought was, “Does this mean they’ll change the release date for ‘The Pale King’?” I might have a problem.
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.