Tag Archives: David Foster Wallace

This Week’s Best Profile

From the DFW archive, Michael Joyce, tennis prodigy:

Michael Joyce will later say that Brakus “had a big serve, but the guy didn’t belong on a pro court.” Joyce didn’t mean this in an unkind way. Nor did he mean it in a kind way. It turns out what Michael Joyce says rarely has any kind of spin or slant on it; he mostly just reports what he sees, rather like a camera. You couldn’t even call him sincere, because it’s not like it seems ever to occur to him to try to be sincere or nonsincere. For a while, I thought that Joyce’s rather bland candor was a function of his not being very bright. This judgment was partly informed by the fact that Joyce didn’t go to college and was only marginally involved in his high school academics (stuff I know because he told me right away). What I discovered as the tournament wore on was that I can be kind of a snob and an asshole and that Michael Joyce’s affectless openness is not a sign of stupidity but of something else.

Esquire titled this “The String Theory.” DFW himself, in a later collection, titled it “Tennis Player Michael Joyce’s Professional Artistry as a Paradigm of Certain Stuff about Choice, Freedom, Discipline, Joy, Grotesquerie, and Human Completeness.”

Read the abridged Esquire text here. Buy this to get the full version.

Replacing Glimmerglass Eyes

The University of Texas recently landed the archive of David Foster Wallace. It seemed like a random location to me, until I read this, by D.T. Max in The New Yorker a few years back:

The Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, the literary archive of the University of Texas at Austin, contains thirty-six million manuscript pages, five million photographs, a million books, and ten thousand objects, including a lock of Byron’s curly brown hair. It houses one of the forty-eight complete Gutenberg Bibles; a rare first edition of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” which Lewis Carroll and his illustrator, John Tenniel, thought poorly printed, and which they suppressed; one of Jack Kerouac’s spiral-bound journals for “On the Road”; and Ezra Pound’s copy of “The Waste Land,” in which Eliot scribbled his famous dedication: “For E. P., miglior fabbro, from T. S. E.” Putting a price on the collection would be impossible: What is the value of a first edition of “Comus,” containing corrections in Milton’s own hand? Or the manuscript for “The Green Dwarf,” a story that Charlotte Brontë wrote in minuscule lettering, to discourage adult eyes, and then made into a book for her siblings? Or the corrected proofs of “Ulysses,” on which James Joyce rewrote parts of the novel? The university insures the center’s archival holdings, as a whole, for a billion dollars.

There are some delightful author-related nuggets. Here’s Don DeLillo:

The painstaking nature of DeLillo’s method can be seen in his drafts for “Underworld” (2001), which began as a novella, “Pafko at the Wall,” composed in 1991. He goes through a dozen pages to settle on the language of the opening two paragraphs, in which a Harlem teen-ager named Cotter Martin gets ready to jump the turnstile at the Polo Grounds to see the famous 1951 Dodgers-Giants playoff game. The first page in the folder already captures the agitated mentality of a hurrying city: “It’s a school day, sure, but he’s nowhere near the classroom. The longing to be here, standing in the shadow of this old rust-hulk of a structure, is too hard to resist—this metropolis.” DeLillo breaks off and starts again: “It’s a school day, sure, but he’s nowhere near the classroom, the box of forty blank faces.” He pauses, then alters the image to “the box of forty mismatched heads.” He returns to his original riff: “It’s a school day, sure, but he’s nowhere near the classroom and it’s not a matter of midweek blues.” Then he drops “midweek blues,” but introduces the idea of melancholy in a lovely pair of sentences: “Most longings go unfulfilled. This is the word’s wistful implication.” He transforms these two sentences into one: “Longing on a large scale is what makes history.”

Five years later, DeLillo turns to these words again, for the prologue to “Underworld.” He wants a new first paragraph to precede the earlier one. “Look at the kid with the empty pockets” becomes “Look at the kid with the lively eyes”; he then changes “lively eyes” to “glimmerglass eyes.” (Glimmerglass eyes? He amends it in pencil: “shine in his eyes.”) A few pages later, he returns to the image: “He speaks in your voice, American, and has a shine in his eyes that’s half hope, half fear.” DeLillo replaces the end of the sentence with the smoother “halfway hopeful.” After a few more tweaks, he has merged Bellow with Gershwin: “He speaks in your voice, American, and there’s a shine in his eye that’s halfway hopeful. It’s a school day, sure, but he’s nowhere near the classroom. He wants to be here instead, standing in the shadow of this old rust-hulk of a structure, and it’s hard to blame him—this metropolis of steel and concrete and flaky paint and cropped grass and enormous Chesterfield packs aslant on the scoreboards, a couple of cigarettes jutting from each. Longing on a large scale is what makes history.”

Red the full story here.

It’s best that you go some other way

From the newly-acquired David Foster Wallace library:

Have a lovely weekend; avoid Vikings where possible.

Infinite Words: The End

Well, thanks for sticking with my vanity project. I had fun. Hope you did too! Here’s a recap of everything in case you missed out on any. Back to intermittently scheduled blogging next week.

Infinite Words: An Introduction

Infinite Words #1: Individuals

Infinite Words #2: Sex!

Infinite Words #3: More Sex!

Infinite Words #4: Things You Learn In Rehab

Infinite Words #5: Tennis

Infinite Words #6: Sports

Infinite Words #7: Things

Infinite Words #8: Telephony

Infinite Words #9: Depression

Infinite Words #10: Celebrities

Infinite Words #11: Humanity

Infinite Words #12: Drugs

Infinite Words #13: Boston

Infinite Words #14: The Future

Infinite Words #15: The Rest

Infinite Words #15: The Rest

Here’s post No. 15 in the Infinite Words series. An explanation, if you missed it, is here. Buy the book here. Add your personal favorites in the comments.

We’re nearing the end of Infinite Words, and a few favorites couldn’t quite fit into any of the individual categories:

An afflated orgasm of the heart.

Title of an academic paper: ‘The Toothless Predator: Breast-Feeding as Sexual Assault”

Do not underestimate objects!

On America
‘We don’t force. It’s exactly about not-forcing, our history’s genius. You are entitled to your values of maximum pleasure. So long as you don’t fuck with mine. Are you seeing?’

Then, kind of horrifically, everyone in the room started milling around wildly and hugging each other. It was like somebody’d thrown a switch. There wasn’t even very much conversation. It was just hugging, as far as Erdedy could see. Rampant, indiscriminate hugging, where the point seemed to be to hug as many people as possible regardless of whether you’d ever seen them in your life. People went from person to person, arms out and leaning in. Big people stooped and short people got up on tiptoe. Jowls ground into other jowls. Both genders hugged both genders. And the male-to-male hugs were straight embraces, hugs minus the vigorous little thumps on the back that Erdedy’d always seen as somehow requisite for male-to-male hugs

Saying this is bad is like saying traffic is bad, or health-care surtaxes, or the hazards of annular fusion: nobody but Ludditic granola-crunching freaks would call bad what no one can imagine being without.

Gately thinks sadism is pronounced ‘saddism.’

It’s so nice to be able to end a sentence with a preposition when it’s easier.

Infinite Words #14: The Future

Here’s post No. 14 in the Infinite Words series. An explanation, if you missed it, is here. Buy the book here. Add your personal favorites in the comments.

As mentioned in the intro, many think DFW is a genius. And at a few moments during the novel, he does seem rather prescient:

The Libertarians chew their hands in envy as the Dems and G.O.P.s stood on either side watching dumbly, like doubles partners who each think the other’s surely got it; the two established mainstream parties split open along tired philosophical lines in a dark time when all landfills got full and all grapes were raisins and sometimes in some places the falling rain clunked instead of splatted, and also, recall, a post-Soviet and –Jihad era when – somehow even worse – there was no real Foreign Menace of any real unified potency to hate and fear, and the U.S. sort of turned on itself and its own philosophical fatigue and hideous redolent wastes with a spasm of panicked rage that in retrospect seems possible only in a time of geopolitical supremacy and consequent silence, the loss of any external Menace to hate and fear.

Magazines (already endangered by HD-video equivalents) got so full of those infuriating  little fall-out cards that Fourth-Class postal rates ballooned, making the e-mail of their video-equivalents that much more attractive in another vicious spiral.

A hidden bird twittered.

We can be thankful, however, that he was not right about everything:

Do I have trouble recalling certain intervals in the Kemp and Limbaugh administrations? No contest.

Infinite Words #13: Boston

Here’s post No. 13 in the Infinite Words series. An explanation, if you missed it, is here. Buy the book here. Add your personal favorites in the comments.

Anecdotal evidence suggests this blog has a reasonable number of readers with connections to the city of Boston. Infinite Jest takes place in Boston. Here’s some stuff about your city:

Harde, the well-loved old janitor was laid off from Boston College for contracting narcolepsy.

Enfield MA is one of the stranger little facts that make up the idea that is metro Boston, because it is a township composed almost entirely of medical corporate, and spiritual facilities. A kind of arm-shape extending north from Commonwealth Avenue and separating Brighton from Upper and Lower, its elbow nudging East Newton’s ribs and its fist sunk into Allston…with the whole flexed Enfield limb sleeved in a perimeter layer of light residential and mercantile properties.

A city where people beat each other to death in bars over stats and fealty.

Blanchard’s Liquors

Local argot for Storrow Drive, which runs along the Charles from the Back Bay out to Alewife, with multiple lanes and Escherian signs and On- and Off-ramps within car-lengths of each other and no speed limit and sudden forks and the overall driving experience is so forehead-drenching it’s in the metro Police Union’s contract they don’t have to go anywhere near it.