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.

Infinite Words #12: Drugs

Here’s post No. 12 in the Infinite Words series. An explanation, if you missed it, is here. Buy the book here. Add your personal favorites in the comments.

Along with tennis and depression, drug abuse – related to the first two, perhaps – is a third pillar of Infinite Jest. Here’s some words on the subject:

[Dad had] that smell about him that later Matty’d know was malt liquor but at that age he and Mickey called something else, when they smelled it.

At a certain later age he started lying there when his Dad shook him and pretended to sleep on, even when the shakes go to where his teeth clacked together in a mouth that wore the slight smile Matty’d decided truly sleeping people’s faces always wore.

[He] once hit his wife so hard in the blackout that made him Come In he broke her nose and bent it over flat against her face, which he asked her never to have repaired, as a daily visual reminder of the depths drink sunk him to, so Mrs. O. had gone around with her nose bent over flat against her left check – Bud O.’d tagged her with a left cross – until U.H.I.D. referred her to AA, which eventually nurtured and supported Mrs. O into eventually telling Bud O. to take a flying fuck to the moon and getting her nose realigned back to the front and leaving him for a male AA in Birkenstock sandals.

[She was] awaiting sentencing for what she describes several times as operating a pharmaceutical company without a license.

Sudden substance-cravings will rise unbidden in a true addict’s mind like bubbles in a toddler’s bath.

Not to mention, according to some hard-line schools of 12-Step thought, yoga, reading, politics, gum-chewing, crossword puzzles, solitaire, romantic intrigue, charity work, political activism, N.R.A. membership, music, art, cleaning, plastic surgery, cartridge viewing even at normal distances, the loyalty of a fine dog, religious zeal, relentless helpfulness, relentless other-folks’-moral-inventory-taking, the development of hard-line schools of 12-Step thought, ad darn near infinitum, including 12-Step fellowships themselves, such that quiet tales sometimes go around the Boston AA community of certain incredibly advanced and hard-line recovering person who have pared away potential escape after potential escape until finally, as the stories go, they end up sitting in a bare chair, nude, in an unfurnished room, not moving but also not sleeping or meditating or abstracting, too advanced to stomach the thought of the potential emotional escape of abstracting, too advanced to stomach the thought of the potential emotional escape of doing anything whatsoever, and just end up sitting there completely motion- and escapeless until a long time later all that’s found in the empty chair is a very fine dusting of off-white ashy stuff that you can wipe away completely with like one damp paper towel.

Infinite Words #11: Humanity

Here’s post No. 11 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’ve covered characters in the book, and famous people. Now, several items related to human beings in general:

‘We’re all on each other’s food chain. All of us. It’s an individual sport. Welcome to the meaning of individual. We’re each deeply alone here. It’s what we all have in common, this aloneness.’

What metro Boston AAs are trite but correct about is that both destiny’s kisses and its dope-slaps illustrate an individual person’s basic personal powerlessness over the really meaningful events in his life: i.e. almost nothing important that ever happens to you happens because you engineer it. Destiny has no beeper; destiny always leans trenchcoated out of an alley with some sort of Psst that you usually can’t even hear because you’re in such a rush to or from something important you’ve tried to engineer.

He and Hal exchanged the very slight sorts of nods people use when they like each other past all need for politeness.

The day-shift nurse standing behind him and inclined over the back of the sofa to hold the monitor very carefully in place, the incline producing cleavage which Hal would gladly choose to be the sot of person not to note.

Life has kicked his ass…It’s like something terrible could happen at any time. Less fear than a kind of tension in the region of stomach and ass, an all-body wince.

If you asked Gately what he was feeling right this second he’d have no idea.

And then it’s stuck there, the weary cynicism that saves us from gooey sentiment and unsophisticated naivete.

The intercom calmly dinged. He heard conversing people in the hall passing the open door and stopping for a second to look in, but still conversing. It occurred to him if he died everybody would still exist and go home and eat and X their wife and go to sleep. A conversing voice at the door laughed and told somebody else it was getting harder these days to tell the homosexuals from the people who beat up homosexuals. It was impossible to imagine a world without himself in it.

Infinite Words #10: Celebrities

Here’s post No. 10 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 covered descriptions of fictional characters in the novel. Several celebrities pop up as well:

Brando the new archetypal tough-guy rebel and slob type, leaning back on his chair’s rear legs, coming crooked through doorways, slouching against everything in sight, trying to dominate objects, showing no artful respect or care, yanking things toward him like a moody child and using them up and tossing them crudely aside so they  miss the wastebasket and just lie there, ill-used.

NPR had a kind of roundtable on potential subjects – George Will’s laryngectomy-prosthesis sounded hideous. Hal preferred silence and traffic-sounds.

Watt for a time was to Himself as DeNiro was to Scorcese, McLachlin to Lynch, Allen to Allen.