Category Archives: David Foster Wallace

The Legacy of David Foster Wallace

Last week saw the arrival of The Legacy of David Foster Wallace, a wonderful collection of essays by Wallace critics, friends and colleagues. My piece in the collection, “Becoming Yourself: David Foster Wallace and the Afterlife of Reception,” considered Wallace’s legacy through his communities of readership on Amazon and I feel very lucky to be in such august company. For example, my essay is nestled between Dave Eggers and Jonathan Franzen!

Here’s the full list of contributors:

Samuel Cohen (co-editor)
Don DeLillo
Dave Eggers
Ed Finn
Kathleen Fitzpatrick
Jonathan Franzen
Paul Giles
Heather Houser
Lee Konstantinou (co-editor)
David Lipsky
Rick Moody
Ira B. Nadel
Michael Pietsch
Josh Roiland
George Saunders
Molly Schwartzburg

Thanks very much to Lee and Sam for including me!

Getting Past Dystopian SF

Another post up on Slate last week:

What should we expect from science fiction? In a recent Smithsonian article by IO9’s Annalee Newitz, author Neal Stephenson criticized the dystopian cynicism that currently pervades the genre. Instead he calls a more optimistic, realistic approach—fewer zombies and man’s folly-style catastrophes, more creative inventions and solutions. In the spirit of being constructive, he’s also taking action. The first step is an anthology of optimistic, near-term science fiction, forthcoming from William Morrow in 2014, that will tackle this challenge head-on. Smithsonian describes the project, Hieroglyph, as a plan “to rally writers to infuse science fiction with the kind of optimism that could inspire a new generation to, as he puts it, ‘get big stuff done.’”

Nerd Discourse and the Digital Humanities

In my talk at Emory yesterday I discussed nerds: the literary nerds David Foster Wallace and Junot Díaz, but also the ways in which their particular nerdish styles might tell us something about style and the digital humanities. Natalia Cecire wrote up a fantastic blog post fleshing these ideas out more fully and I think we’re on to something really interesting here. Here’s one really good bit, but I suggest you read the whole thing:
The term “nerdy,” of course, was ripe for questioning. As Ed had remarked in passing (and doubtless explores more deeply elsewhere), Wallace’s and Díaz’s respective nerdy networks were overwhelmingly male. And there’s a way in which DH’s identification with “nerdiness” taps very much into the version of nerd identity—seen also, if differently, in both Wallace and Díaz’s nerdinesses—that manifests as wounded (and defensive) masculinity. I argued in a previous post that the defensive posture at times characterizes discussions of DH, which occasionally even seems to borrow the language of struggle and resistance traditionally used by queer activists, activists of color, disability rights activists, feminists, etc., even while, in many institutional settings, magically turning out to be disproportionately white and male.

 As I’m about to post on Natalia’s blog, I think there’s more fuel to add to the fire here: the question of “serious” literature and gender bias in reviewing and criticism, a question I’ve tackled before.

My Hat’s Off to Thinking Cap

I’m really delighted to announce that Patricia Cohen wrote up my recent essay on David Foster Wallace for her Thinking Cap column this week at The New York Times. Readers can download the full pdf of the essay here. A version of this research that I gave as a talk at Digital Humanities 2011 also got a nod from William Pannapacker in The Chronicle of Higher Education over the summer. I’m very grateful to these writers for covering my work as well as the editors, advisors and one extremely patient spouse who did so much to improve the final product.

On Reading The Pale King

This was a strange experience for me, having recently spent a lot of time thinking about Wallace for a chapter of my dissertation. Somehow reading this unfinished novel brought the sad fact of his death to life unavoidably to mind in a way that my other DFW research never did.

The novel itself is really enjoyable–I could really see Wallace extending himself into the new style that he was struggling to develop. The various chapters are full of life and intelligence, and seemed in a sense less guarded and cerebral than his previous fiction. I found the whole setting of the novel (an IRS center in the 1980s) to be hilarious and was really drawn into the book in a way that this kind of postmodern fiction usually doesn’t (though I love it anyway). That quality was particularly surprising because it doesn’t really cohere as a novel and clearly was part of something larger that will never be.

At the end of the text, Michael Pietsch, Wallace’s editor, chose to include a collection of notes drawn from the author’s working files on characters, potential plot twists and various endings for the book. (Unless, of course, this was also some kind of postmodern DFW gag, but it didn’t read that way.) This closing chapter was what really brought Wallace’s death home for me. I felt as if I’d been let in behind the curtain and seen the magician preparing his next trick, and he’d seen me see him, and there we both were, feeling upset and depressed and unable to think of a way to correct the situation. With most authors I would find this kind of glimpse into the voyaging writerly mind intriguing. In a different context I would probably enjoy this kind of thing with Wallace, too–I hope to check out his archives at the Ransom Center in Austin one day. But here, at the end of The Pale King, it just made me wish he’d been able to finish the book.