Response to “Don’t Pay Any Attention to This”

by on February 20, 2013

Responses Takes

Nearly everything written about David Foster Wallace makes me not want to read him. I don’t know if this is a common thing, though I certainly have plenty of friends who’ve been turned off of the guy.Perhapsit’sbecause we haven’t read enough of DFW’s work (I’ll admit that I’ve only read Broom of the System and a smattering of his short stuff). But this isn’t about DFW—this is no knock against him; obviously the dude was brilliant—but about the writing on him since his death.

Since DFW was laid into the ground, a hagiographic ecosystem has sprouted up, thickly wooded, replete with cloud cover (which prevents us from glimpsing the words that are supposedly so transcendent). If you don’t already know DFW, you’re quickly lost there. In this place, you encountertwo dominant types of analysis: a fact-packed mini-biography (the province of The New Yorker and Rolling Stone) and a meditation on DFW’s personal importance (see Benjamin Kunkel’s eulogy in n+1 or Franzen’s shit-piling New Yorker piece). The problem, though, is that they mostly deal in generalities and metacriticism. We never seem to get even near DFW’s texts and we’re left scrambling laterally among the criticism, none the wiser about the underlying reason for the brouhaha: his work, itself.

Even when we turn to rigorous sources—D.T. Max’s New Yorker profile or Kunkel’s piece—we’re left with little sense of his prose. The discussion is of general life themes, and DFW’s actual writing gets swallowed by the constructed narrative. When Max does engage with DFW’sfiction, it’s to read it as concealed autobiography. We have to take his word about its significance. Likewise Kunkel asserts that Infinite Jest banished his generation’s existential despair without letting us know anything more than: “you didn’t have to have read the book yet—and I didn’t start until 1998—to get a sense of historical, generational redemption.”

| | | Next → |