Saturday, October 2, 2010


The transcript of an extended interview with David Foster Wallace conducted in early 1996 on the last leg of his Infinite Jest book tour, Although of Course... is not a bad book and is in fact slightly better than I expected. Lipsky's introductory essay is interesting (especially on the events leading up to Wallace's suicide), and the bare, interview transcript form of the text, which alienated me at first, eventually grew on me. At first I thought the form didn't serve the material. I wanted more background, a prose narrative in which the interview would be a long, rambling, novelistic conversation. But after the first 100 pages, I came to the conclusion that Lipsky served the material (and Wallace) better by presenting a raw, minimally edited transcript. (And of course there's also the matter of length: the book as is runs to just over 300 pages; all of this enclosed in a journalistic prose narrative would constitute a volume of Infinite Jestian length.) The transcript shows us Wallace thinking out loud, rambling intelligently on about entertainment and addiction, the meanings of his most famous book, the faults of his earlier works. At a couple points we witness him delivering perfectly crafted bon mots, as when the subject of crazy girlfriends leads him to remark, "Psychotics, say what you want about them, tend to make the first move." And his sceptical view of "internet democracy" sounds prescient today. There are repetitions and uninteresting patches, and passages of trivia that will only be of interest to the most diehard DFW fan (DFW's opinion of the movie Die Hard, for example), and the transcript has a frustrating way of breaking off just as Wallace begins to speak with brutal frankness about fellow writers (John Updike, Stephen King), but there were enough diamonds in this book's dirt to keep me digging all the way through.

Lipsky intrudes upon the text in several places to underline the fact that this interview conducted 14 years ago is set in a lost world. The bookworld in which DFW wrote and toured is either dead or dying today. The stores that hosted his readings are gone; the novelist's book tour is becoming a thing of the past; even the phrase "celebrity novelist" sounds anachronistic, unless one is speaking of a has-been movie star flogging a ghostwritten tome. In 2010 we've reached the point at which literature has become so unimportant to American culture that we are only permitted one famous literary novelist at a time. (As I write this, it's David Wallace's friend Jonathan Franzen.) It bodes ill for America that our culture can simultaneously support countless right-wing media demagogues, but only one celebrity writer of serious fiction.

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