[LISTENED TO: Week of October 10, 2010] David Foster Wallace interviews
There will soon be a group read of Consider David Foster Wallace, a book of essays about, yes, David Foster Wallace. In a sort of preparation for the group read, I decided to immerse myself in the available audio files online.
I started with the interviews. They cover the period from Infinite Jest to Consider the Lobster. For the most part, the interviews took place on various NPR stations. There are not a lot of details given about the items on the site (which is the only flaw that I can see with the site), but you can more or less tell from the titles given what book is the cause for the interview.
I know that DFW was not a fan of interviews, yet I can’t help but be surprised at how few interviews actually seem to be extant (or at least preserved online). You can see a list of all of the interviews on the site. I’m listing and giving very brief notations for some of the longer interviews, but I just don’t have the time/inclination to go into great detail.
WNYC Leonard Lopate Interview (Lopate’s musical introductions are outstandingly wild, what’s the crazy death metal song doing on the air at 10AM?). The interview is just after the release of Infinite Jest; it’s a sort of introduction to DFW. Is Infinite Jest (the film) a MacGuffin in the book? DFW says that IJ is “The first thing I’ve done that I’m proud of.” Then he reads from IJ–the introduction of Kyle section.
WBUR’s The Connection Oblivion tour. It’s a call in show. The discuss the adjustment of moving to CA; he reads an excerpt from “Mr Squishy.” They discuss media in general. At the end, there’s a question which DFW calls “uncomfortably good” about Supposedly being mean-spirited.
John O’Brien Interview. Lannan Readings (here’s the Lannan site). Interview about readers. It’s followed by a few readings (covered elsewhere).
Oblivion interview: He reads part of the ”Soul is not a Smithy,” focusing on the father’s job; then a discussion of boredom; shame/reality TV. I’m not sure who the interviewer is here, but he’s a wonderful prompter.
Charlie Rose Show available on video here (see DFW in a tie & bandanna!). This is a fascinating interview in which Charlie Rose talks to him more about films than his current book (Supposedly Fun).
German Television Interview (2003). A fun and all over the map interview. It’s unedited, and some things are clearly not mean to be heard, so DFW is rather off his guard. It’s mostly about the German release of IJ, so DFW is pretty removed from the questions, but it’s a fun piece.
Infinite Jest interview from TTBOOK Program “Unwholesome Entertainment” (1996). “Another Supposedly Fun Thing” Essays from TTBOOK Program “Pursuit of Pleasure” (1997). To the Best of Our Knowledge is a wonderful NPR show which treats DFW graciously. The Supposedly section is especially funny as he reads an excerpt and then gives more details about the cruise.
Bookworm interviews. Michael Silverblatt of KCRW’s Bookworm is a wonderful reader. He asks wonderful questions and is a huge fan of DFW. All of the interviews are fantastic and DFW is very comfortable there.
There are a lot of other, shorter interviews on the site as well, again, many of them from NPR stations.
The earlier interviews have a tone (from the interviewers) of “who is this guy writing this vast book?” But even then, DFW’s pleasant demeanor comes through. In fact, he is unfailingly polite and self-conscious and tends to win over the interviewers. As the years pass, and he returns to certain venues, you can tell that the hosts enjoy having him on. There’s very little in the way of antagonism or button-pushing. And so, the tone is typically relaxed and friendly, allowing DFW to express his thoughts (pauses and all) clearly.
The most interesting thing about these interviews is that he is very deliberate about not giving away too much about the stories themselves. You’re not going to find “hidden clues” from his interviews. But what you will find is a lot about himself.
He talks a bit about how he writes (mostly in the IJ era), a little about his role as a “reporter” of non-fiction (Supposedly era), and a lot about loneliness (throughout). This idea of conveying loneliness is something that seems very obvious in his books when he talks about it, and yet because I find his writing funny, I never found the loneliness in his books overwhelming or despairing.
The Charlie Rose interview is a lot of fun. Charlie Rose starts talking about David Lynch (because of the interview in Supposedly) and then he starts asking him his opinion of other films. DFW is certainly caught off guard at first, but he seems relieved to not have to talk about his work and they have a lot of fun talking about films.
Michael Silverblatt is a treat to listen to because, as DFW tells him, he’s a very careful reader and he asks questions that make DFW think, but don’t make him uncomfortable. Silverblatt tends to posit grand themes in DFW’s books which DFW feels compelled to comment on. Perhaps the funnest thing is hearing DFW expound on a grand theory about what he’s written only to then say that he didn’t have these grand theories in his head when he was writing the book. Mostly he just writes what “feels real.”
Aside from loneliness, this “feeling real in your tummy” quality is what DFW seems to want to get across the most. And this “feeling” leads to the main theme that he gets across in these interviews: Trying to make connections with people. Whether it’s between the writer and the reader or even characters trying to connect with each other, that connection is important. True, loneliness and connections are related (meaningful connections can stave off loneliness) but you get the sense that heartfelt connections are not merely useful because of communication. Rather, it’s a question of internal honesty. A question of basically enriching your soul (without trying to sound cheesy, of course–cheesiness being something quite anathema to DFW.) This idea is the central focus of his Kenyon College speech (This is Water), and it’s really interesting to see that he’d been talking about this in various forms for ten years.
All of these interviews are engaging, and a treat for any DFW fan. And, yes, they make me want to re-read all of his books again!