This NPR show features an interesting discussion about David Foster Wallace: his fan base, his cronies and his archive. The guests were Donald Brown (New Haven Review), Evan Hughes, Ryan Walsh (who created the David Foster Wallace Audio Project) and Maria Bustillos. Evan Hughes recently wrote a piece in New York that I’ll look at tomorrow and Maria Bustillos wrote the main piece for today’s post. The other two guys I admit I don’t know.
This show looks at some interesting aspects of DFW’s life in the wake of his suicide and the release of The Pale King. Although really the impetus seems to be Hughes’ article (which was published in Oct). McEnroe asks him about the state of literature today and how both Jonathan Franzen and Jeffrey Eugenides have created characters that “resemble” DFW in some way.
They talk about the cult of DFW and play some audio clips. Brown is an older reader and so does not embrace DFW as much as others. He is of the same age as DFW and so loves the people DFW loved more than DFW himself. I get the feeling that he is a curmudgeon.
But they can all agree that fans of DFW feel that he was their buddy. Super-intelligent but very human, almost speaking like they would (if they were that smart). They conclude that the Kenyon commencement speech is something of the pinnacle of his project of earnest warmth in humanity.
At the half way point, Maria Bustillos comes in to talk about going to the archive (which you can read about below). She explains her own interest in self-help books and how DFW was a person who needed help.
The end of the episode has them talking about DFW’s voice. They wonder why DFW has an “audio project” but other writers do not. They talk about DFW’s voice and his presence during interviews and how he is very warm, even when he’s being cold (it’s an odd clip they choose). I’ve mentioned the Audio Project before. It’s wonderful.
For anyone interested in reading books that are in a similar vein to Infinite Jest, Bustillos recommends Under the Volcano (Malcolm Lowry) and wholeheartedly recommends The Last Western (Thomas Klise).
A fascinating thing about this show was finding out that McEnroe was the author of a pretty funny piece in McSweeney’s many many years ago called “I Am Michiko Kakutani.” He offers an anecdote about originally mentioning DFW in the story but that the McSweeney’s guys asked him to change it to someone else.
But I have to say that the show seems a bit too much about Colin McEnroe (the McSweeney’s anecdote was just one of many involving McEnroe). He talks a lot about himself and about how he’s “afraid” that the Awl will make fun of him or that Franzen (who was with McEnroe in a green room backstage at some show) will put him in his next book (because he was discussing Neti Pots). But I’m just not sure that Colin McEnroe rates enough to warrant the concern.
It’s an enjoyable show, although unlike other interviews by people like Charlie Rose or Michael Silverblatt, McEnroe’s questions and comments aren’t very well informed. If you know a lot about Wallace, this show is a bit frustrating because it takes a tone that Wallace is basically a “postmodern ironist” or that he sees everything as “a big dark joke.” And even when the guests are showing that that is not the case, he seems to try to keep reverting back to this trope.
Oh well, it led to some interesting articles at least. Like the one below.
[READ: December 7, 2011] “Inside David Foster Wallace’s Private Self-Help Library”
For no reason in particular, I’m devoting this weekend to articles that are specifically or tangentially about David Foster Wallace (it’s been awhile, and I have yet to finish my Consider the Lobster project, so, why not).
I actually read this because of the above radio show. I know Maria Bustillos because we’re both in a newsgroup. “Newsgroup” is so 90s, I wonder what they’re called these days). Anyhow, Maria has always proven to be smart, funny and very articulate. And the only reason I didn’t read this article when it came out was because I wasn’t sure I wanted to dive into this topic.
After listening to the above radio show, however, I felt that this would be a very interesting article. And so it was. It’s available at The Awl.
As it opens, Bustillos lets us know that she visited the DFW Archives Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin and pored over all of the materials they have there (undergrad papers, drafts of fiction and non-fiction, syllabi, tests and quizzes, and juvenilia among other things).
Wallace was a major note-taker. And he loved to take notes in a book as he was reading. Just look at some of these books.
But what surprised Maria (and me) is that among Wallace’s collection of wonderful fiction was a collection fo self-help books which were equally annotated and marked up.
Much of the set up of the article concerns why DFW had self-help books at all. The answer is, of course, because he was a depressed person (obviously) and because he had been in rehab for a pretty long time. None of this background information is new, but Maria offers insights into DFW and his life that I had never heard before (Maria and DFW had corresponded, although I don’t know if they were “friends” or not). (more…)