Tag Archives: Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself

Straight Outta Normal: Six Thoughts on the David Foster Wallace Movie

FA review tag

Last Friday, the New York Times Sunday Styles page published “A Brief History of the Tough Star Profile,” reviewing notable celebrity press takedowns from Lillian Ross’ 1950 New Yorker piece on Ernest Hemingway, to Tiger Woods telling “puerile and sexist jokes” in GQ in 1997, to the most recent (and orders of magnitude less interesting) Esquire piece on Miles Teller. I don’t know who Teller is or why he’s famous, but he was quoted this month comparing his penis to a highball glass and being generally dickish. He’s probably more famous now because of it.

These kinds of profiles represent the extreme version of what David Foster Wallace was fixated on and deeply fearful of during five days he spent with Rolling Stone writer David Lipsky in 1996. The possibility that Lipsky could pick and choose from hours of conversation to portray pretty much any Dave Wallace Rolling Stone wanted came up again and again while the two men were together. We know because, while Lipsky never ended up writing a profile, he ultimately chose to publish the vast majority of the conversation as Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself. The book has since been made into the movie The End of the Tourwhich I had a chance to see this weekend. Rather than add to the many straightforward reviews done by people who do that better than I can, here’s what I want you to know:

The movie is really good. It’s especially good if Continue reading

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Crowd Cover

Infinite Jest turns 20 in 2016, and to mark the anniversary, the book’s publisher Little, Brown is asking readers to give the book a facelift by submitting a new cover design.

IJ Cover

Submissions will be accepted starting tomorrow and running through September 15, with the winner to be chosen by the Wallace Literary Trust (meaning they probably won’t choose your design featuring  Jason Segel as Wallace). The winner will get a $1,000 American Express gift card and “the opportunity for your original cover to be used as the front cover of the 20th Anniversary edition” of the book.

Wallace himself was ambivalent about the book’s cover, according to his interviews with David Lipsky in Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself:

[Closes it, looks at cover. Clouds and sky.]

This was my major complaint about the cover of the book. …Is that it looks — on American Airlines flights? The cloud system, it’s almost identical.

[On safety booklet for 757]

Oh, that’s funny. What did you want instead?

Oh, I had a number of — there’s a great photo of Fritz Lang directing Metropolis. Do you know this one? Where he’s standing there, and there are about a thousand shaven-headed men in kind of rows and phalanxes, and he’s standing there with a megaphone? It wouldn’t have been…Michael [Pietsch, Wallace’s editor at Little Brown] said it was too busy and too like conceptual, it required too much brain work on the part of the audience….

Because you were making a metaphor on the cover?

No, I just thought it was cool —

There has been some truly great artwork created to honor Infinite Jest over the years, and it should be really cool to see what people come up with for this contest.

And if you’re interested in what’s inside the cover, check out our Infinite Jest Liveblog.

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Why I Will Be Watching the David Foster Wallace Movie

92Y Ticket

This Friday, nerds and friends of nerds in the vicinity of “select theaters” will finally have to decide whether or not they are willing to go see The End of the Tour, the movie covering the days David Foster Wallace spent with Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky at the close of the promotional tour for Infinite Jest. The movie has been controversial, from the casting of comedic actor Jason Segel as Wallace to the disavowal of the project from the Wallace estate. Good people (again, mostly nerds) are wrestling with the question of whether they should go see it.

Until last night, I myself was one of those people/nerds.  Continue reading

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The Infinite Jest Liveblog: Blue

This is the latest entry in Words, Words, Words the ongoing liveblog of David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest.” 

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November 29, 2011, pgs 508-530/1034-1036.  The importance of “The following things in the room were blue” eludes me, except as some indication that Hal is beginning to see things with slightly heightened senses. He is focusing strictly on a single color, and he is also troubled by “a kind of rodential squeaking that gave Hal Incandenza the howling fantods,” an affliction he shares with his grandfather from a few chapters back. The walls outside C.T.’s office are covered in “the overenhanced blue of the wallpaper’s sky, which the wallpaper scheme was fluffy cumuli arrayed patternlessly against an overenhancedly blue sky.”  This is the same wallpaper in the dentist’s office that Hal has just returned from and is, of course, similar if not identical to the (most popular) cover of the book itself. Thus it seems somehow relevant.

Except that Wallace did not choose the cover of the book, and with all the other tightly planned and intricately placed revelations in this book, this one could bear less weight than it seems and be potentially misleading. Wallace’s original choice for the cover was an image from the set of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. He told the story in “Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself,” while on an airplane leafing through the safety guide:

[Closes it, looks at cover. Clouds and sky.]

This was my major complaint about the cover of the book. …Is that it looks — on American Airlines flights? The cloud system, it’s almost identical.

[On safety booklet for 757]

Oh, that’s funny. What did you want instead?

Oh, I had a number of — there’s a great photo of Fritz Lang directing Metropolis. Do you know this one? Where he’s standing there, and there are about a thousand shaven-headed men in kind of rows and phalanxes, and he’s standing there with a megaphone? It wouldn’t have been…Michael [Pietsch, Wallace’s editor at Little Brown] said it was too busy and too like conceptual, it required too much brain work on the part of the audience….

Because you were making a metaphor on the cover?

No, I just thought it was cool —

So an apparently deliberate and significant reference to the cover of the novel may not mean much at all, it turns out.

While I’m not sure about the blue, I know the following things in this section are true:

Avril’s hair has been vividly white “as of the last few months before Himself’s felo de se.” She has a way of establishing herself at the “exact center” of any room she’s in. The whole apple thing with her and Hal seems a little, or a lot, like some weird Garden of Eden thing where Avril is the Eve and the Serpent and the Tree all at the same time.

Mike Pemulis is the Paranoid King (see: “YES I’M PARANOID — BUT AM I PARANOID ENOUGH?) and his greatest fear is “of academic or disciplinary expulsion and ejection, of having to schlepp back down Comm. Ave. into blue-collar Allston diploma- and ticket-outless, and now in his final E.T.A. year the dread’s increased many-fold.”

Lateral Alice Moore was in a helicopter crash.

C.T. is one of the most intensely annoying characters ever created, but can also be formidable.

Clenette, current Ennet House resident and controversial narrator from the opening chapters of the book has been in C.T.’s office while the students have been waiting outside — and it is unclear why. Also in the office is the “scrubbed young button-nosed urologist” who is presumably there to chart the inner chemical states of Hal et al.

Marathe and Steeply are discussing mythological/cultural precedents for The Entertainment while the dawn begins to approach.

Read the full Infinite Jest Liveblog

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The Infinite Jest Liveblog: Double Binds

This is the latest entry in Words, Words, Words the ongoing liveblog of David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest.” 

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October 3, 2011, pgs 306-321/1004-1022. David Foster Wallace walks a fine line with a lot of the scholarly academic elements of  “Infinite Jest.” For instance, Hal’s term paper on television heroes and the graduate students talking nonsense at Molly Notkin’s party where Joelle van Dyne tries to off herself. These pages open with Schacht taking a test on pathological double binds. On first reading it’s not particularly funny and only merely interesting to have a 16-year old trying to answer word problems about satisfying the needs of a kleptomaniacal agoraphobic. But a second look makes me think it is necessary for Wallace to push things like scholarship and geopolitics just past the line into farcical. Otherwise, readers might start thinking that they mean something, that a statement is being made. Which at times it might be, but it shouldn’t be the focus. By taking these things out of the realm of what’s worth considering, we can see people and their stories rather than tendentious philosophical allegories. Same with politics, where any kind of proposed scenario is going to make people draw lines between the politics in their own lives and the politics in the story. Wallace has more serious and fundamental political considerations to offer, as we see later, and none of that discourse is aided by being able to tag one group as clearly the Dems or clearly the Republicans (or Labour and Liberal, as it were) in this scenario and decide at the outset that they’re jerks just like in real life.

The issues need to be cut from whole cloth, for example, a Québécois separatist movement of armed wheelchair assassins working to undermine the unified North American polity. Hal is both studying and lecturing on the issues at hand in the main text and in a lengthy endnote (with its own footnotes) phone call with Orin. They are teasing out the motivations for such a strange resistance force and what that all might have to do with a samizdat that “Helen” Steeply is curiously interested in. Then Mario’s birth to an unexpectingly expectant Avril Incandenza. The boy has a long list of medical, developmental, dental and cosmetic challenges to overcome, including the thin hair reminiscent of Charles Tavis, who may or may not be part of the equation. Fortunately Mario also has a “younger and way more externally impressive brother” who “almost idealizes Mario, secretly. God-type issues aside, Mario is a (semi-) walking miracle, Hal believes.”

Then a serious political discussion between a man in drag and a wheelchair assassin. Here we have a debate between competing philosophies of government and culture, pitting freedom and individual liberty, along with the messy consequences of letting people do what they want when they want, against totalitarian control. Steeply obviously favors the liberty and freedom parts, even in spite of the consequences that have been put in front of him with the Entertainment. Marathe sees it as, “A U.S.A. that would die — and let its children die, each one — for the so called perfect Entertainment…Who would die for this chance to be fed this death of pleasure with spoons, in their warm homes, alone, unmoving…can such a U.S.A. hope to survive for a much longer time?” In a brief, brilliant moment of the book, Steeply’s retort begins with silently lighting a cigarette, causing Marathe to wonder, “why the presence of Americans could always make him feel vaguely ashamed after saying things he believed. An aftertaste of shame after revealing passion of any belief and type when with Americans, as if he had made flatulence instead of revealed belief.” (Please recall that all of this was written in the first years of the rise of the ironic, slacker Gen X.)

Steeply’s proposed alternative to Marathe’s vision of the end times is a revulsion at totalitarian dominance of the state. This section is cornerstone-level important to the novel, I feel, as it deals with the whole pursuit of happiness and excess stuff that occupies the drug addicts and the over-achievers that populate the text. It’s also something that Wallace has talked about often in other venues. For instance, this exchange with David Lipsky on 157-8 of “Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself” (Lipsky in bold):

Marathe is basically a fascist. You’re talking about a culture that teaches people how to make moral choices, that teeters very easily into a culture…into a totalitarian, authoritarian culture. But a culture that doesn’t, and that prides itself on not — the way sort of ours does, or has recently…I think we’re just beginning to see, that on either side of the continuum there are terrible prices to pay.

You give no answer to this question, then…

I don’t think there’s an answer. You mean, are there laws that should be passed? Or is there public education we can do […]

So no answer: either that kind of freedom or that kind of guidance.

I think it’s — I mean I think the whole thing is an enormous game of Little Red Riding Hood, and you’re trying to find out what’s just right. And you, you know — what is it? — you can’t find the middle till you hit both walls? You know? The thing that really scares me about this country — and again, I’d want you to stress, I’m a private citizen, I am not a pundit. Is I think we’re really setting ourselves up for repression and fascism. I think our hunger, our hunger to have somebody else tell us what to do — or for some sort of certainty, or something to steer by — is getting so bad, um, that I think it’s, there’s even a, Hayek’s “Road to Serfdom”, I mean, makes a similar argument economically. But I think, you know, with Pat Buchanan, in Rush Limbaugh, there are rumbles on the Western horizon, you know. And that it’s going to be, that the next few decades are going to be really scary. Particularly if things get economically shaky, and people for instance — people who’ve never been hungry before, might be hungry or might be cold.

Marathe talks about the loss of temples and the “confusion of permissions.” Steeply compares Quebec to the Nazis. Both are right and both are wrong and, as a result, both are relevant to the book and to how the book relates to our own lives.

At the end neither of them knows how they’re going to get down off the mountain.

Read the full Infinite Jest Liveblog.

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