Writing about the news-worthy David Foster Wallace events of 2012 seemed like a clever idea, and I committed to doing it before checking the math. I knew there was a lot of Wallace stuff — enough to justify a quick post and provide a platform for reviewing the books published over the last 12 months. It turned out there was A LOT of Wallace stuff, and the sheer effort of cataloging it all took up two long and patience-testing posts for readers and too many long and patience-testing days for me. As a result, mistakes were made. Continue reading
Tag Archives: Lee Konstantinou
So much happened in the first half of 2012/YEAR OF DAVID FOSTER WALLACE that it turns out I missed a few things. On 21 February, Wallace’s birthday, Berfrois ran “The Depressed Person in The Marriage Plot,” in which Daniel Roberts takes a closer look at the connections between Wallace and the character Leonard in Jeffrey Eugenides’ latest book. Adding to the steady march in April, Publishers Weekly began a two-week countdown of “The Top 10 Infinite Jest Characters,” starting with #10 (Barry Loach) and moving toward #1 (see here). Also, on 21 April came the long-awaited (by me at least) end of the “live” part in “Words, Words, Words: The Infinite Jest Liveblog.”
After a relatively uneventful May and June, YEAR OF DAVID FOSTER WALLACE came roaring back in July. The monthly issue of GQ featured an interview with Nick Offerman, better known as Ron Swanson from “Parks and Recreation,” in which Offerman talked about being “halfway through Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace – a writer who escaped my notice until a few years ago, when posthumously his final novel, The Pale King, came out.” In the very same issue of GQ, a Wells Tower piece on the pornstar James Deen made a Wallace-esque mention of one of Deen’s colleagues: “Kayden Kross, a wholly winning and improbably bookish young woman who reads the short fiction of David Foster Wallace between takes.” On 8 July, as noted, Roger Federer won Wimbledon, which led to Wallace-Federer references in The Telegraph, The Daily Beast, The Week, and GQ.com. There was even a weird piece on Wallace’s faith titled “Roger Federer Killed David Foster Wallace,” as well as an anti-Federer piece on the LRB Blog which noted that “‘Federer Moments’, as David Foster Wallace famously called them, are part of what I dislike. ‘Federer as Religious Experience’ says more about Wallace’s genius than Federer’s.” The following day, Michael Cunningham took to The New Yorker‘s Page Turner blog to explain why Wallace (and others) didn’t win the Pulitzer Prize in 2012. Also on 9 July, the “Nieman Watchdog” at Harvard University offered “Lessons on covering politics from the late David Foster Wallace.” On the 11th, Lev Grossman, author of The Magicians books used his first impressions of Every Love Story is a Ghost Story to talk about hysterical realism. On 13 July, Page Turner posted a piece about subsidized time. Federer’s victory was still yielding DFW alerts when there came, on 16 July, the other significant non-book event in the YODFW: the launch of “Infinite Boston.” The project was an ambitious effort by William Beutler to photograph and write about the real-life equivalents of various IJ locations:
I traveled to Boston, Massachusetts with the express purpose of visiting as many of the landmarks and lesser known precincts that appear in, or provide inspiration for, the late David Foster Wallace’s 1996 novel Infinite Jest as I could manage…now I am pleased to present what I am calling “Infinite Boston”: a ruminative travelogue and photographic tour of some fifty or so of these locations, comprising one entry each non-holiday weekday, from now until sometime in early autumn.
“Infinite Boston” attracted broad interest, showing up on The Millions, The Rumpus, National Geographic’s The Radar, Fast Company’s Co.Create blog, and from there the technology section of nbcnews.com, among others. The notice was well deserved. “Infinite Boston” is thorough and artfully done — well worth exploring for anyone who loves Infinite Jest, or is currently working their way through it. The project also had a number of spinoffs, including the super cool, Google-maps enabled “Infinite Atlas” and some other cool stuff available for sale at the Infinite Shop.
The first few weeks of July were pretty good — but the end of July illustrated the scope of what was happening in YODFW. On the 19th, CNN ran an online story about porn stars using Twitter to gain mainstream fame. One of the stars the mentioned was Kayden Kross, upon whom they bestowed the title “The Smartest Woman in Porn” and mentioned: “She often tweets about her favorite authors, David Foster Wallace and Don DeLillo.” Four days later, the Wall Street Journal reported on a past meeting between DFW and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. The two men had lunch and bonded over their shared enjoyment and rigor over language and grammar. Apparently the meeting led to some book Scalia wrote, which is not important. What is important is that, within the space of a few days, we could read about how a porn star and an arch-conservative Supreme Court justice both have strong affinities for our man.
Welcome back to YEAR OF DAVID FOSTER WALLACE.
David Foster Wallace would have had his 50th birthday on February 21, 2012. If he had lived, and maintained the course he was on, he probably would have been the subject of articles about “David Foster Wallace at 50,” “Boy Genius Grows Up,” etc, covering important topics like his shorter haircut, his apparently happy marriage, and his steady teaching job. If Wallace had let The Pale King see the light of day by now, you can bet we would be reading reviews about the “mature” and “grown up” successor to the kinetic Infinite Jest – David Foster Wallace Moves to the Suburbs. Instead, 2012 passed without much notice of the milestone, which four years after his death only serves to remind us that Wallace didn’t live to see it.
But it turns out that the world was not at all silent on the matter of David Foster Wallace this year. In the last 12 months, Wallace was the subject of three books, and author of one posthumous collection of essays. This level of attention is significant in and of itself, but it was not all that happened — not by a long shot. Over the year there came a steady flow of news, blog posts and small insights. There were stage adaptations, a Pulitzer controversy, displays of affection from a porn star and a Supreme Court Justice, and references in TV shows, a commercial, a web video and a proper movie. There was a conference and a year-end fundraiser and an unfortunate moment of our present looking too much like Wallace’s near-future dystopia. The internet – which, it was revealed this year, Wallace once referred to as “the bathroom wall of the U.S. psyche” – would not stop saying his name*. Four years after his death, David Foster Wallace is on our minds more than ever.
Some of this was foreordained. There is now an annual cycle, starting mid-May and running through June, of pieces referring to Wallace’s 2005 Kenyon University commencement address. His remarks have become a standard against which the hot speeches of the season are measured, and the address tends to show up on Best Speeches lists and be offered as wisdom that the Class of 20-whatever should take to heart.
A similar phenomenon took place with the 2012 Republican primary and presidential election. Wallace’s John McCain piece “Up Simba” (or any of the various names it was published under in magazine and book and anthology forms) became relevant again, and was often cited as the kind of meaningful political journalism we long for in today’s sorry-ass punditocracy.
But four books and a few recurring occasions do not a YEAR OF make. Most of what happened took place independent of annual or quadrennial events, spontaneously, a result of whatever weird energy was flowing in 2012. It was an event that was both random and regularized that sealed it for me. In early July – just as I was beginning to think that “Boy, I am really hearing a lot about David Foster Wallace this year” – Roger Federer defeated Andy Murray 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4 to win his 7th Wimbledon. Writers, journalists, bloggers and WordPressers across print and online media launched a thousand pieces with some variation of, “The late author David Foster Wallace once called Roger Federer…etc.” and Google alerts lit up my inbox like a DFW-themed Christmas tree. That was when I knew. Welcome to YEAR OF DAVID FOSTER WALLACE.
“…THOSE THINGS OF BEAUTY, HIS WONDERFUL WORKS, WHICH I HAD ONCE CONTRIVED TO FIT INTO THAT INFIRM AND SACRED FRAME, THAT DWELLING I HAD LOVINGLY CONSTRUCTED LIKE A TEMPLE EXPRESSLY DESIGNED TO HOLD THEM, THERE WAS NOW NO ROOM IN THIS THICK-BODIED LITTLE MAN STANDING IN FRONT OF ME…” – MARCEL PROUST, IN THE SHADOW OF YOUNG GIRLS IN FLOWER
“STILL, WHEN THE ACHE IS OVERPOWERING, THERE’S THE WORK. NONE OF THIS PERSONAL STUFF, HOWEVER WORTHY OF RECOLLECTION, HOWEVER MOVING, IS AS IMPORTANT AS THE WRITING, THE LEGACY.”
– RICK MOODY, “TRIBUTE WRITTEN FOR WALLACE FAMILY MEMORIAL BOOK, 2008″
“WHAT REALLY KNOCKS ME OUT IS A BOOK THAT, WHEN YOU’RE ALL DONE READING IT, YOU WISH THE AUTHOR THAT WROTE IT WAS A TERRIFIC FRIEND OF YOURS AND YOU COULD CALL HIM UP ON THE PHONE WHENEVER YOU FELT LIKE IT. THAT DOESN’T HAPPEN MUCH, THOUGH.” – J.D. SALINGER, THE CATCHER IN THE RYE
“AND YET IT OFTEN SEEMS THAT THE PERSON WE ENCOUNTER IN THE LITERARY BIOGRAPHY COULD NOT POSSIBLY HAVE WRITTEN THE WORKS WE ADMIRE. AND THE MORE INTIMATE AND THOROUGH THE BIO, THE STRONGER THIS FEELING USUALLY IS.” – DAVID FOSTER WALLACE, “BORGES ON THE COUCH”
TO COME HERE.
I know it’s been a while, and honestly, I don’t have many insights to offer about the end of J R. In the closing pages, things continue on in their wild, entropic trajectories — entropic in the most literal sense of systems losing order and collapsing, from the stock market to human bodies. For the most part, things get worse for everyone, and we don’t walk away feeling like we’ve reached a satisfactory conclusion. Nor are we really supposed to, I’d wager.
I feel okay with this abdication of blogging duties because Lee Konstantinou — founder of the #OccupyGaddis movement — has provided us with “Too Big to Succeed,” a comprehensive and compelling review of the novel to close out OccupyGaddis at the Los Angeles Review of Books.
Both publishing and Wall Street, Gaddis’s novel suggests, are “paper empires,” enterprises heinously, hilariously bad at what they do, and bad in similar ways. Both have subordinated their alleged functions — rationally allocating capital; optimally connecting readers and writers — to reckless speculation. Con men and gamblers rise, while the sensible and the serious are crushed. If Gaddis’s indictment is right, his novels may therefore be paradoxically doomed to be ignored, derided, and misunderstood, to fail to find the readership they deserve, not despite but because of their integrity. Gaddis’s novel would thus be both the great chronicler of Wall Street’s malignant rise and the victim of its triumphant ethos.
Whether one views Gaddis’s perspective as self-evidently true or as a self-serving story meant to displace blame for his personal failures onto others, one thing shouldn’t be in doubt: J R is a wild, rollicking success. It deserves the buzz and marketing budget typically reserved for writers who receive seven-figure advances. It deserves an army of dedicated readers who will, with near-religious devotion, take the time to unlock the wonders and mysteries of this hilarious, brilliant, and punishing satire of American capitalism. More than almost anything being published by young or established writers today, J R is the novel of our age.
Konstantinou finds J R to be a “tough, amazing book” and uses it to mount a defense of difficult fiction and critique the culture, starting with the publishing industry, tangling a bit with Jonathan Franzen, and then taking on society in general. It’s an interesting argument that you may or may not agree with, and a worthwhile read either way. Get the whole thing here.
- Michael Moats
It is one thing to read a book about entropy. It is another thing entirely to read a book that is entropy.
The challenges of working through dialogue without attribution have been compounded in these pages with phones ringing and people dying, shoes getting lost and multiple Generals, two guys in slings and face bandages and people in each others’ suits, and sex and faucets that won’t stop running and mail flying through the air…
It’s been a little tough to keep track of things. It’s a testament to Gaddis that the story continues to make some sense, but I’ve found these pages to be among the most difficult in which to maintain a reasonable momentum and keep track of the scenery going by.
Similar struggles have been contemplated by Daryl L.L. Houston over at Infinite Zombies, who wrote in a post titled “Worthwhile?“
I am curious whether anybody else is finding the length of the book, and especially of some passages, to be taxing.
I find that the portions of the book that take place in boardrooms and offices or on the phone between people situated in these locales get old pretty quickly.
Personally, my frustrations tend to grow with the presence of Gibbs, who turns into an un-listening, interrupting fount of allusive gibberish and bad marriage advice once he gets hold of some liquor. Whiteback’s office, with its two phones and competing streams of visitors and broadcasts is a close second.
Adding to the confusion are J R’s increasingly complex business dealings. This seems to be the one place in the novel where a system holds its shape long enough to be effectively acted upon. J R uses tax laws and banking strategies to increase cash flow and invest in companies without really concerning himself in the production and sale of any particular product. He’s making sure that his money works for him, even if his companies don’t.
On the other side of J R’s business adventures are Eigen, the late Schramm, Gibbs, Schepperman and Bast, the artists trying to make a living with their products. The cold hard business of capitalism here is moving ahead with handshakes and phone calls, and the production end is a peripheral concern when it’s not useful for a tax write off. In this long book about modern American capitalism, the true workers and producers are the painter, the writers and the composer. The artists are the only characters who actually make and sell tangible products. And so far, one writer has hung himself, one is unable to follow-up on his previous novel and another can’t write at all. The painter’s works go straight into storage where no one sees them, and the composer can’t get a dime for the pieces he’s written. As disorienting and confusing as this novel can be, these stories are all too recognizable.
- Michael Moats
Land of the
Things are definitely starting to happen in some kind of recognizable way — especially with the aid of this very handy scene-by-scene guide of Gaddis Annotations.
Last we saw, Norman Angel — who manages the Bast roll plant and is married to Stella (who tried to seduce Bast but shows no interest in her husband) — was leaving work on a business trip after seeing some compromising pictures of his secretary (who is helpfully named Terry). Days pass as the radio interjects. As the scene moves through the subway we run across Gibbs visiting his daughter who lives with his ex-wife, followed by Dan diCephalis running into his unhappy, conspiracy theorist, harpy wife Ann on the train.
If you’re not already getting the message about marriage in this novel, Mrs Joubert’s union is also on the rocks. She gets some hapless legal counsel from Beaton on whether her husband can take her son overseas.
Then we get another unhappy marriage, between Eigen and his wife, which loses center stage to the suicide of Schramm, the recently one-eyed writer who shared the 96th Street studio with Gibbs and now Bast. Gibbs goes on an aggrieved, drunken rant under the influence of Schramm’s death and the discovery of some whiskey in a cabinet. (Side note: I too once discovered a bottle of Old Smuggler left in a kitchen cabinet, though in my day the bottle was plastic. I can assure our readers that it is as high a quality of whiskey as the 96th Street studio’s general squalor would indicate.)
On a different, sadder point of comparison, Gibbs’ rant about the author who has hanged himself echoes the thoughts of David Foster Wallace. In his well-known TV essay, Wallace wrote about — among other things — the challenges for fiction that requires active engagement when it’s up against television and the passive reception of entertainment. As Gibbs says:
– Good. I hope every reader will, from this history, take warning, and stamp improvement on the wings of time problem most God damned readers rather be at the movies. Pay attention here bring something to it take something away problem most God damned writing’s written for readers perfectly happy who they are rather be at the movies, come in empty-handed go out the same God damned way what I told him Bast. Ask them to bring one God damned bit of effort want everything done for them they get up and go to the movies…
Bast escapes Gibbs and the studio to meet with J R at the Museum of Art. Here we see J R’s empire truly starting to take shape, with the help of Bast as his half-willing business representative. We also get to see the childish J R make some very adult, capitalist decisions. As I said before, J R seems innocent, or at least lacks the anxiety that seems to trouble every other character in the novel. There is a lightening of the mood when he appears on the page, which can be attributed at least in part to the fact that it’s easy to recognize exactly who is speaking with all his this heres and heys. But that must be weighed against what he’s actually doing. Lee Konstantinou has his own sharp interpretations on the character J R in his most recent #Occupy Gaddis post, “The Playful Destruction of J R”:
And yet, unlike other characters, who struggle with the chaos they’re embedded within – Gibbs and Eigen particularly come to seem like stand-ins for Gaddis – J R is at home in the world of entropy. Gibbs, Eigen, and Edward give evidence of interior struggle. By contrast, J R is a master of chaos, a manipulator of paper – what Crawley calls “wallpaper.”
By making J R a perfectly innocent child, so young so as to not yet have a fully formed personality, by stripping J R of the need to ideologically rationalize his activities, Gaddis gives us a picture of naked capitalism.
Much more on J R and #OccupyGaddis can be found at Infinite Zombies. You can follow along on the #OccupyGaddis Facebook group, and read Konstantinou’s first, second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth posts to get fully caught up.
- Michael Moats
I have to agree with Lee Konstantinou in disagreeing with Rick Moody: J R is a hard book. Or at the very least, it is not an easy, straightforward affair. A few pages in, you realize that this novel actually is 700+ pages of this:
A loud buzz cut him off. She pushed her nail polish aside and repsonded to the box at her elbow. — Yes sir, yes sir . . . oh and Mister Crawley, Mister Davidoff is here with . . . yes sir.
— And Shirl, tell him . . .
— He’ll be right out, she said, as an unencumbered massive panel behind her proved to be a door.
— What in God’s . . . !
— I want you to meet a real live stock broker boys and girls
Broken dialogue. No attributions. Interruptions and overlaps. At times, ambient noise from a background TV or radio will cut its way in. There is the occasional scene-setting — often these are the places where Gaddis reminds you that he really can write: “Sunlight, pocketed in a cloud, spilled suddenly broken across the floor through the leaves of trees outside.” — but few of these are orienting. Not “a door opened behind her” but “an unencumbered massive panel behind her proved to be a door.” This format takes getting used to, to say the least, especially when the events jump from one set of characters to the next. It’s like Mrs. Dalloway with even less clarity about who is at the center of the narrative.
For someone like me who comes to Gaddis by way of David Foster Wallace, it’s easy to see the influence passed down from J R. Each of Wallace’s three novels has scenes of unattributed dialogue within the first 30 pages, and you could reasonably claim that Brief Interviews with Hideous Men is a variation of this technique. Wallace clearly mimics the satirical, comedic pacing where characters misfire sentences into and over each other in an accelerated, everybody-talks-but-no-one-listens way.
But Wallace did small snippets, short scenes inside a larger context of more recognizable styles. J R offers no such break, and reading this sustained dialogue has some interesting effects once the initial shock wears off.
For one, the book starts to feel like what it most resembles in form: a play. Not a meditative drama, but something exaggerated, chaotic and Vaudevillian.
The basic ingredients of time and space provided in most novels, are so conspicuously absent — or so opaque in their presence — that I’m forced to fill them in myself. The places are familiar: a school, a suburban neighborhood, Wall Street, a train platform, a boardroom. But without any guidance on what they look like, I find myself filling in the gaps with a richer-than-usual imagining of the world around these voices. It’s counterintuitive; one of those rare instances where less actually appears to be more.
The technique also seems to work counterintuitively as far as the characters go. You might expect that, if all you hear are characters’ voices, then J R is a character-driven novel. But this is more a book about, for lack of a better word, systems. Outside forces that act on people: education, sex, history, politics, art, bureaucracy — and did I mention money? This novel, so far, is about how money affects all of these different systems, and people whose daily lives inevitably get caught in the churn. J R Vansant is the title character, I suspect, because he is the only one who comes to this world as an innocent. At age eleven he is curious and precocious enough to thrive in certain ways, but unlike the adults around him, he is not preoccupied with either resisting or controlling the forces around him. At least that’s what it seems like so far.
More info on J R and #OccupyGaddis can be found at Infinite Zombies. You can also follow along on the #OccupyGaddis Facebook group, and read Konstantinou’s first, second, third, fourth, and fifth posts to get fully caught up.
- Michael Moats