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