Remembering David Foster Wallace SEP 18 2008
This post is more for me than usual. I've got all these tabs open in my browser and need to close them to get some work done so I'm going to put this stuff here for now to revisit later. Any emphasis is mine.
You didn't really edit David. Instead you played tennis with him using language as the ball. At Harper's, we did three lengthy pieces together -- on attending the Illinois State Fair, on sailing on a luxury cruise, and on the usage of the English language -- and with each one I increasingly came to see how competitive David was. Not with me, his magazine editor, nor particularly with other writers, but with the great maw of horridness, to choose a word he might use. He was competing against the culture itself, and his pieces arrived on my desk way too long, letter-perfect, and appended with a one-line note that said something like "Here, maybe you'll like this."
So here's a true fact to embellish his reputation (not that it needs much embellishment): He wrote two senior theses at Amherst. A creative thesis in English that was his first novel, "The Broom of the System," and a philosophy thesis on fatalism. Both were judged to be Summa Cum Laude theses. The opinion of those who looked at the philosophy thesis was that it, too, with just a few tweaks to flesh out the scholarly apparatus, was a publishable piece of creative philosophy investigating the interplay between time and modality in original ways.
That much is probably common knowledge. Here's what is not so widely known: Though theses normally take a whole school year to write, DFW had complete drafts of his theses by Christmas, and they were finished by spring break. He spent the last quarter of his senior year reading, commenting on, and generally improving the theses of all his friends and acquaintances. It was a great year for theses at Amherst.
"Racing and literature are both huge parts of American life, and I don't think David Foster Wallace would want me to make too much of that, or to pretend that it's any sort of equitable balance," Helton added. "That would be grotesque. But the truth is that whatever cultural deity, entity, energy, or random social flux produced stock car racing also produced the works of David Foster Wallace. And just look them. Look at that."
Harper's has made freely available online everything that Wallace had published in the magazine.
Interview with Wallace in The Believer from Nov 2003. I don't think I've ever read this one.
He was, in fact, extremely fond of The Wire -- he stopped me in the hall one day last year and said, look, I really want to sit down and pick your brain about this, because I'm really developing the conviction that the best writing being done in America today is being done for The Wire. Am I crazy to think that?
A letter from an alumni of Granada House, a Boston-area treatment center, is assumed by many to have been written by Wallace:
In 1989, I already had a BA and one graduate degree and was in Boston to get another. And I was, at age 27, a late-stage alcoholic and drug addict. I had been in detoxes and rehabs; I had been in locked wards in psych facilities; I had had at least one serious suicide attempt, a course of ECT, and so on. The diagnosis of my family, friends, and teachers was that I was bright and talented but had "emotional problems." I alone knew how deeply these problems were connected to alcohol and drugs, which I'd been using heavily since age fifteen.
A previously unpublished work from 1984 by Wallace which Ryan Niman collected from the shelves of Amherst. It's called The Planet Trillaphon as It Stands in Relation to the Bad Thing (PDF).
Wallace filed a report on John McCain for This American Life in 2000.
Wallace wrote about the 1996 US Open for Tennis magazine.
Personal remembrances from Pomona College faculty and students. He had taught at Pomona since 2002.
A few months later, Dave was the first person we asked to contribute to McSweeney's, thinking we could not start the journal without him. Thankfully, he sent a piece immediately, and then we knew we could begin. We honestly needed his endorsement, his go-ahead, because we were seeking, at the start at least, to focus on experimental fiction, and he was so far ahead of everyone else in that arena that without him the enterprise would seem ridiculous.
Along with his first piece, he also sent a check, for $250. That was the craziest thing: he sent a donation with his contribution. Thus he was the first donor to the journal, though he insisted that his donation remain anonymous in that first issue. I had such a problem cashing that check; I wanted to keep it, frame it, stare at it.
Ok, tabs are clear. Back to work, somehow.