09 April 2010

The David Foster Wallace Archive

DFW's notes on a DeLillo book

I try not to think about David Foster Wallace's passing anymore but when I do the idea that the best author of his generation hug himself at the age of forty-six is almost unbearable. Studying writing around the time DFW published Infinite Jest was a hopeful time, a time for the possibilities of renewal in the much worn-out form of fiction writing. And that was all due to this Gargantuesque, avant-garde book. We didn't all like him but he inspired us. As precise and as disciplined as DFW must have been with his writing, the riffs, the footnotes, the erudition which made every turn of the page a 52 pick-up move, all those scattered pieces of writing arranged themselves into seemingly easy brilliance. We can't all be geniuses but a genius like DFW jacked up our writing up to the next level.

If writers like Pynchon are brilliant, that sort of twenty-minute-drum-solo writing never inspired me. It intimidates and it's difficult to read. DFW by contrast gives the reader so much pleasure. Reading the title piece in the collection of essays A Supposed Fun Thing I'll Ever Do Again, I had to stop reading it on public transport. I wasn't simply laughing out loud, I kept hurting my ribs and chocking due to uncontrollable laughing fits which never seemed to end. The type of display which is more than other commuters can bear at 8 in the morning.

He was the writer of my generation and his passing in 2008 reminded me of long discussions with Claire and Carmine and Peter and Rob about DFW over pitchers of beer at the Copa. All these came back to the surface a couple of weeks ago via a New Yorker article announced the University of Texas had acquired the David Foster Wallace Archive. The collection includes multiple drafts of his published writings, graffitied copies of books by other authors, "the archive also contains an extensive amount of writing from Wallace’s childhood and youth: a whimsical childhood poem about vikings, signed “David Foster Wallace”; school essays about “Pride and Prejudice” and “Moby Dick”; four issues of “Sabrina,” the Amherst humor magazine he co-founded with his roommate, Mark Costello. For an author who leapt with astonishing rapidity from youthful promise into adult virtuosity, the juvenilia may prove especially illuminating."

The archive will be open to the public this autumn. It just might be worth the trip to Texas.

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