David Foster Wallace got into arguments about this in graduate school, when he wanted to depict the heavily mediated space around him — subject matter his professors thought was inconsequential or un-literary. As he pointed out, he’d see hundreds of ads and commercials each day, and they constituted an integral part of his mental activity. Writing about this material gets pejoratively labeled “postmodern” or “experimental,” but what’s more “realist” than describing the physical world, even if billboards and 30-second spots replace trees and rivers?
“It left me inarticulate and emotional, as if I’d been zapped back in time to the broodiest moments of my childhood. I expect to spend the rest of my life staring across vast space at [David Foster] Wallace’s unfinished Death Star, wondering ‘What if?’”
I’m not interested in some kind of David Foster Wallace myth-creation, some kind of canonization. We’ve arrived at that moment where now everyone has to weigh in and have their say over what type of person this writer was, how he treated others, what we can deduce about his psychology and how that can unlock his writing. Everyone’s running around with a new revealing fact. The way the cult of personality has taken over much of the discussion of Wallace’s work is something I find deeply aggravating. So if you’re waiting for me to construct a narrative for the ten years in which this archive was compiled or to explain something new about this person I never met based on the things he wrote down, well, I’m not going to. I don’t want to tell you any story about any person I never knew. I want to tell you the story of how I got to dive down deep into a mess of papers and how I came up laughing or crying or unable to speak. I want to tell you about connectivity.
… [DFW] characterizes his novel as ‘a tornado of characters,’ reminiscent of a comment he made to his editor Michael Pietsch, that writing ‘The Pale King’ was like trying to build a chicken coop in a tornado, itself a quote from Faulkner. Elsewhere, more aptly, he asks, ‘Tornado or stasis.’
“It’s not really that David [Foster Wallace] had any answers for people. But he never stops taking his life seriously and he never stops taking the reader’s life seriously. And I think that’s the connection: you never stop mattering to him and he never stops mattering to himself.”
- Alex Engebretson interviews Wallace’s biographer, D. T. Max