In his end notes to his biography of David Foster Wallace, D.T. Max of The New Yorker, writes that “David may have been the last great letter writer in American literature” and that “with the advent of email [Wallace’s] correspondence grew terser, less ambitious.” Burn echoes the same view, observing that “the major difference probably stems from the more rigidly linear format of some of his emails. Some of the great letters look like spiderweb art: in these notes, Wallace has written over the top of the letter he’s replying to, with comments between the lines, spiralling into the margins, running up to headers and down to the footers.”
Did David Foster Wallace predict our anxiety over selfies? At The Wire, Danielle Wiener-Bronner argues that Wallace was prescient in Infinite Jest. Although videophony, his concept of video-chatting, isn’t the same thing as a selfie, the paranoia over looking good is strikingly current. “This sort of appearance check was no more resistible than a mirror. But the experience proved almost universally horrifying. People were horrified at how their own faces appeared on a TP screen.”
As the practice of writing on paper (everything from telegrams to letters to books to Post-It notes) is increasingly devoured by technology, words on paper are evolving from widespread tools of communication into the rarefied stuff of art. As things recede, they also expand. As a result, words are becoming as legitimate as the more traditional subject matter of painting, drawing, video and sculpture.
David Foster Wallace has become an American legend in his own right, so it makes sense that he’ll be coming to the big screen soon. Jason Segel will play the famous writer in an adaptation of David Lipsky’s Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourselfwith Jesse Eisenberg as Lispky. Can one movie handle this much neurosis?
Tuesday New Release Day
Both Flesh and Not, a posthumous collection of David Foster Wallace essays, is now out in paperback. Also out: Report from the Interior by Paul Auster; a new paperback edition of Stephanie LaCava’s An Extraordinary Theory of Objects; and a new collection of essays by C.S. Lewis. For more on these and other great titles, check out our Great Second-Half 2013 Book Preview. Bonus Links: You can now subscribe to listings of literary new releases in your feed reader with this RSS feed. Plus, check out more new release RSS feeds here.
"The ‘cameo’ or ‘fade,’ that troubling cyberpunk flat-top haircut favored by Carl Lewis and Grace Jones but popularized by the group Cameo’s rapping Larry Blackmon, has now become less a haircut than a sculptural statement: words, logos, slogans, and complex signs razored into the rigid anvil of hair that is, according to the Voice, ‘the most culturally conscious unisex hairstyle since the ‘afro.’”
The book David Foster Wallace co-authored with Mark Costello about the pair’s “uncomfortable, somewhat furtive, and distinctively white enthusiasm for a certain music called rap/hip-hop” will be re-released in the US next Tuesday. UK readers look like they’re going to get a reissue of the book on their shelves as well.
The only footnotes worth reading these days are the ones written by David Foster Wallace. Wallace made the marginalized fine print purr with energy. The typical Wallace footnote is something of a trick. It begins with what appear to be functional intentions before morphing into a linguistic stunt delivered with a sweet mixture of wit and tenderness. When it’s over (and that can take a while — sometimes pages in 7-pt font), a single Wallace footnote creates shockwaves that reduce the dominant text, no matter how brilliant, to an afterthought.
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?