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Monday, April 28, 2014

Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace

It's David Foster Wallace Week here on Sassy Peach, because I have always loved the man's wit, intelligence, and writing style. This book is kicking off the week because it was one of the loveliest portraits I could have even seen of the man. This is David Lipsky's Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace. 

The year is 1996, the month is March. Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky is sent to interview the newly-crowned literary phenom David Foster Wallace (DFW) on the last leg of the Infinite Jest book tour, the book that will ultimately become one of the greatest-known literary achievements in contemporary history. The pair shoot the breeze about the book, the sudden burst of fame, pop culture, teaching, and everything in between.

This transcript is a raw portrait of a man with a one-of-a-kind genius mind whom we all lost too soon. I have loved DFW since I first picked up one of his pieces. (It was Consider the Lobster, in case you care.) I fell madly in love with his extensive use of the footnote and the level at which his mind worked and wrote (always on "high," if you will, and not in the drug sense--in the volume sense). I felt that I was drinking a high-end cocktail (stirred, thankyouverymuch) that needed to be sipped, not slurped or sucked down with a straw. His mind worked on such a level that it often takes two or three reads to get it all processed in my brain. And I love it, every single second of it.

This particular work is different, of course. It is the transcript of his conversations with Lipsky which brought out the conversational side of the man whom I picture so clearly from his work. Sometimes I felt I knew him before this, and other times I felt I was getting a whole new picture of the man. You know how a person can have 6 pictures taken of him or her at different times in the year and in each he or she looks like a completely different person? That was what this interview felt like for me. It made me fall all the more in literary love with the man.

He has such on-point observations about life. At one point he talks about getting older, and having the fame come to him at a later point in his life. He says, "I think I work harder now. I think--I don't know what you were like. I think when I was twenty-two or twenty-three, I pretty much thought every sentence that came off my pen was great. And couldn't stand the idea that it wasn't" (p. 32). Yes, DFW, yes. I understand. You punched me in the gut with that observation. I was the same way, too.

When he talks about why he needs to be alone I feel the most connected to him. See, it's hard to be so dedicated to your work and still find the space to love another person. He says: "It's just much easier having dogs. You don't get laid; but you also don't get the feeling you're hurting their feelings all the time" (p. 98). He later says, "I think if you dedicate youself to anything, um, one facet of that is that it makes you very very selfish. And that when you want to work, you're going to work. And you end up using people. Wanting people around when you want them around, but then sending them away. And you just can't afford to be that concerned about their feelings" (p. 293). I tear up when I read that, because I just get it. The truth hurts the tiniest bit.

He takes a pragmatic view about television and its effect on us as artists: "We sit around and bitch about how TV has ruined the audience for reading--when really all it's done is given us the really precious gift of making our job harder. You know what I mean? And it seems to me like the harder it is to make a reader feel like it's worthwhile to read your stuff, the better a chance you've got of making real art. Because it's only real art that does that" (p. 71). Those words bring joy to my heart as I read them over and over again. It just means we have to work that much harder--and work doesn't scare me.

When he spoke about Infinite Jest, I swooned. He talked about the length of the book and how it was originally a million times longer (my estimate). You have to read the story yourself in the book to truly fall in love with the man and his dedication to the art he created. You need to read the book anyway. Because. DFW.

All of this book, really, felt to me like a gift--and a true literary orgasm of which I haven't experienced before. I rarely quote books, especially on this blog, but I wanted to capture these moments for me to refer back to as I need to remind myself what it feels like to be human. I only wish that we could see what 2014 DFW would bring to our world. My heart aches for that.

Kindle version on the left, hard copy on the right.

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