For the last three months I have read the work David Foster Wallace almost exclusively. It began with little (ha) essays. And then longer essays, short stories, longer stories. Infinite Jest. Brief Interviews. And now I am finishing up Pale King. When I was organizing my schedule for this semester I essentially rearranged many things so that I could take this course and I’m glad that I did. Despite the insane number of pages and the new muscle in my shoulder from carrying IJ around for a month this has been a really great experience. I have never committed to reading the entire works of a single author at one time before. I wasn’t really sure how it would go, if I would get tired of him, or bored of him. But I found myself becoming more interested and honestly more attached to his work.
In September I knew that DFW had written Infinite Jest and that he had died tragically in the not too distant past. I also knew that I had identified with his speech “This is Water” more than I think I even understood. When I read the Editors’ Note at the beginning of Pale King, the work he was writing at the time of his death, and read Michael Pietsch’s reflection on the construction of Pale King I was very moved. Suddenly, Wallace was no longer an author about whom I had come to learn a great deal, he was a real person. He wrote notes and had half of this book ready to go. I thought about all of the letters we had read in class that he wrote to his friends about writing and about how difficult it had become for him. I remembered all of those interviews we watched and how it was so much easier to read his work when I heard him reading it out loud or when I read it in his voice. Reading Pietsch’s near-ode to Wallace put him in the context of the real world. Like, he left people behind too and not just this giant, beautiful mess that became Pale King.
While we were reading Infinite Jest, my professor took us on an Infinite Jest walking tour where we stopped at various landmarks in Boston/Cambridge that were mentioned in IJ. We went to DFW’s apartment, followed Joelle’s walk through Boston Common, the Father and Son Market and finally the locations of both Enfield Tennis Academy and Ennet House. That made it very real, too.
I know more about DFW than I know about any other author and that is pretty fun. There is obviously a lot more to know than I do, but following the trajectory of his work has been an engaging way to try and figure him out. Style things that seemed really cool and unique to me in September have become normal and almost jaded. So I understand what he meant when he wrote in a letter, “I am tired of myself, it seems: tired of my thoughts, associations, syntax, various verbal habits that have gone from discovery to technique to tic.” I am not tired of Wallace, but I can see the repetition and it feels less intentional, it’s less exciting in his later work.
“Good Old Neon,” Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, and certain things from Girl With Curious Hair have been my favorite works. And whenever I push through the boredom in Pale King to get to a “golden nugget” of prose it is incredibly rewarding.
4,279 pages is a lot of pages. It’s been an adventure, and I don’t think its going to be over when I close Pale King. There are infinities in Wallace’s prose that could take a lifetime to understand.
Many thanks to Professor Warren, Will, and my fellow DFW ‘hideous people’ (just kidding you are all wonderful).
And now, another word:
Aha, I’m back! Just when you thought I had disappeared into the world that is college, I reappeared! If you are reading this, thank you, you are thee best. Stay tuned for more regular posts and potentially some videos. Yay :) “Pass it on.”
Read these: My favorite quotes from Wallace
“I’m trapped in the present. If I drank, for instance, some Tang, it wouldn’t remind me of anything—I’d just taste the Tang.” (PK 156)
“Every love story is a ghost story.” (PK 314)
“Little bits of Los Angeles wink on and off, as light gets in the way of other light.” (GWCH 4)
“In June, in a car without air-conditioning, I keep the windows rolled up for the sake of her photo. What more should anyone be required to say?” (GWCH 153).
“My chest bumps like a dryer with shoes in it.” (IJ 5)
“I do things like get in a taxi and say, “The library, and step on it.” (IJ 12)
“You seek to vanquish and transcend the limited self whose limits make the game possible in the first place. It is tragic and sad and chaotic and lovely. All life is the same, as citizens of the human State: the animating limits are within, to be killed and mourned over and over again.” (IJ 84)
I could go on.