“[…] Dostoevsky wrote fiction about the stuff that’s really important. He wrote fiction about identity, moral value, death, will, sexual vs. spiritual love, greed, freedom, obsession, reason, faith, suicide. And he did it without ever reducing his characters to mouthpieces or his books to tracts. His concern was always what it is to be a human being—that is, how to be an actual person someone whose life is informed by values and principles, instead of just an especially shrewd kind of self-preserving animal.”
— David Foster Wallace, ‘Joseph Frank’s Dostoevsky’
David Hering discusses how his new book led him to explore the Wallace archive
How did you discover David Foster Wallace’s work?
I actually read his journalism first, before knowing who he was – I read his piece in Premiere on David Lynch back in 1997 when I was in my teens, and remember thinking that it was very good and idiosyncratic, but not remembering his name. He was not really a widely-known writer in the UK at that point. It was only when I found myself re-reading it in A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again years later that I joined the dots. I first came to his fiction in the mid-2000s, shortly before I started my PhD. The first thing I read was Infinite Jest – I went through a phase of devouring these huge postmodern encyclopaedic novels, and that was one of them. By that point the name had been floating round in my peripheral vision for a good while, and I wanted to know what the fuss was about.
I was immediately – immediately – struck by it. Sometimes it takes a while for a big book to bed in before you really love it – I think Bolano’s 2666 is a case in point – but I distinctly remember that by the time I got to the first line of the second chapter of Infinite Jest (‘Where was the woman who said she’d come’) I thought “I’m in this until the end”. Which is very unusual, for me at least. I think I read the last 200 pages in a day. (more…)
Ben Leubner reviews a new collection for 3:AM Magazine
The five essays that comprise String Theory: David Foster Wallace on Tennis have all appeared in other books by Wallace: two in A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, one in Consider the Lobster, and two in the posthumously published Both Flesh and Not. Nevertheless, it’s a treat to have them all collected between two covers now, especially when the book in question is a well-designed, slim and handsome hardcover, styled in the green-and-white of a traditional grass or hard court tennis surface. The only unpublished material in the collection is a short introduction by John Jeremiah Sullivan that aptly summarizes Wallace’s junior career in and lifelong enjoyment of tennis, concluding with a black-and-white photograph of an eighteen-year-old Wallace and his high school tennis team, a bowl-headed Wallace grinning in the back row, hugging his racquet to his chest.
Writer Lucy Caldwell talks to Faber & Faber about the importance of the short story form, and picks some of her favourite examples
A short story is a shot of vodka (Chekhov), a love affair to the novel’s marriage (Lorrie Moore), a high wire act (Kevin Barry). It’s a hand grenade, a sprint, a shock, a shiver. There’s something taut, essential, elusive about it. There’s a magic to it, an alchemy. A good short story has to infer the entire and immersive world of a novel, create the same depth of consciousness in its characters, and yet with a mere fraction of the words. It requires the concision of poetry, and maybe the comparison with poetry goes even further: it needs to work on a symbolic plane as well as on the level of the literal narrative.
A good short story needs to be far greater than the sum of its parts, something that unfurls in you after you’ve read it, echoes within you long after you’ve finished it. My favourite definition, perhaps, is William Carlos Williams’: “Short stories are the flare of a match struck in the dark, the only real form for describing the briefness, the brokenness and the simultaneous wholeness of people’s lives.” [Read More]
The New York Times looks back on the release of David Foster Wallace’s magnum opus
When his “Infinite Jest” came out 20 years ago, David Foster Wallace felt some anxiety about how his fully stuffed novel would be received. In an interview on the radio show “Bookworm” at the time, Wallace said: “This is the great nightmare, when you’re doing something long and hard, is you’re terrified that it will be perceived as gratuitously hard and difficult, that this is some avant-garde-for-its-own-sake sort of exercise.” (more…)
Alberto Comparini (LARB) reviews a new study of the novel-essay and its place in modernity
“Hybrid genres,” and the questionable orthodoxy of traditional genres, are subjects that continue to vex literary theory. Consider Joris-Karl Huysmans’s Against Nature, Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain and Doctor Faustus, Jean-Paul Sartre’s Nausea, or Robert Musil’s The Man without Qualities: What do these novels share? What kind of novels are they? Are these books truly novels, or are they another form altogether?
American academic and writer shares his passion for the work of Samuel Beckett with Electric Literature
Colin Winnette: What motivated this recommendation?
Brian Evenson: It’s a book I’m very fond of, and I tend to think contemporary American fiction would be more interesting if more writers knew Molloy.I tend to think contemporary American fiction would be more interesting if more writers knew Molloy.
I think it’s also a very funny book (though weird humor sometimes) and has some amazing sentences. (more…)
“Writing also means trying to advance the art. Fiction hasn’t quite been filled in or done in or worked out. We make our small leaps.” — Don DeLillo, 1982
Keynote Speaker: John Duvall (Purdue University)
This one-day conference will address the state of fiction in contemporary American culture by focusing on the extensive oeuvre of Don DeLillo, from the 1970s to the present day and beyond. Shortly after the publication of The Names, DeLillo commented that fiction had not yet been ‘filled in,’ ‘done in,’ or ‘worked out.’ How do we read this thirty years later, in the shadow of not only DeLillo’s major works but also the events that have characterised our move into the Twenty-First Century? How have DeLillo’s small leaps between the New York of Players (1977) and the New York of Falling Man (2007) ‘filled in’ fiction? Has DeLillo’s pervasive influence across contemporary American culture ‘done in’ postmodernism? Is the novel in the Twenty First Century already ‘worked out’?(more…)
Emily Temple (Flavorwire) has compiled a list of ’50 Incredibly Tough Books for Extreme Readers’. Their toughness varies from the sheer bulk of the volume (eg. Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Stein’s The Making of Americans), to their stylistic virtuosity (Finnegans Wake, anyone?). But despite their daunting reputations, there can be something special about reading a ‘difficult’ book.
Paul Thomas Anderson: When I was at Emerson for that year, David Foster Wallace, who was a great writer who was not known then, was my teacher—he was my English teacher … It was the first teacher I fell in love with. I’d never found anybody else like that at any of the other schools I’d been to. Which makes me really reticent to talk shit about schools or anything else, because it’s just like anyplace—if you could find a good teacher, man, I’m sure school would be great. (more…)