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Sunday, January 6, 2013

Review: Conversations with David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace, from Conversations with David Foster Wallace
University Press of Mississippi, 2012

David Foster Wallace said "that no truly interesting question can be satisfactorily answered within the formal constraints (viz. magazine-space, radio-time, public decorum) of an interview,” which is and is not true--a Schrodinger’s-cat paradox that plays itself here in Conversations, his fiction and his life.  Wallace describes his life/artistic aims:
“[T]he standard arc that just about everybody goes through, in that my interest in intellectual and cerebral and clever stuff--although it’s not like I’m not interested in that [emphasis mine]....  [T]he older I get the more what’s magical about art becomes for me the idea of stuff that’s moving.”
This both neatly describes what this volume manages to capture:  both Wallace’s arc of life and that of his art--their transformation yet their paradoxical uniformity.  This conveys that sense that Wallace is completely honest yet he honestly pulls aside to say that while what he says is true, it’s not completely true, either.  Another instance of paradox occurs when Wallace began wearing bandannas in Tucson while getting his MFA:
“ ‘because it was a hundred degrees all the time, and I would perspire so much I would drip on the page.’  The woman he was dating thought the bandanna was a wise move.  ‘She was like a sixties lady, a Sufi Muslim.  She said there were various chakras, and one of the big ones she called the spout hole, at the very top of your cranium. Then I began thinking about the phrase ‘Keeping your head together.’  It makes me feel kind of creepy that people view it as a trademark or something--it’s more a recognition of a weakness, which is that I’m just kind of worried that my head’s gonna explode.”
After reading this interview collection, one gets the sense of play present not only in his fiction but also his life.  There was no reason to continue wearing bandannas except as a game rule, which also adds significance to the meta-narrative of his life:  “my head’s gonna explode.”

You also witness Wallace’s high-degree of fidelity to reality yet while observing more such rules--a form that’s only necessary within a game construct, which becomes persuasive within the construct but not necessarily so if removed from its context.  An example is visible in his statement about suicide:
“All this business about people committing suicide when they’re ‘severely depressed;’ we say, ‘Holy cow, we must do something to stop them from killing themselves!’ That’s wrong.  Because all these people have... by this time already killed themselves, where it really counts....  When they ‘commit suicide,’ they’re just being orderly.”
This is genius insight into the mind of the depressed, but it only holds true if there actually is no way out.  Who is this paradoxical man that is David Foster Wallace?  Conversations captures the essence of Wallace in a way that no biography or reading of his fiction could ever quite match.  Imagine Wallace’s own ingeniously structured Brief Interviews with Hideous Men transposed on his own life.  The final interview after Wallace’s suicide with those who knew him well brings a kind of closure and fuller understanding.  This book is recommended for writers (to see previous quotes, see David Foster Wallace label) and for any reader who has enjoyed Wallace’s work.

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