One of the big books on my ToBeRead list is Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. Big in every sense of the word. Over 1000 pages Infinite Jest is big in scope, aspiration, and reputation. Wallace is hailed as one of the greatest writers of his generation and his death in the fall of 2008 shook the literary world.
Wallace taught writing at Pomona College and a friend of mine had the opportunity to take a class from this literary genius. Adam wrote about his experience in the class and how "Dave" impacted his writing and his life in a absolutely fantastic article for N+1 Magazine. Adam is an incredible writer himself and I am thrilled to share some wonderful snippets from his article here.
My own soft underbelly was spoken (if not written) politeness, a Midwestern habit of deference and sorrys and if-you-don’t-minds my Midwestern teacher invariably mentioned or mocked or prodded in a mild recursive torment, recursive because politeness tends to be polite about itself.
On the class itself
The class was exciting and productively creative, and fostered abject terror. Wallace knew that he could drive us as hard as he could, and he did, even as he endured a mental hell we learned about only after his death. I knew nothing, suspected nothing.
On receiving critiscm from Wallace
He worried that he hadn’t gotten through to me, and, confused, he asked, "I mean, did you cry?" "Yes." "Good. I would’ve cried.”
Wallace as a teacher
He gave so much of himself, convinced that he could teach us writing’s minutiae and that our knowing the minutiae would help us to communicate meaningfully and that meaningful communication would help us to feel for and so to care for other human beings. So there he was, his generation’s literary genius, teaching undergrads how not to split infinitives.
If Wallace worried that you were bullshitting him, he’d sometimes blink hard, pause, and look angry and anxious at once, as though you’d stolen from him and hidden what you stole
I’d light a candle on the rim of the fountain and stare at the gray stone rim, at the candle, at the water as it fell into the pool and at its reflection against the fountain’s blue center by white lights in the water, a kind of cross-section of cloud, and hear the endless rush of the fountain as I recited “A Rabbit as King of the Ghosts” and waited for meaning, hugged my knees, closed my eyes.
Wallace’s rhetoric is unmistakably religious, powerful, and problematic.
What made David Foster Wallce the writer he was
These are the torments that led to his triumphs: his faith in other people and his doubt about humanity.
David Foster Wallace's influence spread outside the literary world. Colin Meloy- the frontman of one of my favorite bands The Decemberists wanted to base the music video for "Calamity Song" on a scene from Infinite Jest. David Schur, co-creator of NBC's comedy "Parks and Recreation" openly admits his full-blown obsession with the book jumped at the opportunity to direct the music video.
“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 on Dostoevsky
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