Monday, November 23, 2009

Gagging on Behalf of David Foster Wallace

I'm sort of starting to get really annoyed and creeped out by the cult that has always existed, but seems to have exploded, since the late author David Foster Wallace committed suicide.

I regularly read a site dedicated to Wallace and his work, which of late has been covering a New York conference on Wallace and his writing. After reading the schedule and subject matter covered by the conference, it's strikes me that DFW has been so dissected and idolized that I wouldn't be surprised to encounter a lecture on his bowel habits. Maybe I should say "His bowel habits," because these folks have placed Foster Wallace in the holy firmament, somewhat akin to a God. Then again, maybe such a subject would not be covered in the conference, because maybe the die-harders think that Mr. Foster Wallace was too elevated to shit at all.

I think this idolatry has done DFW a very grave disservice, because his compassion and HUMANITY are precisely what made his work so great and so essentially his.

I have to honestly say (admittedly, not having known Mr. Wallace personally) that I don't believe DFW would be AT ALL happy to find his very private self so idolized and inspected. Nor do I believe he would enjoy having his work so over-analyzed and dissected.

At this point, I think some of these Wallace-philes ought to just start a David Foster Wallace Fan Club and wear badges and get it over with. Gag.

I also take the liberty to gag on behalf of Mr. Foster Wallace, because he can no longer do so himself.

[Important Note: I need to add that I do not, in any way, mean to belittle the fine work that Nick does over at The Howling Fantods!, a site I read nearly daily. I believe that Nick does all of the hard work of keeping and maintaining the site sheerly out of a love and appreciation for Wallace and his work. I am indebted.]

19 comments:

Syd said...

It sounds like a bunch of sad people to me. I don't like to idolize anyone.

Chompers said...

The discussions at this conference was about his work, not his private life.

Madame Psychosis said...

oh, eternal gag!

Mary LA said...

I discovered Roberto Bolano some years ago and was also appalled at the heroworship his death brought up.

But I do love the work of DFW --

Mary LA

Mary LA

Anonymous said...

Wow. What a spiteful bit of bile that was.

Allow me to explain. I was at the NYC event, in fact I spoke at it. I am working on a PhD on Wallace's literature - as well as being a huge fan of his writing - and my paper was about his literature, and his narrative strategies. This is what conferences are for - to discuss the work of one or many authors with the aim of providing a forum for those who are interested in the work to talk and share ideas.

That you should be upset about people gathering at what was primarily an academic conference to discuss a writer's work is a source of utter mystery to me.
Have you ever discussed the work of Wallace with friends? Indeed, have you ever discussed the work of any writer or artist with friends? Because that was the purpose of the NYC event. I came away with a notebook full of ideas and many new acquaintances with whom I plan to remain in touch, and I will use references from the papers for my PhD.

You say that:

I think this idolatry has done DFW a very grave disservice, because his compassion and HUMANITY are precisely what made his work so great and so essentially his.

Nothing like stating opinion as fact, huh? One of the speakers explained that she considers Infinite Jest a failed project. Idolatry? Yeah, sounds like it. You sound like nothing as much as those newspaper editorials that denounce the latest 'controversial' film without having bothered to see it. If you'd come to the event, I'm sure you would have found much to enjoy - not a fan convention, but a gathering of people from across the globe with a serious academic and non-academic interest in Wallace's work, in some cases people who lobbied for unpublished Wallace work to be made available to the public, so people like yourself could read it, so it wasn't just the property of a select few fans.

Would Wallace like the idea of this event? I'm sure he'd HATE it. Evidence suggests that he didn't like the idea of people discussing his work. However, when you're as good a writer as he was then frankly people are going to want to discuss it. In fact, your editorial here discusses Wallace's work. Does that make you like the people at the conference? In essence, yes.

Please stop and think before you post something so ill-informed and spiteful next time.

Anonymous said...

Um, there are academic conferences devoted to authors all the time. At these conferences, academics analyze various meanings, strategies, implications of the author's work. At this particular conference, there were a few additional presentations analyzing the social impact of Wallace's work and his death. The only difference between this academic conference and others is that this one attracted many non-academics, to the benefit of all attendees. I'm not sure how, say, using Heidegger to understand Infinite Jest is comparable to dredging up the author's hair and toenail clippings from his garbage can.

Then again, I got linked here from the "fan" site you mentioned and otherwise have no idea why your blog matters to me. Just thought I'd share my reaction to your misunderstanding of the field of academic scholarship.

Anonymous said...

I'm guessing you are referring to the Wallace-I board - what you've failed to mention, is that the boards members have been dissecting Wallace's writing since LONG before his death - a small percentage of the posts discuss David, the man.

Am I to assume, based on your post, that you feel the same way about Shakespeare scholars, Hemingway scholars, etc?

And please don’t be so presumptuous as to think you speak for Wallace, or what he thought of his readers.

Sarcastic Bastard said...

Anonymous Masses,

I was awaiting your ire. Therefore, I am not surprised to see these responses. Too bad you didn't put your actual names to them, but at least the comments were fairly respectful, so I have chosen to post them and respond here anyway.

Quote from one of the comments: I think this idolatry has done DFW a very grave disservice, because his compassion and HUMANITY are precisely what made his work so great and so essentially his.

Nothing like stating opinion as fact, huh?

How is "I think" stating an opinion as fact? Excuse me? I would have dropped the "I think" if I was intending to state a fact.

Would Wallace like the idea of this event? I'm sure he'd HATE it. Evidence suggests that he didn't like the idea of people discussing his work.

Exactly my point. When you dissect the work to oblivion, you take all the magic out of it.

Some of the discussions I've read on Wallace's footnotes blow my mind. They are beyond ridiculous.

I stand by what I said in my post, and I respect your right to disagree with me. However, it is my blog, and I was just pointing out something that was disturbing me. I will always say what I feel when I feel strongly about something that matters to me. That is the whole point of blogging. If you don't like what I have to say, then don't read me.

Let me mention that I have an English background, and I understand the concept of scholarly study fairly well, but this scholarly clique that has grown up around Wallace (especially since his death) has gotten way too pretentious for my blood. I think the great offense taken to my post and the responding comments here clearly illustrate the attitude of which I speak.

I still say Wallace would have thrown up.

Let me also mention that I don't give a good goddamn about scholarly credentials. Some of the dumbest people I know are PhDs. If you have something worthwhile to say, it doesn't have to be backed up by mention of your PhD.

Sarcastic Bastard said...

Chompers,
Noted. I talked largely about the conference in my post, but I meant to indicate the fan blogs as well.

Some of the Wallace sites do a great service to those of us who admired his work. I just find the worship and over-analysis of his work disturbing.

Thank you for having the balls to put a name to your comment.

SB

Sarcastic Bastard said...

Anonymous Whoever,
My post wasn't intended to be spiteful at all, merely honest.

David Foster Wallace mattered to me, so I took the time to point out something that was beginning to trouble me deeply and to, frankly, piss me off.

I knew I would draw flack for it.

Sarcastic Bastard said...

Madame Psychosis,
That made me laugh.

Joe said...

"..then don't read me."

Done.

Sarcastic Bastard said...

Thanks, Joe!

SB

Petit fleur said...

SB, You ROCK.

I don't even know this guy and I'm about to PUKE!! I live in a college town, and have long suffered effects of the insecurity and narcissism that often accompanies those that live in the world of academia.

You kick so much ass, and i just wanted to say that.
xo pf

joe said...

So, in summation, discussing Wallace and his writing is pretentious and bad, but discussing discussing other people discussing Wallace and his writing, and getting worked up about it, is ok and more reasonable, acceptable?

joe said...

One last thing, I reviewed your post history, and lo and behold, you’ve written quite a few gushing reviews of Dave and his writing – so, why then is it ok for you to share your feelings, while at the same time, find it objectionable when others do the same?

I also found this:

“I must admit that I have only recently discovered David Foster Wallace (DFW), due to the news of his suicide and the upset that his death caused the literary community. Like many, I find DFW's suicide particularly troubling. He was considered perhaps the most important, intelligent, promising writer of my generation and for good reason. The more I read David's work, the more I understand the huge hit we all took with his passing. I am in awe of his fine intelligence, his humanity, his wit, and his plain humility and decency as a writer and as a person. I can do no justice to him by trying to describe him further, so I'll stop trying and instead post a commencement speech that he once gave in a separate post today. The speech encapsulates and illustrates the qualities that I just pointed to.”

Keep in mind, some of us have been Wallace fans for much, much longer than yourself – so, when he died, many of us took it very hard. I’m glad you found Wallace, and that we share an appreciation for his work, but some people have been doing so for quite a long time, and this new trend you speak of is nothing new, new to you perhaps, but for long time wallace-I members, it’s not, you know, new.

Kat Skratch said...

well, *I'M* glad you speak your mind :) <3 for you SB

Kat

Sarcastic Bastard said...

Joe,
Point well taken. [I forgot to say earlier, thank you for having the balls to put a name to your post.]

Your second post made me laugh, which I needed today. You are welcome here anytime. The wording make me smile. And, again, I see the point you are making.

I'm not even sure I am getting my own point across anymore. I am trying to convey something I feel in my heart that makes me uneasy. I did the best I could in the original post, albeit somewhat crankily. The Wallace worship just makes me hinky and uncomfortable, and I felt like I needed to say something about it, because Dave meant a lot to me as a human being and a writer.

I don't see anything wrong with groups of folks or scholars discussing DFW's work. I just don't like the aspect of idolatry and minute dissection of his work, because I feel like it strips Dave of his humanity and rapes the totality and wholeness of the work.

I'm sorry, but I don't see any merit at all in discussing what Dave meant in footnote 56 on page whatever, for example.

I hope this makes sense to you, and I wish you the best.

SB

Sarcastic Bastard said...

[Important Note: I need to add that I do not, in any way, mean to belittle the fine work that Nick does over at The Howling Fantods!, a site I read nearly daily. I believe that Nick does all of the hard work of keeping and maintaining the site sheerly out of a love and appreciation for Wallace and his work. I am indebted.]