Understanding David Foster Wallace
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Understanding David Foster Wallace

3.78 of 5 stars 3.78  ·  rating details  ·  152 ratings  ·  16 reviews
Marshall Boswell examines the four major works of fiction David Foster Wallace has produced thus far: the novels The Broom of the System and Infinite Jest and the story collections Girl with Curious Hair and Brief Interviews with Hideous Men.
Hardcover, 232 pages
Published December 12th 2003 by University of South Carolina Press
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The problem with Boswell's book can be summed up in this quote:

"Therefore, in the same way that a coherent reading of The Broom of the System first demands a familiarity with Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations, a cogent interpretation of Infinite Jest first entails a brief encounter with Lacanian theory."

EXACTLY the kind of high-academic pretension that puts people off reading DFW. If I'd thought I first had to read Wittgenstein, and whatever supplemental material needed to help me unde...more
Kevin Hinman
It's always nice to look at Wallace through a different lens, and it's especially relieving to read an earlier criticism of his work, and one which hasn't been through the obligatory suicide ringer of modern DFW appraisals. That being said, Boswell's strong, and for the most part, interesting, focus on Wallace's linguistic aims also largely diminishes the very thesis Boswell attempts to get across, which is the ultimate end-point of DFWs language games is real human connection.
Additionally, Bosw...more
I read David Foster Wallace for many reasons, really too many to name here. But chief among them is how his work challenges me as a reader, making me feel smarter and actually making me smarter, and by smarter I mean both in the traditional sense but also smarter as in more aware, of the world around me, of the people in this world. His ability, through his language, to make me feel a little bit less alone in this modern world.

Marshall Boswell has done DFW fans like me a great service. Just when...more
Well that's just like, your opinion, man. This book kind of paints Wallace as a two-dimensional axe grinder, which he isn't. However, even though it is sloppily written at times, I did enjoy his arguments and it was fun to relive the stories.
I'm pretty sure this was the first critical book on DFW to come out, and it's pretty good. Boswell does an excellent job of navigating difficult and fresh critical grounds, for the most part. I'm not at all convinced by his analysis of Infinite Jest, or parts of it at least, as an argument against Lacan. More importantly, I just don't give a shit because I don't give a shit about Lacan, and I don't think you need to talk about Lacan at all to talk about DFW or a book that has about a trillion ti...more
Eric Mongold
I'll always read material on Wallace. Boswell is good, a bit pretentious, but good. He seems to underestimate readers' abilities to understand the theory and philosophical implications of Wallace without having first extensively read Wittgenstein, Derrida, Lacan, & others, which is crazy. Other than that, it was a fine read, although I am probably a little bias because it is about DFW.
Matthew Balliro
This book gives a pretty good overview of DFW's career through "Brief Interviews with Hideous Men," with special attention given to "Infinite Jest." It includes some excellent readings of very specific passages and themes, although the author certainly has an agenda running throughout. His main point is, astoundingly, that DFW is awesome. Not that I disagree, but when I got to his conclusion, and found that he ended on said point, I was underwhelmed. But the stuff in between the pages is pretty...more
Boswell gets a little too bogged down in his [imo] slanted and often tangential take on things. I mean, certainly we can understand Infinite Jest without talking about Lacan. No doubt it's an interesting aside, but to make it the central theme of the whole chapter on IJ is unfortunate. And the amount of time spent talking about Barth is trying. Sure, DFW had to wrestle with/undo some of Barth's stuff, but clearly there's a lot more going on in Wallace's fiction than patricide of his postmodern p...more
Jun 04, 2013 Rob marked it as reference
I read the section about Girl With Curious Hair and found it really helpful in contextualizing the stories and expounding on their broader meanings. If I ever decide to take on Infinite Jest, I will probably consult this book again.
a very well written look at some complex subject matter. boswell makes dfw seem pretty manageable, and in doing so makes wittgenstein, derrida and lacan seem rather palatable for me in a way that grad school couldn't.
"Still on the early end of forty, Wallace, perhaps the most influential writer of his generation, still has a long and rich career ahead of him."
Some really smart, precise stuff in here about what differentiates Wallace from the academic and literary postmodernists of the 60s.
Paul Huber
the analysis of infinite jest is fantastic and REALLY clears up a few of the vague plot lines and allusions and everything.
This is great reference for writing about/researching Wallace. It's hard to find, but totally worth the search.
Jun 07, 2011 Marco added it
Clear and explicative, might put too much emphasis on Lacanian theory and not enough on Wittgenstein
Lyn LeJeune
with a little help, you can divine David Foster Wallace
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