Infinite Jest – David Foster Wallace discussion

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Supplemental Reading > Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace

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message 1: by Kris, Group Jester (new)

Kris (krisrabberman) | 172 comments This is a thread for discussion of the new biography Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace by D.T. Max.


message 2: by Kris, Group Jester (new)

Kris (krisrabberman) | 172 comments Nathan "N.R." wrote: "I expect mine in the mail today. I am deeply dreading the effects that this bio will have on our reading of IJ. What's it called? the biographical fallacy? the psychological-reductionist fallacy? Something like that. May I make a plea that we keep in mind that IJ is the reason we love DFW, not vice versa. But perhaps I'm being overly anxious or perhaps it's just that unnecessarily obligatory tip of the hat to suicide everydamntime DFW's books are discussed. Maybe it's just me. "

I am very glad you wrote this, Nathan. I think it's very important to keep that in mind. The discussions of IJ are not intended to be a search for clues into his state of mind, or a means to conduct a group case study on him. IJ and he deserve better than that.


message 3: by Kris, Group Jester (new)

Kris (krisrabberman) | 172 comments The reviews are starting to come in on this biography, and it is not looking good. See for example Nathan's review: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/... and Moira's review: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/....


message 4: by Marieke (new)

Marieke | 64 comments Kris wrote: "The reviews are starting to come in on this biography, and it is not looking good. See for example Nathan's review: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/... and Moira's review: http://www.go..."

yeah...i'm revisiting the NYer article Moira linked to. now i'm not so excited about that biography. but i am enjoying Moira's mad skillz reporting her findings (but still catching up on everything). i haven't had a chance to look at Nathan's review. perhaps for bio auxiliary, we can just discuss whatever. maybe someday in 50 years a worthwhile bio will come out.


message 5: by Moira (new)

Moira Russell (the_red_shoes) | 123 comments ....well, I can tell you as someone who read the biography that it might affect us less in the IJ read than a goddamn copy of TV Guide (do they even sell that anymore?), because it was TERRIBLE. I don't even mean "badly written" terrible. Or "how did this get published" terrible (it is sadly obvious how it got published). But "this could have been written about DFW's twin brother from an alternate universe, David Wallace Foster, it was that uninformative about him" terrible. Unless you want to know all about his Clearasil-stained bathrobe. Is there a bathrobe, Clearasil-stained or otherwise, in IJ? I don't think so.

But perhaps I'm being overly anxious or perhaps it's just that unnecessarily obligatory tip of the hat to suicide everydamntime DFW's books are discussed.

Not just you. I think this is a really good point. I really, really dislike people who elide the "He meant to show us what it was to be a fucking human being" with his suicide, to imply or straight-out say (saw at least one review doing this - nytimes.com?) that he FAILED, failed personally, his fiction failed, wtf-ever. As far as I'm concerned, yeah, he had a terrible mental illness that got him locked up and shocked out and eventually killed him, but that's not how or why he wrote the book. There are plenty of madmen around. If being mad gave you the capacity to write Infinite Jest....well, yeah. Anyway. Usually I don't like the "discuss ONLY the book, not the author" schtick either, but surely there's a happy medium between pretending there was no author, and seeing every book as a kind of autobiography in a Batman wraparound mask?


message 6: by Kris, Group Jester (last edited Sep 03, 2012 11:20AM) (new)

Kris (krisrabberman) | 172 comments I think this can be a thread about why NOT to read this biography....

Those of us who pre-ordered copies can rue our decision, too. That's always fun.


message 7: by Kris, Group Jester (new)

Kris (krisrabberman) | 172 comments Marieke wrote: "yeah...i'm revisiting the NYer article Moira linked to. now i'm not so excited about that biography. but i am enjoying Moira's mad skillz reporting her findings (but still catching up on everything). i haven't had a chance to look at Nathan's review. perhaps for bio auxiliary, we can just discuss whatever. maybe someday in 50 years a worthwhile bio will come out. ."

I agree with you, Marieke. Moira, you deserve flowers and book gift cards and probably a weekend at a spa for reading the bio and writing those wonderful updates. I kept laughing while feeling awful about watching you undergo the torture.


message 8: by Marieke (new)

Marieke | 64 comments yeah, i was kind of aghast yesterday... at how awful this book seems to be, but also in awe of Moira's stamina to not only get through it in less than a day, but to have the presence of mind to post quips and quotes and state her thoughts and reactions.


message 9: by Ali (last edited Sep 03, 2012 12:44PM) (new)

Ali | 19 comments Usually I don't like the "discuss ONLY the book, not the author" schtick either, but surely there's a happy medium between pretending there was no author, and seeing every book as a kind of autobiography in a Batman wraparound mask?

I think there is. Or if not there should be, because the extremes you describe are both falacious and incorrect. Yes, most authors insert themselves into their work to some extent. If they didn't, all books would be the same and would almost surely be intolerable and boring. It is each author's personal touch, their likes and dislikes, fascinations and obsessions, that gives any book its special charm. So for that reason I do think we should discuss the author a little bit. However, to take it to the other extreme, we should not think that an author inserts themselves completely into the text of their books, or else we're lead into the territory of stupidity which includes the ocasional review of Lolita by people who claim that Nabokov must have been a paedophile because of Humbert Humbert's first-person narration describing his sexual fixation on the eponymous thirteen-year-old girl. Did DFW include ocasional autobiographical details in IJ? Probably. Does that mean everything in IJ ties in to his life and suicide in some way, and that to learn everything you need to know about him, all you have to do is read it? Definitely not.


message 10: by Marieke (new)

Marieke | 64 comments Did anyone link to this interview with Max yet? apologies if so. i'm having some trouble keeping up with everything today.

and it's not my intention to cause anyone apoplexy, i just thought it was even more interesting to read after following Moira's updates, etc.


message 11: by Moira (new)

Moira Russell (the_red_shoes) | 123 comments Kris wrote: "Moira, you deserve flowers and book gift cards and probably a weekend at a spa for reading the bio and writing those wonderful updates. I kept laughing while feeling awful about watching you undergo the torture."

Hah! Aww, that's awfully nice - I will so take a weekend at a spa!


message 12: by Moira (new)

Moira Russell (the_red_shoes) | 123 comments Marieke wrote: "in awe of Moira's stamina to not only get through it in less than a day, but to have the presence of mind to post quips and quotes and state her thoughts and reactions."

Heh, it's just me babbling, really. Actually the stuff I type into GoodReads is what I'd otherwise be scribbling in the margins as I read, only I type fast, so it goes more quickly.


message 13: by Moira (new)

Moira Russell (the_red_shoes) | 123 comments Yeah, there's a quote - damn, I forget who said it now, but it goes "All autobiography is fiction. All fiction is autobiography." I liked that. Certainly writers use the stuff of their own lives, just as artists tend to practice drawing what's around them - but it's also fiction, just as a drawing of a still-life, say, is not a photograph - and come to that even a photograph is an aesthetically rendered thing, there are choices made in how to frame it, develop it, whatever. I'm reading a book of critical essays on Jean Rhys right now, and she was a very autobiographical writer (even to the point of saying "I" when she talked about her heroines) but if you just take her books as straight autobiography, you get misled. Because that's not what she was doing.


message 14: by Moira (last edited Sep 08, 2012 11:01AM) (new)

Moira Russell (the_red_shoes) | 123 comments nd then the third reason, which is something I discovered in working on the book, is that, you know, having been a member of this 12-step program — there's a whole group of people within 12-step programs who think you should be completely drug-free. No alcohol. No marijuana. No prescription anti-depressants. So, poor David, who always wants to be the best student in the class, wanted to be the best possible 12-step program participant. And so, he thought, well, I'll just get off it. And once you're off one of these drugs, it can be very, very hard to stabilize yourself again. And he just wasn't able to.

//grimly Yup. I have taken so much shit in meetings because I'm up front about taking antidepressants &c., I can't tell you. But the newer generation is more like, "I would have died without these pills, so shut up." Like a lot of stuff in AA it's a clash between generations.

OTOH Nardil is not that hard to metabolize, he's full of shit: Phenelzine is administered orally in the form of phenelzine sulfate and is rapidly absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract. Time to peak plasma concentration is 43 minutes and half-life is 11.6 hours. Unlike most other drugs, phenelzine irreversibly disables MAO, and as a result, it does not necessarily need to be present in the blood at all times for its effects to be sustained. Because of this, upon phenelzine treatment being ceased, its effects typically do not actually wear off until the body replenishes its enzyme stores, a process which can take as long as 2–3 weeks. (Wiki) It's older, yeah, which means its effects are less precisely directed than newer antidepressants and there are more side effects - MAOIs are notorious for dietary restrictions. Probably it was prescribed for DFW because it's one of the antidepressants that also treats really bad social anxiety and panic attacks.

There's a poem about depression by Jane Kenyon, I always wonder if he'd read it.

High on Nardil and June light
I wake at four,
waiting greedily for the first
note of the wood thrush. Easeful air
presses through the screen
with the wild, complex song
of the bird, and I am overcome....


http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/pr...


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