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Conversations with David Foster Wallace

Stephen J. Burn

Publication Year: 2012

Across two decades of intense creativity, David Foster Wallace (1962-2008) crafted a remarkable body of work that ranged from unclassifiable essays, to a book about transfinite mathematics, to vertiginous fictions. Whether through essay volumes (A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, Consider the Lobster), short story collections (Girl with Curious Hair, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, Oblivion), or his novels (Infinite Jest, The Broom of the System), the luminous qualities of Wallace's work recalibrated our measures of modern literary achievement. Conversations with David Foster Wallace gathers twenty-two interviews and profiles that trace the arc of Wallace's career, shedding light on his omnivorous talent.

Jonathan Franzen has argued that, for Wallace, an interview provided a formal enclosure in which the writer "could safely draw on his enormous native store of kindness and wisdom and expertise." Wallace's interviews create a wormhole in which an author's private theorizing about art spill into the public record. Wallace's best interviews are vital extra-literary documents, in which we catch him thinking aloud about his signature concerns--irony's magnetic hold on contemporary language, the pale last days of postmodernism, the delicate exchange that exists between reader and writer. At the same time, his acute focus moves across MFA programs, his negotiations with religious belief, the role of footnotes in his writing, and his multifaceted conception of his work's architecture. Conversations with David Foster Wallace includes a previously unpublished interview from 2005, and a version of Larry McCaffery's influential Review of Contemporary Fiction interview with Wallace that has been expanded with new material drawn from the original raw transcript.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi

Series: Literary Conversations Series

Cover, Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-viii

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pp. ix-xviii

“I’m wretched at interviews,” David Foster Wallace told me in a letter sent late in the summer of 2007, “and will do them only under big duress.”1 Wallace’s discomfort with interviews makes sense on multiple levels. His concern about public revelation is reasonable in terms of the overall arc of his career, ...


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pp. xix-xxii

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David Foster Wallace: A Profile

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pp. 3-7

David Wallace is kneeling in the hallway, like a golfer lining up a putt. He taps a Marlboro Light on his gray cords, then lights it. Before the cigarette reaches his mouth again, one of his students, a sorority girl, tanned, chunky, with a thick mane of honey-blonde hair, approaches him. ...

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A Whiz Kid and His Wacky First Novel

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pp. 8-10

In his final year at Amherst College, David Foster Wallace faced a difficult career decision. He had to decide whether his future lay with graduate studies in philosophy or in what academia labels “creative writing.” Few of us could have solved the problem as neatly: Mr. Wallace produced two senior honors theses that brought him a double summa cum laude. ...

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Looking for a Garde of Which to Be Avant: An Interview with David Foster Wallace

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pp. 11-20

At thirty, David Foster Wallace has been called the best of his generation of American writers. His novel, The Broom of the System, and his collection of short stories and novella, Girl with Curious Hair, have earned him wide critical acclaim, a prestigious Whiting Writers’ Award, and an intensely devoted readership. ...

An Expanded Interview with David Foster Wallace

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pp. 21-52

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The Next Big Thing: Can a Downstate Author Withstand the Sensation over His 1,079-Page Novel?

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pp. 53-57

Yet the novel has become what the hypesters like to call the literary sensation of this young year. It has attracted attention across the nation’s mainstream print media—Time, Newsweek, Spin, Esquire, Elle, GQ . . . —and the reviews have been the type that authors compose in their heads as fantasy-fulfillment exercises. ...

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The Salon Interview: David Foster Wallace

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pp. 58-65

David Foster Wallace’s low-key, bookish appearance flatly contradicts the unshaven, bandanna-capped image advanced by his publicity photos. But then, even a hipster novelist would have to be a serious, disciplined writer to produce a 1,079-page book in three years. Infinite Jest, Wallace’s mammoth second novel, juxtaposes life in an elite tennis academy ...

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The Wasted Land

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pp. 66-69

The city of Normal, Illinois, has taken its name as its destiny. It boasts a twoblock downtown so low-key that no one ever goes there, a strip containing every fast-food outlet known to man, and 19,000 Illinois State students who would probably rather be at the University of Illinois. The landscape is featureless, the weather extreme, the thrills obscure. ...

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David Foster Wallace Winces at the Suggestion That His Book Is Sloppy in Any Sense

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pp. 70-72

Wallace’s dander, however, isn’t perceptibly on the rise. Seated in his hotel room at the Copley Plaza, shortly after doing Christopher Lydon’s radio show and before heading out for a reading, Wallace looks tired but entirely calm. And he remains that way except when he thinks he might be coming off as pretentious or self-promoting, ...

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Young Writers and the TV Reality

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pp. 73-75

After all, fiction writers of his generation—Wallace is thirty-five—were raised in an environment in which the average American family spends six hours a day in front of the television. He sees that reflected in myriad ways: young people’s diffident, inarticulate conversations—or lack of them; ...

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The “Infinite Story” Cult Hero behind the 1,079-Page Novel Rides the Hype He Skewered

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pp. 76-81

There is The Thing, plunked down in the coliseum of our consciousness. There is The Viewer of this Thing, sitting in the stands, hand on chin. And there is The Viewer of The Viewer of The Thing—the postmodernist metaphysician hovering in the helicopter above, discussing the way people watch. ...

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David Foster Wallace

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pp. 82-88

February 23, 1998: “I’ve never been considered Press before,” writes David Foster Wallace at the beginning of his 1993 essay “Getting Away from Already Pretty Much Being Away from It All.” That may be technically true; when Harper’s sent Wallace to do the piece, for which he was issued press credentials and explored the Illinois State Fair, ...

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David Foster Wallace: In the Company of Creeps

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pp. 89-93

“It wasn’t till I saw the galleys that I noticed how horrific this stuff was.” Sunday evening in Normal, Illinois, David Foster Wallace and PW are lost somewhere near the lingerie department of the local Kmart, on the lookout for audiocassettes, and Wallace is taking this unforeseen pre-interview delay to air a couple of last-minute reservations about the PW interview process. ...

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David Foster Wallace Warms Up

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pp. 94-100

After all the attention David Foster Wallace received following the surprising success of his 1996 novel, Infinite Jest, he’s dedicated to protecting his privacy. Responses to the 1,079-page social satire and human tragedy—which famously included 388 endnotes—were overwhelmingly positive. ...

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Mischief: A Brief Interview with David Foster Wallace

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pp. 101-103

Don’t expect to find any rakishly charming Don Juans in David Foster Wallace’s new collection of fiction, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. More neurotic than erotic, the book delves (with some glee, we might add) into the mire of modern romance through a series of fictional Q&As. ...

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Behind the Watchful Eyes of Author David Foster Wallace

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pp. 104-109

From a certain point of view, that of raw Mozartian virtuosity, Wallace might honestly be called the best young writer in America. For pungent phrase, performative strategy, unpredictability, hurricane force, risk-for-risk’s-sake bravado, and back-of-the-envelope improvisation, he stands out among his contemporaries. ...

Conversation with David Foster Wallace and Richard Powers

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pp. 110-120

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Approaching Infinity

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pp. 121-126

If there were another superpower anymore, it would probably classify David Foster Wallace’s Everything and More: A Compact History of ∞ (W. W. Norton) as a Sputnik-level threat to its national security. After all, America’s intellectual vigor must be fearsome if a publisher is willing to bet that its citizens will voluntarily, recreationally, ...

To the Best of Our Knowledge: Interview with David Foster Wallace

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pp. 127-135

The Connection: David Foster Wallace

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pp. 136-151

Interview with David Foster Wallace

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pp. 152-157

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Just Asking . . . David Foster Wallace

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pp. 158-160

David Foster Wallace, author of the novel Infinite Jest, was asked by Rolling Stone magazine to cover John McCain’s presidential campaign in 2000. That assignment became a chapter in his essay collection Consider the Lobster (2005); the essay has now been issued as a stand-alone book, McCain’s Promise. ...

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The Lost Years and Last Days of David Foster Wallace

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pp. 161-182

He was the greatest writer of his generation—and also its most tormented. In the wake of his tragic suicide, his friends and family reveal the lifelong struggle of a beautiful mind. ...


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pp. 183-186

E-ISBN-13: 9781617032288
E-ISBN-10: 161703228X
Print-ISBN-13: 9781617032271

Page Count: 208
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Literary Conversations Series