David Foster Wallace: Wikis


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David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, January 2006.
Born February 21, 1962(1962-02-21)
Ithaca, New York
Died September 12, 2008 (aged 46)
Claremont, California
Occupation novelist, short story writer, essayist, college professor
Nationality United States
Period 1987–2008
Genres Literary fiction


Literary movement Postmodern literature, hysterical realism

David Foster Wallace (February 21, 1962 – September 12, 2008) was an American author of novels, essays, and short stories, and a professor at Pomona College in Claremont, California. He was widely known for his 1996 novel Infinite Jest,[2][3] which Time included in its All-Time 100 Greatest Novels list (covering the period 1923–2006).[4]

Los Angeles Times book editor David Ulin called Wallace "one of the most influential and innovative writers of the last 20 years."[2]




Wallace was born in Ithaca, New York to James Donald Wallace and Sally Foster Wallace. In his early childhood, Wallace lived in Champaign, Illinois. In fourth grade, he moved to Urbana and attended Yankee Ridge school. As an adolescent, Wallace was a regionally ranked junior tennis player. He was "a rare combination of sporting and academic prowess. His was an omnivorous brain, able to ingest complex mathematics, logic and philosophy. Wallace was so uncomfortable among strangers that his shyness was its own defensive barrier."[5]

He attended his father's alma mater, Amherst College, and majored in English and philosophy, with a focus on modal logic and mathematics. His philosophy senior thesis on modal logic, titled Richard Taylor's 'Fatalism' and the Semantics of Physical Modality (described in James Ryerson's 2008 New York Times essay "Consider the Philosopher"[6]) was awarded the Gail Kennedy Memorial Prize.[7] His other senior thesis, in English, would later become his first novel.[8] Wallace graduated with summa cum laude honors for both theses in 1985, and in 1987 received a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from the University of Arizona.


His father, James Wallace, having finished his graduate course work in philosophy at Cornell University, accepted a teaching job at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the fall of 1962. He received his Ph.D. from Cornell in 1963. His mother, Sally Foster Wallace, attended graduate school in English Composition at the University of Illinois and became a professor of English at Parkland College — a community college in Champaign — where she won a national Professor of the Year award in 1996. She used to fake coughing fits if her children uttered a solecism at dinner, stopping only when they figured out the error and corrected it. Wallace wrote that he was "slightly chilled by the idea of children being brought up to think that a linguistic error might deprive their mother of oxygen."[5] David's younger sister, Amy Wallace Havens of Tucson, Arizona, has practiced law since 2005.

In the early 1990s, Wallace had a relationship with the poet and memoirist Mary Karr (The Liars' Club). Wallace married painter Karen L. Green on December 27, 2004.[9][10] Dogs played an important role in Wallace's life;[11] he was very close to his two dogs, Bella and Warner,[10] had spoken of opening a dog shelter,[11] and according to Jonathan Franzen "had a predilection for dogs who'd been abused, and [were] unlikely to find other owners who were going to be patient enough for them."[10]


Wallace committed suicide by hanging himself on September 12, 2008,[2][3][9][12] as confirmed by the October 27, 2008 autopsy report.[13]

In an interview with The New York Times, Wallace's father reported that Wallace had suffered from depression for more than 20 years and that antidepressant medication had allowed him to be productive.[9] When he experienced severe side effects from the medication, Wallace attempted to wean himself from his primary antidepressant, phenelzine.[10] On his doctor's advice, Wallace stopped taking the medication in June 2007,[9] and the depression returned. Wallace received other treatments including electroconvulsive therapy. When he returned to phenelzine, he found it had lost its effectiveness.[10] In the months before his death, his depression became severe.[9]

Numerous gatherings were held to honor Wallace after his death, including memorial services at Pomona College, Amherst College, University of Arizona, and on October 23, 2008, at NYU — the latter with speakers including his sister, Amy Wallace Havens; his agent, Bonnie Nadell; Gerry Howard, the editor of his first two books; Colin Harrison, editor at Harper's Magazine; Michael Pietsch, the editor of Infinite Jest and Wallace's later work; Deborah Treisman, fiction editor at The New Yorker; as well as authors Don DeLillo, Zadie Smith, George Saunders, Mark Costello, Donald Antrim, and Jonathan Franzen.[14]

Writing and other media


David Foster Wallace giving a reading for Booksmith at All Saints Church in 2006 in San Francisco.

Wallace's first novel, 1987's The Broom of the System, garnered national attention and critical praise. Caryn James of The New York Times called it a successful "manic, human, flawed extravaganza", "emerging straight from the excessive tradition of Stanley Elkin's Franchiser, Thomas Pynchon's V., John Irving's World According to Garp."[15] Wallace moved to Boston, Massachusetts, for graduate school in philosophy at Harvard University, but soon abandoned it. In 1991 he began teaching literature as an adjunct professor at Emerson College in Boston.

In 1992, at the behest of colleague and supporter Steven Moore, Wallace applied for and won a position in the English department at Illinois State University. He had begun work on his second novel, Infinite Jest, in 1991, and submitted a draft to his editor in December 1993. After the publication of excerpts throughout 1995, the book was published in 1996.

Wallace published short fiction in Might, GQ, Playboy, The Paris Review, Harper's Magazine, Mid-American Review, Conjunctions, Esquire, Open City, Timothy McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, The New Yorker, and Science.

In 1997, Wallace received a MacArthur Fellowship, as well as the Aga Khan Prize for Fiction, awarded by editors of The Paris Review for one of the stories in Brief Interviews — "Brief Interviews with Hideous Men #6" — which had appeared in the magazine.

In 2002, he moved to Claremont, California, to become the first Roy E. Disney Professor of Creative Writing and Professor of English at Pomona College. He taught one or two undergraduate courses per semester, and focused on his writing.

Bonnie Nadell was Wallace's literary agent during his entire career.[16] Michael Pietsch was his editor on Infinite Jest.[17]

In March 2009, Little, Brown and Company announced that it would publish the manuscript of an unfinished novel, The Pale King, that Wallace was working on at the time of his death.[18] An excerpt from the novel was published in the March 9, 2009, issue of The New Yorker.[19][20]

In March 2010, it was announced that Foster Wallace's personal papers and archives-including drafts of books, stories, essays, poems, letters and research, including the handwritten notes for Infinite Jest-had been purchased by the University of Texas at Austin and they will reside in the University's Harry Ransom Center.[21] [22] [23] [24] [25] [26] [27]

Themes and styles

Wallace's fiction is often concerned with irony. His essay "E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction",[28] originally published in the small-circulation Review of Contemporary Fiction in 1993, proposes that television has an ironic influence on fiction writing, and urges literary authors to eschew irony. Wallace used many forms of irony, focusing on individuals' continued longing for earnest, unself-conscious experience, and communication in a media-saturated society.[29]

Wallace's novels often combine various writing modes or voices, and incorporate jargon and vocabulary (sometimes invented) from a wide variety of fields. His writing featured self-generated abbreviations and acronyms, long multi-clause sentences, and a notable use of explanatory footnotes and endnotes — often nearly as expansive as the text proper. He used endnotes extensively in Infinite Jest and footnotes in "Octet" as well as in the great majority of his nonfiction after 1996. On the Charlie Rose show in 1997, Wallace claimed that the notes were used to disrupt the linearity of the narrative, to reflect his perception of reality without jumbling the entire structure. He suggested that he could have instead jumbled up the sentences, "but then no one would read it."[30]

Nonfiction work

Wallace covered Senator John McCain's 2000 presidential campaign[31] and the September 11 attacks for Rolling Stone; cruise ships (in what became the title essay of his first nonfiction book), state fairs, and tornadoes for Harper's Magazine; the US Open tournament for TENNIS Magazine; the director David Lynch and the pornography industry for Premiere magazine; the special-effects film industry for Waterstone's magazine; conservative talk radio host John Ziegler for The Atlantic Monthly;[32] and a Maine lobster festival for Gourmet magazine. He also reviewed books in several genres for the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The New York Times, and The Philadelphia Inquirer. In the November 2007 issue of The Atlantic, which commemorated the magazine's 150th anniversary, Wallace was among the authors, artists, politicians and others who wrote short pieces on "the future of the American idea".

Other media

Twelve of the interviews from Brief Interviews With Hideous Men were adapted into a stage play in 2000, the first theatrical adaptation of Wallace's work. The play, Hideous Men, adapted and directed by Dylan McCullough, premiered at the New York International Fringe Festival in August 2000.

A filmed adaption of Brief Interviews, directed by John Krasinski, was released in 2009 and premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.[33] The film stars Julianne Nicholson and an ensemble cast including Christopher Meloni, Rashida Jones, Timothy Hutton, Josh Charles and Will Forte.[34]

The short story "Tri-Stan: I Sold Sissee Nar to Ecko" from Brief Interviews With Hideous Men was adapted by composer Eric Moe into a 50-minute operatic piece, to be performed with accompanying video projections.[35] The piece was described as having "subversively inscribed classical music into pop culture", but received tepid reviews overall.[36]


  • Inclusion of "Good Old Neon" in Prize Stories 2002: The O. Henry Awards
  • John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, 1997–2002
  • Lannan Foundation Residency Fellow, July–August 2000
  • Named to Usage Panel, The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language 4th Edition et seq., 1999
  • Inclusion of "The Depressed Person" in Prize Stories 1999: The O. Henry Awards
  • Illinois State University, Outstanding University Researcher, 1998 and 1999[37]
  • Aga Khan Prize for Fiction for Brief Interviews With Hideous Men, 1997
  • Time Magazine's Best Books of the Year (Fiction), 1996
  • Salon Book Award (Fiction), 1996
  • Lannan Literary Award (Fiction), 1996
  • Whiting Writers' Award, 1987

Partial bibliography


Short story collections



  • Fiction International 19:2 (Aids Art, Photomontages from Germany and England) (1991), contributing author
  • Grand Street 42 (1992), contributor
  • Grand Street 46 (1993), contributor
  • The Review of Contemporary Fiction: The Future of Fiction, A Forum Edited by David Foster Wallace (1996), editor
  • Open City Number Five : Change or Die (1997), contributing author
  • The Best American Essays 2007 (2007), guest editor
  • The New Kings of Nonfiction (2007), contributing author
  • The Mechanics' Institute Review, Issue 4 (September 2007)


See The Know(e): dfw for a complete bibliography.


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ a b c "Writer David Foster Wallace found dead". The Los Angeles Times, Claire Noland and Joel Rubin, September 14, 2008. http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-wallace14-2008sep14,0,7461856.story. 
  3. ^ a b "Writer David Foster Wallace Dies". The Wall Street Journal, AP, September 14, 2008. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122136457102232845.html?mod=yahoo_buzz. 
  4. ^ Grossman, Lev; Lacayo, Richard (2005), "TIME's Critics pick the 100 Best Novels, 1923 to present", TIME, http://www.time.com/time/2005/100books/the_complete_list.html 
  5. ^ a b Malcolm Knox. "Everything & More: The Work of David Foster Wallace". The Monthly. http://www.themonthly.com.au/monthly-essays-malcolm-knox-everything-more-work-david-foster-wallace-1291. 
  6. ^ "Consider the Philosopher". The New York Times, James Ryerson, 12,12, 2008. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/14/magazine/14wwln-Wallace-t.html?_r=2&ref=magazine. 
  7. ^ Our Alumni | Amherst College
  8. ^ In Memoriam: David Foster Wallace '85 | Amherst College
  9. ^ a b c d e "David Foster Wallace, Influential Writer, Dies at 46". The New York Times, Bruce Weber, September 14, 2008. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/15/books/15wallace.html?em. 
  10. ^ a b c d e "The Lost Years & Last Days of David Foster Wallace". Rolling Stone, Dave Lipsky, October 30, 2008, Issue Issue 1064. http://www.rollingstone.com/news/story/23638511/the_lost_years__last_days_of_david_foster_wallace. 
  11. ^ a b "The Unfinished". The New Yorker, D.T. Max, March 9, 2009. http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/03/09/090309fa_fact_max?currentPage=all. 
  12. ^ "David Foster Wallace, Postmodern Novelist and Writing Teacher, Is Dead at 46" by Scott Carlson. Chronicle of Higher Education, Sept 14, 2008. article
  13. ^ David Foster Wallace Autopsy at The Smoking Gun
  14. ^ "Jonathan Franzen Remembers David Foster Wallace". The Observer, Adam Begley, October 27, 2008. http://www.observer.com/2008/o2/books/our-critics-tip-sheet-current-reading-jonathan-franzen-remembers-david-foster-wallace-. 
  15. ^ http://www.nytimes.com/books/97/03/16/reviews/wallace-r-broom.html
  16. ^ "Remembering David Foster Wallace: 'David Would Never Stop Caring' Says Lifelong Agent". The New York Observer, Leon Neyfakh, September 17, 2008. http://www.observer.com/2008/arts-culture/david-foster-wallaces-agent. 
  17. ^ "Infinite Jest Editor Michael Pietsch of Little, Brown on David Foster Wallace". The New York Observer, Leon Neyfakh, September 19, 2008. http://www.observer.com/2008/media/little-brown-publisher-michael-pietsch-his-writer-david-foster-wallace. 
  18. ^ Associated Press, "Unfinished novel by Wallace coming next year". March 1, 2009.
  19. ^ Wallace, David Foster. "Wiggle Room". The New Yorker: March 9, 2009.
  20. ^ New Yorker Publishes Part of Unfinished Wallace Novel, The Washington Post, March 2, 2009
  21. ^ http://www.resourceshelf.com/2010/03/08/david-foster-wallace-archive-acquired-by-harry-ransom-center/
  22. ^ http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/09/books/09arts-DAVIDFOSTERW_BRF.html
  23. ^ http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5i-qNuqBV5RRsLtNCGdlSC9xATVWgD9EAQEA00
  24. ^ http://www.observer.com/2010/daily-transom/dfws-papers-go-ut-austin
  25. ^ http://www.statesman.com/news/local/ut-gets-papers-of-infinite-jest-author-david-333087.html
  26. ^ http://www.dailytexanonline.com/top-stories/ransom-center-purchases-modern-author-s-archives-1.2186738
  27. ^ http://www.hrc.utexas.edu/press/releases/2010/dfw/
  28. ^ Wallace, David Foster. "E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction". Review of Contemporary Fiction 13 (2): 151–194. 
  29. ^ A Reader's Companion to Infinite Jest
  30. ^ Charlie Rose - Jennifer Harbury & Robert Torricelli / David Foster Wallace
  31. ^ Wallace, David Foster (April 13, 2000) "The Weasel, Twelve Monkeys and The Shrub." Rolling Stone. For a satire of Wallace's piece about McCain, see Wyman, Bill (April 4, 2000) "David Foster Wallace: Ain't McCain grand?" Salon.
  32. ^ Wallace, David Foster (April, 2005) "Host." The Atlantic Monthly
  33. ^ Lee, Chris. "John Krasinski, 'Brief Interviews With Hideous Men'" Los Angeles Times, January 19, 2009.
  34. ^ "John Krasinski conducts Brief Interviews With Hideous Men". TotalFILM.com, 19 Sep 2006. http://www.totalfilm.com/movie_news/john_krasinski_conducts_brief_interviews_with_hideous_men. 
  35. ^ http://www.ericmoe.net/tristan.html
  36. ^ http://www.nytimes.com/2005/04/02/arts/music/02sequ.html
  37. ^ Pomona College, http://www.pomona.edu, Faculty Directory, Archived September 2008, last updated 10/13/05.
  38. ^ "SALON Features: David Foster Wallace". http://archive.salon.com/09/features/wallace1.html. 
  39. ^ "Boston.com / News / Boston Globe / Ideas / Approaching infinity". http://www.boston.com/news/globe/ideas/articles/2003/10/26/approaching_infinity/. 
  40. ^ "www.ptwi.com". http://www.ptwi.com/~bobkat/aba.html. 
  41. ^ "The Believer — Interview with David Foster Wallace". http://www.believermag.com/issues/200311/?read=interview_wallace. 

Further reading

  • Baskin, Jon. "Death Is Not the End: David Foster Wallace: His Legacy and His Critics" The Point. Spring 2009.
  • Benzon, Kiki. "Darkness Legible, Unquiet Lines: Mood Disorders in the Fiction of David Foster Wallace." Creativity, Madness and Civilization. Ed. Richard Pine. Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Press, 2007: 187-198.
  • Boswell, Marshall. Understanding David Foster Wallace. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2003. ISBN 1-57003-517-2
  • Burn, Stephen. "Generational Succession and a Source for the Title of David Foster Wallace's The Broom of the System." Notes on Contemporary Literature 33.2 (2003), 9-11.
  • Burn, Stephen. David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest: A Reader's Guide. New York, London: Continuum, 2003 (= Continuum Contemporaries) ISBN 0-8264-1477-X
  • Carlisle, Greg. "Elegant Complexity: A Study of David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest." Austin, L.A.: Sideshow Media Group Press, 2007. ISBN 978-0-9761465-3-7
  • Cioffi, Frank Louis. "An Anguish Becomes Thing: Narrative as Performance in David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest." Narrative 8.2 (2000), 161-181.
  • Delfino, Andrew Steven. "Becoming the New Man in Post-Postmodernist Fiction: Portrayals of Masculinities in David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest and Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club." MA Thesis, Georgia State University. [3]
  • Dowling, William, and Bell, Robert. A Reader's Companion to Infinite Jest. Xlibris, 2004. ISBN 1-4134-8446-8 ([4])
  • Ewijk, Petrus van. "'I' and the 'Other': The relevance of Wittgenstein, Buber and Levinas for an understanding of AA's Recovery Program in David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest." English Text Construction 2.1 (2009), 132-145.
  • Goerlandt, Iannis and Luc Herman. "David Foster Wallace." Post-war Literatures in English: A Lexicon of Contemporary Authors 56 (2004), 1-16; A1-2, B1-2.
  • Goerlandt, Iannis. "Fußnoten und Performativität bei David Foster Wallace. Fallstudien." Am Rande bemerkt. Anmerkungspraktiken in literarischen Texten. Ed. Bernhard Metz & Sabine Zubarik. Berlin: Kulturverlag Kadmos, 2008: 387-408.
  • Goerlandt, Iannis. "'Put the book down and slowly walk away': Irony and David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest." Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 47.3 (2006), 309-328.
  • Goerlandt, Iannis. "'Still steaming as its many arms extended': Pain in David Foster Wallace's Incarnations of Burned Children." Sprachkunst 37.2 (2006), 297-308.
  • Harris, Jan Ll.'Addiction and the Societies of Control: David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest'[5] ', paper delivered at Figuring Addictions/Rethinking Consumption conference, Institute for Cultural Research, Lancaster University, 4-5 April, 2002
  • Harris, Michael. "A Sometimes Funny Book Supposedly about Infinity: A Review of Everything and More." Notices of the AMS 51.6 (2004), 632-638. (full pdf-text)
  • Holland, Mary K. "'The Art's Heart's Purpose': Braving the Narcissistic Loop of David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest." Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 47.3 (2006), 218-242.
  • Jacobs, Tim. "The Fight: Considering David Foster Wallace Considering You". Rain Taxi Review of Books. Online Edition, Part Two. Winter 2009.
  • Jacobs, Timothy. "The Brothers Incandenza: Translating Ideology in Fyodor Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov and David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest." Contemporary Literary Criticism Vol. 271. Ed. Jeffrey Hunter. New York: Gale, 2009.
  • Jacobs, Timothy. "The Brothers Incandenza: Translating Ideology in Fyodor Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov and David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest." Texas Studies in Literature and Language 49.3 (2007): 265-292.
  • Jacobs, Timothy. "American Touchstone: The Idea of Order in Gerard Manley Hopkins and David Foster Wallace." Comparative Literature Studies 38.3 (2001): 215-231.
  • Jacobs, Timothy. "David Foster Wallace's The Broom of the System." Ed. Alan Hedblad. Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction. Detroit: Gale Research Press, 2001. 41-50.
  • Jacobs, Timothy. "David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest." The Explicator 58.3 (2000): 172-175.
  • LeClair, Tom. "The Prodigious Fiction of Richard Powers, William T. Vollmann, and David Foster Wallace." Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 38.1 (1996), 12-37.
  • Mason, Wyatt. "Don't like it? You don't have to play." London Review of Books 26.22 (2004). http://www.lrb.co.uk/v26/n22/maso02_.html
  • Morris, David. "Lived Time and Absolute Knowing: Habit and Addiction from Infinite Jest to the Phenomenology of Spirit." Clio: A Journal of Literature, History and the Philosophy of History 30 (2001), 375-415.
  • Nichols, Catherine. "Dialogizing Postmodern Carnival: David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest." Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 43.1 (2001), 3-16.
  • Rother, James. "Reading and Riding the Post-Scientific Wave. The Shorter Fiction of David Foster Wallace." Review of Contemporary Fiction 13.2 (1993), 216-234. ISBN 1-56478-123-2
  • Tysdal, Dan. "Inarticulation and the Figure of Enjoyment: Raymond Carver's Minimalism Meets David Foster Wallace's 'A Radically Condensed History of Postindustrial Life.'" Wascana Review of Contemporary Poetry and Short Fiction 38.1 (2003), 66-83.

External links






Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

I'm not saying that television is vulgar and dumb because the people who compose the Audience are vulgar and dumb. Television is the way it is simply because people tend to be extremely similar in their vulgar and prurient and dumb interests and wildly different in their refined and aesthetic and noble interests.

David Foster Wallace (21 February 196212 September 2008) was an American novelist, essayist, and short story writer.



Infinite Jest

The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.
I think, today’s irony ends up saying: "How totally banal of you to ask what I really mean."
You'll worry less about what people think about you when you realize how seldom they do.
  • These worst mornings with cold floors and hot windows and merciless light—the soul’s certainty that the day will have to be not traversed but sort of climbed, vertically, and then that going to sleep again at the end of it will be like falling, again, off something tall and sheer.
    • Infinite Jest
  • You'll worry less about what people think about you when you realize how seldom they do.
    • Infinite Jest
  • That everyone is identical in their secret unspoken belief that way deep down they are different from everyone else. That this isn't necessarily perverse.
    • Infinite Jest
  • The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn't do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life's assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level person will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire's flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It's not desiring the fall; it's terror of the flame yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don‘t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You'd have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.
    • Infinite Jest

Short Stories

  • The idea was to have the accident and whatever explosion and fire was involved occur someplace isolated enough that no one else would see it, so that there would be as little an aspect of performance to the thing as I could manage and no temptation to spend my last few seconds trying to imagine what impressions the sight and sound of the impact might make on someone watching. I was partly concerned that it might be spectacular and dramatic and might look as if the driver was trying to go out in as dramatic a way as possible. This is the sort of shit we waste our lives thinking about.
    • "Good Old Neon", Oblivion: Stories
  • ...a large percentage of bright young men and women locate the impetus behind their career choice in the belief that they are fundamentally different from the common run of man, unique and in certain crucial ways superior, more as it were central, meaningful---what else could explain the fact that they themselves have been at the exact center of all they've experienced for the whole 20 years of their conscious lives?---and that they can and will make a difference in their chosen field simply by the fact of their unique and central presence to it...
    • "Mister Squishy", Oblivion: Stories
  • We all have our little solipsistic delusions, ghastly intuitions of utter singularity: that we are the only one in the house who ever fills the ice-cub tray, who unloads the clean dishwasher, who occasionally pees in the shower, whose eyelid twitches on first dates; that only we take casualness terribly seriously; that only we fashion supplication into courtesy; that only we hear the whiny pathos in a dog's yawn, the timeless sigh in the opening of the hermetically-sealed jar, the splattered laugh in the frying egg, the minor-D lament in the vacuum's scream; that only we feel the panic at sunset the rookie kindergartner feels at his mother's retreat. That only we love the only-we. That only we need the only-we. Solipsism binds us together, J.D. knows. That we feel lonely in a crowd; stop not to dwell on what's brought the crowd into being. That we are, always, faces in a crowd.
    • "Westward The Course Of Empire Takes Its Way", Girl With Curious Hair


  • The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.
  • An ad that pretends to be art is — at absolute best — like somebody who smiles warmly at you only because he wants something from you. This is dishonest, but what's sinister is the cumulative effect that such dishonesty has on us: since it offers a perfect facsimile or simulacrum of goodwill without goodwill's real spirit, it messes with our heads and eventually starts upping our defenses even in cases of genuine smiles and real art and true goodwill. It makes us feel confused and lonely and impotent and angry and scared. It causes despair.
    • A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again
  • How long has it been since you did Absolutely Nothing? I know exactly how long it's been for me. I know how long it's been since I had every need met choicelessly from someplace outside me, without my having to ask or even acknowledge that I needed. And that time I was floating, too, and the fluid was salty, and warm but not too-, and if I was conscious at all I'm sure I felt dreadless, and was having a really good time, and would have sent postcards to everyone wishing they were here.
    • A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again
  • The emergence of something called Metafiction in the American '60s was hailed by academic critics as a radical aesthetic, a whole new literary form, literature unshackled from the cultural cinctures of mimetic narrative and free to plunge into reflexivity and self-conscious meditations on aboutness. Radical it may have been, but thinking that postmodern Metafiction evolved unconscious of prior changes in readerly taste is about as innocent as thinking that all those college students we saw on television protesting the Vietnam war were protesting only because they hated the Vietnam war (They may have hated the war, but they also wanted to be seen protesting on television. TV was where they'd seen the war, after all. Why wouldn't they go about hating it on the very medium that made their hate possible?) Metafictionists may have had aesthetic theories out the bazoo, but they were also sentient citizens of a community that was exchanging an old idea of itself as a nation of do-ers and be-ers for a new vision of the U.S.A. as an atomized mass of self-conscious watchers and appearers. For Metafiction, in its ascendant and most important phases, was really nothing more than a single-order expansion of its own theoritcal nemesis, Realism: if Realism called it like it saw it, Metafiction simply called it as it saw itself seeing it. This high-cultural postmodern genre, in other words, was deeply informed by the emergence of television and the metastasis of self-conscious watching.
    • E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction
  • And I'm not saying that television is vulgar and dumb because the people who compose the Audience are vulgar and dumb. Television is the way it is simply because people tend to be extremely similar in their vulgar and prurient and dumb interests and wildly different in their refined and aesthetic and noble interests.
    • E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction
  • And make no mistake: irony tyrannizes us. The reason why our pervasive cultural irony is at once so powerful and so unsatisfying is that an ironist is impossible to pin down. All U.S. irony is based on an implicit "I don’t really mean what I’m saying." So what does irony as a cultural norm mean to say? That it’s impossible to mean what you say? That maybe it’s too bad it’s impossible, but wake up and smell the coffee already? Most likely, I think, today’s irony ends up saying: "How totally banal of you to ask what I really mean."
    • E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction
  • So then how have irony, irreverence, and rebellion come to be not liberating but enfeebling in the culture today’s avant-garde tried to write about? One clue’s to be found in the fact that irony is still around, bigger than ever after 30 long years as the dominant mode of hip expression. It’s not a rhetorical mode that wears well. As [Lewis] Hyde. . .puts it, "Irony has only emergency use. Carried over time, it is the voice of the trapped who have come to enjoy the cage." This is because irony, entertaining as it is, serves an almost exclusively negative function. It’s critical and destructive, a ground-clearing. Surely this is the way our postmodern fathers saw it. But irony’s singularly unuseful when it comes to constructing anything to replace the hypocrisies it debunks. This is why Hyde seems right about persistent irony being tiresome. It is unmeaty. Even gifted ironists work best in sound bites. I find gifted ironists sort of wickedly funny to listen to at parties, but I always walk away feeling like I’ve had several radical surgical procedures. And as for actually driving cross-country with a gifted ironist, or sitting through a 300-page novel full of nothing by trendy sardonic exhaustion, one ends up feeling not only empty but somehow. . .oppressed.
    • E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction
  • [W]e prefer not to countenance the kinds of sacrifices the professional-grade athlete has made to get so good at one particular thing. . . . We prefer not to consider the shockingly vapid and primitive comments uttered by athletes in postcontest interviews, or to imagine what impoverishments in one's mental life would allow people actually to think in the simplistic way great athletes seem to think. Note the way "up-close and personal profiles" of professional athletes strain so hard to find evidence of rounded human life—outside interests and activities, charities, values beyond the sport. We ignore what's obvious, that most of this straining is farce. It's farce because the realities of top-level athletics today require an early and total commitment to one pursuit. An almost ascetic focus. A subsumption of almost all other features of human life to their one chosen talent and pursuit. A consent to life in a world that, like a child's world, is very serious and very small.
    • Tennis Player Michael Joyce's Professional Artistry as a Paradigm of Certain Stuff about Choice, Freedom, Discipline, Joy, Grotesquerie, and Human Completeness
  • It's hard to get good answers to why Young Voters are so uninterested in politics. This is probably because it's next to impossible to get someone to think hard about why he's not interested in something. The boredom itself preempts inquiry; the fact of the feeling's enough. Surely one reason, though, is politics is not cool. Or say rather that cool, interesting, alive people do not seem to be the ones who are drawn to the Political Process. Think back to the sort of kids in high school or college who were into running for student office: dweeby, overgroomed, obsequious to authority, ambitious in a sad way. Eager to play the Game. The kind of kids other kids would want to beat up if it didn't seem so pointless and dull. And now consider some of 2000's adult versions of these very same kids . . . Men who aren't enough like human beings even to dislike—what one feels when they loom into view is just an overwhelming lack of interest, the sort of deep disengagement that is so often a defense against pain. Against sadness. In fact the likeliest reason why so many of us care so little about politics is that modern politicians make us sad, hurt us in ways that are hard even to name, much less to talk about. It's way easier to roll your eyes and not give a shit. You probably don't want to hear about all this, even.
    • The Weasel, Twelve Monkeys, and The Shrub
  • Can the decision to be less selfish ever be anything other than a selfish decision?
    • Consider The Lobster
  • If you are bored and disgusted by politics and don't bother to vote, you are in effect voting for the entrenched Establishments of the two major parties, who please rest assured are not dumb, and who are keenly aware that it is in their interests to keep you disgusted and bored and cynical and to give you every possible psychological reason to stay at home doing one-hitters and watching MTV on primary day. By all means stay home if you want, but don't bullshit yourself that you're not voting. In reality, there is no such thing as not voting: you either vote by voting, or you vote by staying home and tacitly doubling the value of some Diehard's vote.
    • Up, Simba

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