I can't imagine at this late stage of the game that anyone needs me to direct them to Maud Newton's New York Times Magazine Riff on David Foster Wallace's influence on writing on the net, which has been lighting up Twitter, Facebook and the blogs. But in case you've been as hunkered down as I've been, I send it along, with a hearty endorsement of Newton's take. (I took another ill-fated crack at Infinite Jest a few months ago but foundered yet again. I fear I will fall into the Geoff Dyer camp on this one.)
Geoff Dyer, an essayist as idiosyncratic and perceptive as Wallace but far more economical, confessed recently in Prospect magazine that he “break[s] out in a mental rash” when forced to read Wallace. “It’s not that I dislike the extravagance, the excess, the beanie-baroque, the phat loquacity,” Dyer wrote. “They just bug the crap out of me. ” Wallace’s nonfiction abounds with qualifiers like “sort of” and “pretty much” and sincerity-infusers like “really.” An icon of porn publishing described in the essay “Big Red Son,” for example, is “hard not to sort of almost actually like.” Within a brief excerpt from that piece in The New York Times Book Review, Wallace speaks of “the whole cynical postmodern deal” and “the whole mainstream celebrity culture,” and concludes that “the whole thing sucks.” Nor is this an unrepresentative sample; “whole” appears 20 times in the essay, so frequently that it begins to seem not just sloppy and imprecise but argumentatively, even aggressively, disingenuous. At their worst these verbal tics make it impossible to evaluate his analysis; I’m constantly wishing he would either choose a more straightforward way to limit his contentions or fully commit to one of them.
Still, I will continue to try and grapple with DFW. His shadow is too long to ignore. I am not done yet.