I read Infinite Jest over Christmas break after my first semester of law school. Actually, I started during finals and it is reflected on my transcript. I read the bulk of the book on a treadmill in a basement, running nowhere. I lost no weight, I got no healthier, but I was happier. For all of the sadness, I was happier. I finished the book supine on a couch in a one bedroom apartment in North Carolina and when I finished the last page, I returned to the first and felt my mind fall out.

The summer I should have been studying for the Virginia Bar Exam, I read Consider the Lobster. I would study in the food court of our local mall. The only two restaurants were Roman Delight and Panda Garden. Whenever suretyship and the rule against perpetuities grew too much for me, I would slip the white book out of my bag and read, forgetting for a while even the smell of old grease that filled the air. That summer there was a bat in the mall and I watched with delight as a security guard chased it all morning with a broom. I passed the Bar Exam.

David Foster Wallace’s unfinished final novel, The Pale King, will be published in thirty-two days. As is the case with many of you, I have a great deal of admiration for Wallace. To be honest, it goes beyond admiration to something else, but I will stop short of trying to describe what I feel. It was my intention to post an one of the many excellent interviews with him that are available, but then I came across this collection of outtakes from an 2003 interview for a German magazine and it just felt like the right thing to post. A shy, nervous human doing the best that he can.

It is not hard to be good but sometimes it is hard to be.

Comments (62)
  1. Quebec sovereignty movement BNPG! Go:

  2. Related: this pic makes me laugh more than anything in the world.

    • If you could see the other team getting really angry and throwing their rackets to the ground, that would be just perfect.

      The way he writes about his tennis experiences (two of the essays found in A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again) has bolstered an interest in tennis that I’ve never had before. I guess I always just underestimated the value of the sport just because it’s players always make it look to easy. Also, tennis shorts.

  3. Who is David Foster Wallace? Is that the guy who invented bananas foster? I LOVE bananas foster! Who would win in a fight, Bananas Foster or Noodles Jefferson? Discuss!

  4. I have said this elsewhere and will say it again here: “This Is Water” ought to be required reading for all humans. If I could, I would read it every day before I did anything else and would be a better person for it.

  5. Infinite seriousness here, I don’t understand the appeal of DFW. Also Jonathan Frazen or David Eggers. Can someone explain what they enjoy about these guys?

    • The writing.

    • First I will say that everyone has different things that turn them on, so I wouldn’t worry too much if some people like something and you don’t. I imagine you don’t actually worry about this, but I guess my point is, some things just work for some people and not for others and that is okay.

      Second, Wallace is not really like Franzen or Eggers, though sometimes people who like one like the others, sometimes they don’t. I do not like all of them.

      Third, my answer to Why Do You Like David Foster Wallace (the short version) would be: 1. He writes about things I care about, specifically about how to have some sort of real human connection and experience in life. He is an earnest and compassionate writer and I like that. 2. He is very funny, or at least, his sense of humor appeals to me. 3. His prose style is very appealing to me.

      I don’t know if that answers your question.

      • Mans, I guess I DO kind of worry about it! Because people have said, ‘Oh you’ll love this guy!’, lent me his books, and I’ve just finished them feeling like I wasn’t getting something. I guess it’s not my style, which is fine, I can appreciate good writing even if I don’t particularly enjoy the piece. I’ll say my biggest beef with DFW and the other authors I mentioned, is that I think their writing would be more effective if they edited more. I think those big ambitious novels could be withered down to a much smaller, and powerful book.

        • Have you tried any of his short stories? I think the stories in “Oblivion” are just about the best things he wrote, especially “Good Old Neon” and “The Suffering Channel.”

          • Nope, but I will check those out! Thanks.

          • @meetmymillionaires What have you read by him? I love him for real, but I think some of his pieces may have been exercises in seeing how far he could push reader tolerance and still get away with it (I’m thinking of the title story in Oblivion specifically) – If you are looking for his more accessible stuff, I would actually recommend some of his non-fiction pieces, especially: “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again” “Getting Away from Already Being Pretty Much Away from It All” or he reads a short version of “Up Simba” on This American Life that I think is pretty good: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/160/character-assassination

          • “Good Old Neon”= God, yes.

            Also, I hate, hate when Frazen is compared to Wallace. Franzen is all “Look at these miserable, terrible people I have written, and look at me, I have compassion for them.” Wallace is all “Let’s all try to be decent people, because man, do we all need it.”

      • @Patrick I’ve read both of his novels, and a few of his short stories. I actually liked his story in the New Yorker that appeared recently:


        I’ll check out all of your suggestions! I appreciate it.

    • David Foster Wallace is able to express ideas and emotions and concepts in a context that is elegant in its specificity while maintaining a recognition of its limitations. He doesn’t just present these concepts and ask the reader to consider them. He wraps them into a world and presents the whole world, with excruciatingly beautiful detail.

      David Eggers is kind of funny.

      I’ve never read anything by Franzen.

    • I’m just really a fan of the name David. That’s why Freedom sucked imo.

    • I have a hard time with a lot of his stuff (and I’m not terribly smart, so keep that in consideration), but when I am able to break through it, there’s so much intelligence and beauty and humor that it’s all worth it. Eggers the same to a smaller extent, Franzen I can’t speak to.

      • Yeah, and I don’t want to sound like a literary pussy, but I’m intimidated by consecutive pages that don’t contain a single new paragraph indent, let alone a line break or (gasp) a picture.

        (I’m referring to Infinite Jest… I own it but I’m afraid to start reading it…)

        • Oh, do! It looks hella intimidating, but it’s such an enjoyable read it’s not hard work at all. Or at least, the work you have to do is enjoyable and it doesn’t feel like some monster task you have to complete.

        • I agree. It took me just about 9 months to get through it (partly because of personal stuff/lack of time, but mostly because I’m a big pussy), but at the end of the book I can almost relate to how people talk about the day Kennedy got shot or something: I’ll never forget where I was, what I was wearing, or WHO I was before that particular moment. Mans’ description is right on: I dove right back into the first page and became even more enamored.

          Admittedly, If I read something like what I’d just written about any book, I’d probably make it a point to never read it; but you really would be doing yourself a favor to have a go at it. You might think you can’t do it, but you’ll find one (of many) characters to fall in love with and keep coming back to find out what happens to them (at least that’s what I did).

    • While I admit I’ve never read any DFW, to my everlasting shame, my school recently put on a stage adaptation of Brief Interviews With Hideous Men. It was kind of weird, because Wallace never wanted his works adapted for the stage, so what the performers were doing was reading pieces of him being fed to them through earpieces while doing a variety of things, mixed with sections of interviews with Wallace, but that’s not the point. The point is that for every “interview” they performed, I was totally transfixed. Even the portions that I didn’t like or I found grotesque continuously kept my attention, and all due credit to the performers involved, but I feel the large part of that was the writing. He managed to really capture the feeling you get as you’re listening to someone so repulsive you can’t stop, or when you’re watching a trainwreck, that perfect feeling of being unable to look away. I can’t say a whole lot else about David Foster Wallace, but I’d recommend Brief Interviews if you haven’t read it.

  6. The fact that DFW was so smart and so successful in his (and my) chosen field, and still couldn’t beat depression, is terrifying to me.

    Also: doesn’t he look a lot like Jason Sudekis?

  7. My 2nd summer of law school I sat by a St Pete pool and read “A Supposedly Fun Thing…” and “Girl w/ Curious Hair” in lieu of working… anywhere. Still not sure why I stayed in school.

  8. Honestly, I was a little sad this morning that there was another guest week. Last time it happened I read all the articles but I didn’t really look forward to them in the same way as normal Videogum. It felt like a break.
    I’ve always liked Mans as a commenter and I’ve always read when he’s posted something lengthy and passionate and I’m glad that he’s got a chance to do this in the actual articles. I’m 3/4 of the way through Infinite Jest and the interview and also the experience described here have cheered me up. It’s cool to hear about your loves.

  9. “The truth will set you free. But not until it is finished with you.”

    I think about that a lot.

  10. Probably everyone has seen this, but this was a piece that Karen Green did that appeared in the New Yorker; it’s called “Hard to Fill”

  11. I have typed and retyped several things in this little blank space, but nothing seems appropriate except to say that DFW is one of the writers that bashed my brain and changed me, and that it is reassuring, in a way, to know that other people sometimes feel as uncomfortable in their space as I do in mine.

    • I did the same thing and tried to make a connection between DFW’s humor and vg. there seems to be a lot of social commentary and satire using very silly aspects of society– so i wanted to write something like this or something but my brain started hurting. I’ll go back to mindlessly inputing numbers into a computer now. sorry to bother you fine people.

  12. Where David Foster Wallace at, String?

  13. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to be non-metaphorically tornadoed into a chain link fence. To be twistered basically.

  14. I watched this earlier today. This is less of a humble brag and more of a question of reality.
    I am freaking out.

  15. His little nervous hand farts got to me.

  16. First, separated at birth?

    On a more serious note, I was at the Brooklyn Book Fair the day his body was found and saw Jonathan Franzen speak to a small room. It was difficult to watch, but it reminded me that DFW was seemingly the most kind and disarmed/disarming person. His books (and the recent excerpts) just flow with such expansive detail of every sensory moment of existence. It’s so tiring sometimes, but far more rewarding that much avant-garde writing.

    • I was there too. Franzen’s honesty and clear love for the man (his media created “rival”) was a moving and, yes, difficult thing to behold.

    • Funny you should mention this: James Murphy in Time Out Chicago

      “I read [David Foster Wallace’s] Infinite Jest when it came out and I didn’t love it. I looked down on it. I was like, Oh, he’s using things from Gaddis’s Recognitions; he stole that. What a fucking shit I was. Then I reread it and started watching interviews with the guy. He looked exactly like me, the old back-flipped hair, like pictures of me in the ’90s.”

      Also: that sounds heartbreaking.

  17. Brilliant writers, pre-teen guitar phenoms, hilarious and insightful monster comments.. I’m feeling a little inspiredgum.

  18. “…when I finished the last page, I returned to the first and felt my mind fall out” – That’s exactly what I did when I finished the book on a beach in Jamaica and that’s exactly what happened to my mind. Thanks for posting this Mans.

  19. DFW is probablly one of the most important people in my life. I know that sounds ridiculous, but I grew up as a competitive athelete with one of the sports I played being tennis. I also have spent significant time in drug recovery programs. When I was at one of my lowest points and really lost as a person, I read Infinite Jest and it was the first time I felt like there a human and not alone. It was written in a why that made me feel like there are other people out there that think like me and look at the world the same way I do. I feel like DFW really got life and figured the human condition out. Thats what makes his passing and the circumstances of his death so sad to me. This is still one of my favorite articles I have ever read by him. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/20/sports/playmagazine/20federer.html?pagewanted=all . Roger Federer is and will forever remain my favorite tennis player, and like so many things that Foster writes he explains the way I feel in words that I could never dream of being able to articulate.

  20. I also love DFW, he is the best.

    To be honest, after reading his essay w/r/t TV, fiction writers, postmodernism, irony etc. it made me want to eschew Videogum, Avclub, Community, Das Racist etc. for a world of Robert Frosts and Norman Rockwells. That of course didn’t last…and makes me sad that I was doomed to grow up in the age of irony.

  21. you read Infinite Jest during law school?!?! i read part of it back in college but never finished. now i’m just finishing up my 1L year and i think if i tried to read it now my head would explode.

  22. you read Infinite Jest during law school?!?! i read part of it back in college but never finished. now i’m just finishing up my 1L year and i think if i tried to read it now my head would explode.

  23. I’m reading Consider the Lobster right now and was listening to Michael Silverblatt’s retrospective on DFW today (http://www.kcrw.com/etc/programs/pc/pc080916considering_david_fo), and when I saw this clip today on videogum it seemed like too much of a coincidence to not acknowledge. I’ve been lurking around videogum for a while now, but never had a real reason to join up until now (not that I don’t love videos of puppies/drunk fat men interviews/Topher Grace/etc.). Crazy synchronicity.

    Also when I saw the comment, “Where David Foster Wallace at, String?,” I loled hard. Well played Zachary Fedell.

  24. If you like David Foster Wallace (or any author, for that matter) and want to pass it on, please don’t talk it up first. Just lend someone a book, don’t give a time frame for finishing, and merely say that you liked it. Do your best to let them discover it for themselves.
    Talking up an author or book is sure to ruin the experience for someone else.

  25. If there was a program that could convert sepia photographs into readable text, that would be Mans posts.

  26. your law school experience sounds like how mine currently is.

  27. I have, in the past, had a hard time reconciling the idealized version of DFW in my head (almost divinely wise, clearsighted, compassionate, creator of IJ and This is Water) with the still completely amazing and talented, but fundamentally human person DFW actually was.

    Does anyone get a faint background hum of anger and self-loathing, consciously suppressed, in these outtakes? A sense of that inner conflict also comes through in “Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself.” Though of course, that’s what the author wants you to pick up on in that book. He basically tells you that’s what’s going on.

    I mean, it makes sense — he wouldn’t have written This is Water if he hadn’t fought hard himself to get there. I think I just had this idea that once you got there, you were done. The fight was over. It’s sad that for him, it wasn’t.

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