Douglas Valentine on David Foster Wallace

Much more about DFW here, here, and here. Also here.

Rambling David Foster Wallace

by Douglas Valentine

I hadn’t heard of David Foster Wallace prior to his suicide. I had never read anything he wrote, though among the many recent obits I read, I saw that he had written a book titled Infinite Jest. When I saw that I thought, “Ah so! A man after my own heart.” By which I meant a master of invention and device, of irony – for he was certainly referring to Hamlet’s impromptu eulogy for Yorick, whom we all know so well.

As Hamlet facetiously said while holding Yorick’s skull like a grapefruit and gazing into the empty eye sockets, “Not one now, to mock your own grinning? Quite chap-fallen?”

Any writer who would choose Infinite Jest as a title, I assumed, would appreciate Hamlet’s ironic flirtation with madness, the wry comments made to amuse himself and confuse his foes. And indeed, many reviewers say Wallace’s works are full of irony.

But as I read more and more reviews and obits, I found that Wallace, like a former Party official denouncing himself at a Stalinist show-trial, had branded irony (along with irreverence and rebellion!) as “not liberating but enfeebling.”

I immediately thought, “Is he being cute?” Such a broad generalization could never stand up and walk on its own legs. “His poor students,” I thought, as I apologized on Wallace’s behalf to all of our irreverent literary and historical revolutionary heroes and heroines.

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2 thoughts on “Douglas Valentine on David Foster Wallace”

  1. To Whom It May Concern:

    I linked to this site via Znet, hoping for some fresh take on the intersection of politics and literature and, so far, so good, mostly, but this piece on David Foster Wallace is baffling. Why in the world would you excerpt an article whose author hasn’t read Wallace?! I can’t understand this, other than as a way of thumbing your nose at Wallace’s death or at his lack of a sufficient kind of politics. Likewise, this excerpt by an author who has never read David Foster Wallace (if you need reminding) goes on to criticize Wallace for dismissing irony/rebellion/resistance as enfeebling, even though the quote does not make it clear whether Wallace himself coupled irony with resistance and rebellion in his original statement. This seems an irresponsible representation at best. As someone who has actually read Wallace, I guess I don’t have a strong opinion on his indictment of irony, but I can speak to the power of his novel, Infinite Jest, and its vast, funny and deeply humane portrayal of a wayward group of human beings. I wish you would have put an excerpt from someone with similar feelings about the novel (of whom there are many) next to the one by someone who hasn’t read Wallace at all and who seemed more intent on kicking a guy who’d just suddenly and tragically exited the scene.

    Anyway, good luck with this.

    Best,
    BJ

  2. Valentine is not commenting on Wallace’s novel here obviously. He’s commenting on his views on irony. Years ago when I read these views on irony by Wallace, I too found them incoherent, even when viewed in relation to his other writing.

    I wouldn’t have written the article like Valentine did in every way. And you can see the additional links to plenty of other views on Wallace and his work for the particular aspects of Wallace’s work that you are interested in, and many others.

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