The Pale King, complete in its incompleteness

From Hari Kunzru’s excellent new review of The Pale King. Note esp. the last sentence.

Wallace, in life a shy, considered, and considerate man (or so he seemed to me when we met at a mutual friend’s New York reading) would most probably have been embarrassed by the drama in which he is currently starring. He would also have tried to understand it, to give it his full attention, even, or perhaps especially, when he found it boring. The rapidity of his canonisation feels startling, even though it’s deserved. There are already grumblings online about the emergence of a “David Foster Wallace industry”, and the publication of The Pale King will only take this to the next level, but the truth is that Wallace’s new level of posthumous celebrity isn’t the work of some corporate publicity department. It has proceeded from the ground up as fans have unearthed uncollected texts, written criticism and organised conferences. Wallace’s reputation will only grow, and like one of the broken columns beloved of Romantic painters, The Pale King will stand, complete in its incompleteness, as his most substantial fictional achievement.

David Foster Wallace Archive

Accidentally I stumbled over this

The archive of David Foster Wallace (1962-2008), author of “Infinite Jest” (1996), “The Broom of the System” (1987), “Girl with Curious Hair” (1989) and numerous collections of stories and essays, is now open at the Harry Ransom Center.

Among the treasures, there are copies of DFW’s teaching materials, you can see the inside of some of his books, or circled words in his dictionary and other things beside. Yummy.

Teach

Here’s DFW’s syllabus for a course he’s taught at Pomona college. God I wish I could have been in a course of his. The severity does put me off, but I’m naturally resistant against that sort of thing, I may have skipped his class on purpose possibly and regretted it for the rest of my life. Who knows.

"A Roger Federer Among Writers"

Still another DFW obit. I am still sad. Found this great paragraph in an obit at DeWitt’s capricious blog:

Well, this is the world we live in, brothers and sisters. It’s a rum old place. Oblivion doesn’t strike me as a difficult, never mind uncompromisingly difficult, book. Plato can be difficult; the speeches in Thucydides drive strong men to drink; Kant is difficult, Wittgenstein is difficult, David Lewis is not for the faint of heart. But Oblivion? DFW had a ravishingly lovely gift for voice; he took the sort of pleasure in variety that we see in (say) Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition or Debussy’s Preludes. Why would a reader labour grumpily through the stories in search of hidden meanings? Let alone blame the profligate author for lack of generosity? I’ve no idea, but one thing is certain: in this world, here, now, there is no place for a Roger Federer among writers.

On DFW

Here, from a wonderful obit by M. Majistral, is a beautiful, beautiful paragraph on the impact that DFW’s work had on people:

Je me souviens aussi de la conversation parisienne, un soir il y a deux semaines, dans un petit appart’ du XVIIIème avec l’ami Olivier et sa mie, on évoquait un peu le personnage, notre découverte de son travail, son esbroufe peut-être, sa stature surement, son immense talent à tous les coups. Sur le coup, il s’agissait juste de parler de gens qu’on aime, de gens qu’on admire, de gens comme on aimerait en lire plus et peut-être se disait-on « café du commerce », tu vois, ce n’est pas de la critique littéraire, ce sont des moments agréables et rien de profond n’est dit dans nos bavardages. C’est vrai. Mais aujourd’hui ça prend une autre couleur et c’est précisément le genre de moment qui nous font nous rendre compte de l’importance que tout ça peut avoir pour nous.

Here is another wonderful obit.

David Foster Wallace went away.

David Foster Wallace is dead. The prodigiously talented writer, quite possibly the best American writer of his generation and one of the best American writers alive, hung himself on Friday. He has published two novels, of which the more famous is the massive Infinite Jest which I haven’t yet finished, but am enjoying every page of, he has also written numerous stories and essays. He is one of the writers whose new books you await impatiently, gobble them up avidly, a writer you reread many times. The mind one encounters in his writing is so wonderful, and the writing is so singularly brilliant, that this…
no, I won’t elaborate. I am full of grief, and getting drunk, and if I give in and write about it, that post will become even crappier than it already is and that would be infelicitous in an obit to the great Mr. Wallace. So, I will close with a quote from DFW’s 2005 commencement speech at Kenyon college.

As I’m sure you guys know by now, it is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive, instead of getting hypnotized by the constant monologue inside your own head (may be happening right now). Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. Think of the old cliché about quote the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master.

This, like many clichés, so lame and unexciting on the surface, actually expresses a great and terrible truth. It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with firearms almost always shoot themselves in: the head. They shoot the terrible master. And the truth is that most of these suicides are actually dead long before they pull the trigger.

The speech, amazingly, ends with these words:

It is unimaginably hard to […] stay conscious and alive in the adult world day in and day out. Which means yet another grand cliché turns out to be true: your education really IS the job of a lifetime. And it commences: now.

edit: Here are some obits. Conversational Reading, Ron Silliman, Gawker, NYT, The Howling Fantoids, Suzannah, The LA Times blog.