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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

On David Fucking Foster Wallace

Jesus Christ, God, Florence Nightingale, Moses, Shakespeare, Chaucer, and the Buddha have all been filmed –or, rather, actors playing these people have all been on film. I thought that only one mortal man was immune from the gaze of the camera – Mohammed – and that because the Saudis tend to crowd source adverse audience reaction, in terms of car burning and rioting, whenever Mohammed’s visage shows up. It’s a serious thumbs down situation.
But I was wrong!
It turns out that David Foster Wallace – or David fucking Foster Wallace, as I will call him here, since I am being all into that desacralizing thing – should also be immune from the movies. Who knew? His fans normally don’t overturn and burn buses in Islamabad, however, but quietly weep in the pages of the Guardian, The New Republic, and elsewhere. 
A new film is out that adopts a book of interviews with D(f)FW to the screen. I am not myself a fan of the genre of films about writers, since they tend to portray writers as solitary folks, agonizing out the daily word limit, typing (oh, the typing scenes, which are a whole variety of cringe by themselves!) – basically, the whole reactionary fantasy of the individual creator, and I find that boring, and a little surprising, since writing could be a highly dramatizable subject. However, what interests me is the reaction to the film by people who have known or feel they have some claim on D(f)FW.
F’rinstance, this piece in the New Republic, which does a header in piety in the first graf and never looks back:
Why I am not watching the David Foster Wallace Movie: he taught me not to by Jason Guriel. It is probably not Guriel’s fault, the title. However, the “he taught me not to” clause has a music to it, does it not? Much like “Jesus loves the little children/all the children of the world”, it has a sort of hymnal for simps feel.
This – I kid you not! – is the first graf:
“There’s a certain irony in making a feature film about David Foster Wallace: funneling the most voluminous of writers, he of the endnotes with their own gravitational pull, into a work of entertainment. The market, of course, is primed for a multiplex-filling movie. DFW’s fans have already consumed every available DFW product—not just his terrific short stories, or his 900-plus page dystopian novel on TV, tennis, and addiction, Infinite Jest; but also his critical essays, his Kenyon College commencement address, and his gonzo forays into reporting and travel writing. For the completist, there are also hisinterviews with Rolling Stone journalist David Lipsky from the Infinite Jestbook tour of 1996—which have now been adapted as The End of the Tour, with Jason Segel playing DFW. But what emerges from those interviews and Wallace’s critical essays is his deep aversion to entertainment.”
To entertainment no less! Such a shame, too, since the multiplexes will surely be filled to the bursting to see a film about a publicity touring writer who wrote a best seller in the 90s. The kids can't get enough of that kind of thing!
Of course, the Hollywood ridiculousness of the intro is there for a reason. After all, there’s no virtue and gold stars in being immune to a temptation that hasn’t been offered to you – the Devil doesn’t ask everybody to bow down and worship him in return for supreme domination of the earth. He knows well enough that most putz’s are willing to bow down to make the fucking next month's auto insurance payment. Only the superhuman are selected by the devil for special visits.
Hence, of course, Wallace.
We know that Guriel is in fantasy land with this vision – if there is box office here, it is strictly due to some celeb comedy actor taking on the role. Period. Surely the editors at TNR know this, as well as knowing that a little name dropping when a movie is coming along can't do any harm.
But that's show business. What bugs me is the jawdropping idea that D(f)FW was somehow “averse” to entertainment, and taught his disciples such. This tickles. This makes me break out into deep braying sounds, like a donkey going down.
Averse to entertainment? I wonder what the secret teachings are about masturbation and dental hygiene?
In fact, D(f)FW was in the entertainment business, which is a business that thrives on the kind of logrolling that makes for articles about the “controversy” concerning this or that bit of pop flotsam. He wrote his books to have them published, and he was more than willing to flog them. Which puts him up there with everybody else in the industry.
Now, it is true that entertainment has very often been treated as something other than art. Baseball and comic strips are the entertainment, Ulysses and the Rothko Chapel are the art, or so goes this dogtired move in a game that started when the grand old patrons were guillotined in the 18th century and their land was confiscated, and the new patrons of the nineteenth century, tycoons all, contented themselves mostly with collecting what the older patrons of the Church and Nobility used to commission. Bastards. Since that time, the academics have gotten in on the act too; until, some time in the 1970s or 80s, they pressed the division until it collapsed. However, it was always an ad hoc structure, which pressed guild like pretensions upon a recalcitrant capitalist reality.
I don’t think Wallace was a stupid man, so he knew the deal as well as anybody else. He might well have had an aversion to a lot of entertainment – he might not have liked bowling, he might have found gross out comedy stupid, he might not have appreciated the Simpsons in their prime – but I can’t believe he was so deluded as to think that “entertainment” was Verboten.
One of the terrible things about the D(F)FW cult is that it makes me sympathetic to Brett Easton Ellis. Surely, I like to think, I can’t sink so low! And yet B(f)EE’s bitchery about the Wallace cult seems more and more accurate. At some point, the pap has to stop.

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