DFW biography

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DFW biography

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1tomcatMurr
Aug 30, 2012, 6:26am

2anna_in_pdx
Aug 30, 2012, 12:46pm

That was interesting, and so were the comments. The level of conversation was so much beyond any American newspaper article I've ever read... I would like to read this, but I am still trying to make myself go back to and finish The Pale king. Did anyone else on here actually read the whole thing, and what did they think about it?

3tomcatMurr
Aug 31, 2012, 12:12am

haven't read it yet, although I do have it.

4absurdeist
Edited: Aug 31, 2012, 11:49pm

Just bought the biography, Every Love Story is a Ghost Story, and will begin reading promptly. Thanks for that article, Murr. I liked the article, but can't say I cared much for that impugning of DFWs greatness by bozos with the chutzpah to admit they hadn't even read much (if any) of his work, but based their summary executions of the man's craft on the opinions of his contemporaries or one of his earthy quotes. What writer couldn't be inordinately maligned based on one of their quotes being plucked willy-nilly out of their oeuvre's thin air? En garde! I say, to those Guardian commenters!

5beelzebubba
Sep 1, 2012, 10:46am

Made me want to pick up my copy of IJ, and thump them upside the head with it.

6absurdeist
Sep 1, 2012, 12:10pm

5> better said than what I was trying to say!

7absurdeist
Edited: Sep 1, 2012, 12:18pm

I'm enjoying D.T. Max's bio so far. A potential criticism I'd lob his way, though, is he moves too fast through Wallace's pre-Amherst years. One chapter? But maybe he'll double back and I likewise should hold back the criticism.

I do admire how well versed Max is in DFWs fictions and essays, demonstrating the interesting originations of so many exact details and exact dialogues that would later appear in all of his novels, born from the rich interactions during his childhood and adolescence with his parents (particularly his mother) and sister.

An excerpt from a college story published in Amherst's Sabrina, co-founded by DFW along with his on-again-off-again* roommate, Mark Costello, that D.T. Max describes as a "campus humor magazine ... modeled on the Harvard Lampoon," that clearly shows his influences and the kind of metafiction DFW described as "making him click": ~

Suddenly a sinister, twin-engined airplane came into view, sputtering and back firing. It lost power and began spinning in toward the hill. It was heading right for the Sabrina brothers!

Luckily at the last minute the plane ceased to exist.

"Crikey!" exclaimed Joe. "It's a good thing we're characters in a highly implausible children's book or we'd be goners!"


*Due to DFW's twice having to leave Amherst because of his increasingly incapacitating episodes of anxiety and depression.

8detailmuse
Sep 5, 2012, 4:53pm

Glad to see this thread, I'm also enjoying the biography. Chronological and quite straightforward. For anyone who missed it, D. T. Max published a eulogy of sorts in a 2009 New Yorker.

>I do admire how well versed Max is in DFWs fictions and essays, demonstrating the interesting originations of so many exact details and exact dialogues that would later appear in all of his novels
Stunning, how well! And he doesn't just insert the stuff, it's seamless.

9tomcatMurr
Oct 5, 2012, 9:05am

10anna_in_pdx
Nov 1, 2012, 11:21pm

I just got through reading it. It was so interesting and heartbreaking, I just felt terrible once I finished it. I want to read everything he wrote including brief interviews with hideous men and all his various articles written for magazines. I still don't know what I think about even trying to finish the Pale King though. It obviously was nowhere near done and I think he realized it was unfinisheable. If that's a word.

Also I was bothered all through Infinite Jest with the way he made characters say "nauseous" for "nauseated" and it brought tears to my eyes that this was a grammar thing that he was very much aware of and was always correcting other people about. He mentions it at several different times in several different convos and letters in this bio and it always makes me tear up. God, everything in IJ is totally on purpose. The bad french and everything is obviously so very purposeful. I need to read it again. What an incredible book it was.

My only disappointment about the book was that evidently his mom did not want any details to come out about how she reacted to the Avril character, and there were these hints throughout the book that it made her very upset and I wanted to know how they resolved it. Being a mom who has a son I regularly want to throttle. But I can respect her right to privacy, it was just an unresolved thing that I wanted resolved. Did anyone else finish it and what did they think?

11beelzebubba
Nov 1, 2012, 11:42pm

I've only just started it, but I'm very excited about it. I got to meet Mr. Max this past weekend. He was here for the Texas Book Festival, and I was lucky enough to get to chat with him for a bit, then listened to a talk he gave about the book. He talked about all the letters he went through while doing his research. It seems DFW penned quite a few--but only when he wasn't able to write. He mentioned that during the time he was writing IJ, you hardly find any letters at all.

12absurdeist
Edited: Nov 3, 2012, 6:26pm

10> It was so interesting and heartbreaking, I just felt terrible once I finished it.

Exactly! And that's why I haven't said very much about it. And even though it's obvious how the book is going to finish, it's still sad when you finish it. Made me feel a tad too empty for my taste. I wish Max could've softened the blow somehow, but that's just wishful thinking.

I thought it was interesting how DT Max demonstrated how much of DFWs so called "non-fiction" was in fact confabulated. I hadn't suspected the degree in which Wallace embellished. Maybe not so much the meat of the truth about his life and experiences, but all the whimsical amplifications he made in the otherwise humdrum details concerning the people and events of his reportage. His essay on the Illinois State Fair, "Getting Away from Already Being Pretty Much Away from It All", collected in A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, is a good example of that. Or how "the people at his church" that he sometimes mentioned in his essays were invariably stand-ins for his "12-step friends," such as in his piece in response to 9/11, "The View From Mrs. Thompson's," collected in Consider the Lobster. Based on that essay, I always assumed that DFW went to church. I made inquiries, in fact, over the years, attempting to uncover which church David Foster Wallace attended. Come to find out, from Max's biography, he couldn't go to church, because whenever he did, he'd inevitably start chuckling uncontrollably.

And I wonder why, beyond obvious reasons of personal privacy and reputation concerns, when he so championed Authenticity and eschewed Irony in his later years, he never made public, beyond the occasional admissions in interviews that were play-downs of ginormous proportions, concerning his lifelong vulnerability to substances -- "yeah I experimented "a little" with drugs after I wrote The Broom..." blah blah blah -- the source or engine of his addictions. His Depression. Capital "D", as in Major, of which he was a chronic sufferer. Might he still be alive, if its not too insensitive for me to conjecture, had he opened up about his struggles with depression, had he written another of his patented, brilliant, footnoted essays on the subject, and how it crippled every aspect of his life, when he let it go untreated?

Yet he concealed it completely. No one outside his family, agent, and maybe his editor at Little, Brown and tight circle from Amherst ever knew about it. Is it any wonder then that he could so comprehensively fashion a complicated character like Hal who secreted his addictions so perfectly -- oh people at E.T.A. knew he got high but not how often, just like people at Amherst knew DFW had had some personal problems during a couple of semesters but maybe didn't know the full gravity of just how life threatening those problems were) -- and yet still functioned at genius levels in day-to-day academics?

Though I doubt Hal could hide any better than DFW could -- an overriding impression I'm left with reflecting on the biography. Which to me seems like something DFW would've phrased as being "ironically ironic" about himself, especially for one who no longer wanted to be -- or in the least be perceived as -- Ironic, whether in his real life or fiction. Except DFW would've turned the phrase cleverly, and with an endearing and most generous amount of hysterical self-deprecation my criticism lacks; and, in so doing, probably made himself seem (or maybe even be) that much more Authentic. Man of many contradictions. Probably too smart for his own good. Miracle he lived as long as he did. More impressions from the book.

I wrote earlier that I didn't like how little Max spent on his childhood, and I'm sticking to that. One chapter: not enough. Perhaps, Anna, that was because of, as you mention, his mother's intervention in D.T. Max's research.

I read in one of the articles on the biography that the critic didn't like Max's chronological, connect-the-dots, approach. I agree with that. The book was predictable at times, tedious even. But Max made up for it in his insightful analyses of the connections between the content of all of DFWs fiction and the content of his life. That was splendid.

Like Bubba shared about meeting D.T. Max, and getting his autograph that should be mailed to me immediately (Indian Autograph-Getterer!) when Max said that future bios will undoubtedly cover more of the personal, family stuff, maybe then we'll know more about that difficult relationship with his mother, personified in his character, Avril, then. I look forward to reading those too. And also the balance of DFWs stuff I've saved for later. Understanding David Foster Wallace is a good study of him too.

Might be a good time for a reread of Infinite Jest, eh? Maybe we should start a thread for a read beginning, say, New Year's Day, 2013? Anybody in? Or shall I journey solo?

13tomcatMurr
Nov 3, 2012, 9:41pm

>11 beelzebubba: Beelz, how awesome!

I've often wondered about the connection between DFW's cannabis use and his depression. I did an experiment few months ago and tried to smoke as much as that guy does in The Broom, and I felt distinctly weird, in a very unpleasant way. I'm assuming DFW was a very heavy user. Max go into that at all?

14tomcatMurr
Nov 3, 2012, 9:43pm

I'm not ready for a reread, but I will follow along. I have the Pale King earmarked for next year, though, and maybe interviews with hideous men. anna, what are your beefs with finishing Pale King?

15absurdeist
Nov 5, 2012, 8:09pm

13> Oh yeah, DFW was a heavy heavy user until he got into 12-step meetings and recovery, well documented in the book. It's interesting that his sobriety began just a year or so before he started writing IJ.

16anna_in_pdx
Nov 5, 2012, 10:06pm

14: i guess i just think he was so far from done with it and so dissatisfied with it that I have very mixed feelings over it having been published at all and over reading it in this state.

17absurdeist
Dec 9, 2012, 4:33pm

James Wood will be interviewing D.T. Max tomorrow, Monday, 12.10.12. You can watch a live stream of their conversation here.

18absurdeist
Edited: Dec 16, 2012, 1:00am

If you missed the live stream of D.T. Max and James Wood discussing David Foster Wallace that was mentioned in post #17 above, you can watch it in its entirety right here.