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Is David Foster Wallace Serious

Is David Foster Wallace Serious

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Published by Abhay Vohra
David Foster Wallace has one of the most … interesting “Top Ten” lists.
David Foster Wallace has one of the most … interesting “Top Ten” lists.

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Published by: Abhay Vohra on Oct 01, 2007
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04/15/2013

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Is David Foster Wallace Serious?
David Foster Wallace has one of the most … interesting “Top Ten” lists.From:http://www.toptenbooks.net/blog/2007/03/is-david-foster-wallace-serious.html
1. The Screwtape Letters - C.S. Lewis2. The Stand - Stephen King3. Red Dragon - Thomas Harris4. The Thin Red Line - James Jones5. Fear of Flying - Erica Jong6. The Silence of the Lambs - Thomas Harris7. Stranger in a Strange Land - Robert A. Heinlein8. Fuzz - Ed McBain9. Alligator - Shelley Katz10. The Sum of All Fears - Tom Clancy
Inquiring minds want to know: Is he serious?Beats me. To be honest, I don't know what Wallace was thinking — he doesn'tphone, he doesn't write ... . But I do think there's a certain integrity to his list. If Ihad asked, "What are the Top Ten works of popular commercial fiction that mostcritics and serious authors sneer at" his list would be on target. Within their genres,each of his picks is a stand out.Perhaps he's suggesting that even though we tend to define fiction, especially greatfiction, in a specific way, it works, in fact, on different levels. Harris' "RedDragon"and Clancy's "The Sum of All Fears" aren't trying to be "Hamlet"; Jong's"Fear of Flying" has different aims than "The Sound and the Fury" (except for thechief aim of engaging its readers). On their own terms, each of Wallace's picks is agreat achievement.I doubt Wallace thinks "Fuzz" is a better literary creation than "Moby Dick," but hemight say it's more enjoyable. To take that a step further, the fact that the "Top
 
 Ten" contributors selected 544 different titles suggests that there are no right orwrong answers when it comes to great books, there are only the books that meanthe most to each of us. That’s a little bullcritty, I know. But hey, that's my business.Wallace aficionado Jonathan Baskin offers this take:I've read nearly every interview Wallace has ever done, and he is often asked for hisinfluences, or books that are important to him. Here is one example of the kind of answer he usually gives, in response to Salon's Laura Miller's question about whatbooks make him feel "human and unalone," which is how Wallace describes theaffect of great fiction:OK. Historically the stuff that's sort of rung my cherries: Socrates' funeral oration,the poetry of John Donne, the poetry of Richard Crashaw, every once in a whileShakespeare, although not all that often, Keats' shorter stuff, Schopenhauer,Descartes' "Meditations on First Philosophy" and "Discourse on Method, "Kant's"Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysic," although the translations are all terrible,William James' "Varieties of Religious Experience," Wittgenstein's "Tractatus," Joyce's "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man," Hemingway -- particularly the italstuff in "In Our Time," where you just go oomph!, Flannery O'Connor, CormacMcCarthy, Don DeLillo, A.S. Byatt, Cynthia Ozick -- the stories, especially one called"Levitations," about 25 percent of the time Pynchon. Donald Barthelme, especially astory called "The Balloon," which is the first story I ever read that made me want tobe a writer, Tobias Wolff, Raymond Carver's best stuff -- the really famous stuff.Steinbeck when he's not beating his drum, 35 percent of Stephen Crane, "Moby-Dick," "The Great Gatsby."Now, this is just one interview, but never have any of the novels he mentioned onhis list appeared anywhere in the interviews I've read. Nor have I ever heard himpraise any books even remotely like those books. He has also, I might add, written
 
long, fawning essays about Dostoevsky and Kafka, and claimed to be a huge JohnUpdike fan --somehow none of these authors made his cut.Now, at first when I saw his list, and all the Thomas Harris and Tom Clancy books, Iassumed he had just made a joke out of the list. Frankly, I was surprised he'd doneit in the first place, so it didn't seem so outlandish that he'd have fun with it. I don'thave the book in front of me right now because I'm at work, but I think it wassomewhere around # 5 when I saw the Jong book, that I really got confused.Because Jong is not a crassly "popular" writer like Clancy or Harris, but he's also notreally literary -- she's in that broad pseudo-literary realm populated by writers whowant to be real writers, but simply aren't good enough...these are the kind of writerswhich only seem acceptable until you read their much more talented near-contemporaries, like David Foster Wallace. I knew when I saw Jong's book on there,though, that Wallace wouldn't have put it on in jest, because he doesn't have acruel sense of humor, and it would have been cruel to put Erica Jong's book on in jest. Because Jong has aspirations of being a real writer (Thomas Harris, it might beargued, is precisely the author he wants to be), and Wallace would never putsomeone down in that way who was really trying. There were a few other entries like Jong as well, which really gave me pause, andthe more I thought about it, the less I understood what point Wallace could betrying to get across. It's almost like he went to a rack in a bookstore and pokedrandomly at ten books, or farmed the job out to a 13 year-old who liked to read (mylist might have looked something like Wallace's when I was about 12). Yes, thebooks he chose may be great achievements on their own terms, but why wouldWallace use those kinds of terms? He is clearly aware of other, better terms, and hiswriting is steered by them. I simply do not buy he enjoys "Red Dragon" as much ashe enjoys "Hamlet," or "Brothers K," or "Gravity's Rainbow."Posted by J. Peder Zane at 5:27 PMPermalink Digg this Post Email this Post8 Comments:Lisa Guidarini said...

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