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Conversations with David Foster Wallace
Cover of Conversations with David Foster Wallace
Conversations with David Foster Wallace
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Across two decades of intense creativity, David Foster Wallace (1962-2008) crafted a remarkable body of work that ranged from unclassifiable essays, to a book about transfinite mathematics, to vertiginous fictions. Whether through essay volumes (A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, Consider the Lobster), short story collections (Girl with Curious Hair, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, Oblivion), or his novels (Infinite Jest, The Broom of the System), the luminous qualities of Wallace's work recalibrated our measures of modern literary achievement. Conversations with David Foster Wallace gathers twenty-two interviews and profiles that trace the arc of Wallace's career, shedding light on his omnivorous talent.Jonathan Franzen has argued that, for Wallace, an interview provided a formal enclosure in which the writer "could safely draw on his enormous native store of kindness and wisdom and expertise." Wallace's interviews create a wormhole in which an author's private theorizing about art spill into the public record. Wallace's best interviews are vital extra-literary documents, in which we catch him thinking aloud about his signature concerns—irony's magnetic hold on contemporary language, the pale last days of postmodernism, the delicate exchange that exists between reader and writer. At the same time, his acute focus moves across MFA programs, his negotiations with religious belief, the role of footnotes in his writing, and his multifaceted conception of his work's architecture. Conversations with David Foster Wallace includes a previously unpublished interview from 2005, and a version of Larry McCaffery's influential Review of Contemporary Fiction interview with Wallace that has been expanded with new material drawn from the original raw transcript.

Across two decades of intense creativity, David Foster Wallace (1962-2008) crafted a remarkable body of work that ranged from unclassifiable essays, to a book about transfinite mathematics, to vertiginous fictions. Whether through essay volumes (A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, Consider the Lobster), short story collections (Girl with Curious Hair, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, Oblivion), or his novels (Infinite Jest, The Broom of the System), the luminous qualities of Wallace's work recalibrated our measures of modern literary achievement. Conversations with David Foster Wallace gathers twenty-two interviews and profiles that trace the arc of Wallace's career, shedding light on his omnivorous talent.Jonathan Franzen has argued that, for Wallace, an interview provided a formal enclosure in which the writer "could safely draw on his enormous native store of kindness and wisdom and expertise." Wallace's interviews create a wormhole in which an author's private theorizing about art spill into the public record. Wallace's best interviews are vital extra-literary documents, in which we catch him thinking aloud about his signature concerns—irony's magnetic hold on contemporary language, the pale last days of postmodernism, the delicate exchange that exists between reader and writer. At the same time, his acute focus moves across MFA programs, his negotiations with religious belief, the role of footnotes in his writing, and his multifaceted conception of his work's architecture. Conversations with David Foster Wallace includes a previously unpublished interview from 2005, and a version of Larry McCaffery's influential Review of Contemporary Fiction interview with Wallace that has been expanded with new material drawn from the original raw transcript.

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About the Author-
  • Stephen J. Burn is associate professor of modern and contemporary literature at Northern Michigan University—Marquette. He is the author of Jonathan Franzen at the End of Postmodernism; Intersections: Essays on Richard Powers; and David Foster Wallace's "Infinite Jest": A Reader's Guide.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    February 27, 2012
    Spanning Wallace’s 20-year career, from 1987 until his suicide in 2008, this collection of interviews and profiles sheds light on a man as intricately constructed as his fiction. While thematic repetitions are inevitable when the subject matter overlaps—many of the interviews concern Wallace’s ambitious and critically lauded 1996 novel, Infinite Jest—on the whole each encounter with the author provides another piece of the puzzle. Larry McCaffery’s 1993 interview from the Review of Contemporary Fiction is the most in-depth and also the most academic, but its discussion of the writer’s struggle to balance the story’s needs with the writer’s need to be admired (“Hey! Look at me! Have a look at what a good writer I am! Like me!”) is fascinating. Despite his eloquence, Wallace often underscored his distaste for interviews, touring, and practically anything else that made him the center of attention, a fact that curiously correlated with his insistence that good writing acts as an “an anodyne against loneliness.” About himself he said, with some chagrin, “I’m an exhibitionist who wants to hide, but is unsuccessful at hiding; therefore, somehow I succeed.” The final, posthumous Rolling Stone profile, “The Lost Years and Last Days of David Foster Wallace,” is even more heartbreaking when read as both the coda of the book and of a life.

  • Library Journal

    April 1, 2012

    Burn's (literature, Northern Michigan Univ.; David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest: A Reader's Guide) intention here is to select from among the 70 or so published interviews of Wallace to present an arc that provides insight into Wallace's development as a writer. Detailed in these 20-plus interviews (all except one previously published, presented here unabridged) are Wallace's myriad concerns including not just writing and reading but contemporary politics, leisure, and the media. The format succeeds because Wallace was exceedingly humane and open to interviewers. Readers will notice recurring themes, especially in interviews given close to the same time. Those interested in this volume will also want David Lipsky's book-length interview, Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, which gives a snapshot of Wallace in the hurricane of Infinite Jest stardom. VERDICT Recommended for all David Foster Wallace fans and any newcomers to his life and works.--Jim Hahn, Univ. of Illinois Lib., Urbana

    Copyright 2012 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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