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Liverpool DFW Conference Reports

It sounds like David Hering put together an excellent conference. Check out the conference delegate programme. I've had two summaries sent in, and I've posted them below (with permission) in the order I received them. Thanks so much to Graham Foster and Adam Kelly (both presented at the conference)! I can't wait to attend the NY conference...
I've now heard from a number of attendees that there were some quotes provided about The Pale King by DFW's UK Agent, Mary Clemmey. I'm seeking permission before I quote anything formal here, but in a nutshell some of the comments hype his unfinished novel so much that if they are not true they'll surely alienate readers. Let me just say that these kinds of things are only uttered these days if the people saying them truly believe in what they are saying. Watch this space. 

Graham Foster (A Blasted Region: David Foster Wallace’s man-made landscapes)
is a PhD Student at Manchester Metropolitan University. His history of research is in 20th Century American Literature. His specialist area is the North American Literature of Generation X, and he is currently researching the evidence of a literary fin de siecle in the millennial fictions of David Foster Wallace and Douglas Coupland.
I just thought I'd send a quick note to tell you about the Liverpool DFW conference (it's the very least I can do seeing as your excellent site has helped me so much in my studies!).

I would also like to use the opportunity to say what an excellent job David Hering did in organising the event. The papers spanned the entire corpus of Wallace's work and were, without exception excellent, thoughtful and inspiring (both in terms of directing my own study and in terms of wanting to go back and read every single word DFW has ever written). Particular mention should go to the papers by David Hering (a mind-blowingly in-depth study of the mathematical structures in Infinite Jest that, if I'm really honest, I'm still scratching my head over in ecstatic bewilderment), Chris Thomas (comparing Infinite Jest to Sterne's Tristram Shandy, which Chris described in ways that make it seem so obvious, although it was an original reading), Adam Kelly (who possesses such a deep and impressive reservoir of DFW knowledge), Gregory Phipps (a very interesting paper on the role of John Wayne in Infinite Jest, from the POV of a Canadian, no less), and Christoph Ribbat (a thoughtfu!
 l paper on how to categorise DFW's journalism). I am conscious that mentioning these names insinuates they were the best, but I don't think any hierarchy existed - it was a Wallace nerd-fest where everybody's input was deeply valuable. Any DFW fan/scholar will know how frustrating it is not to be able to talk about his work with friends/family, as the enthusiasm is lost on them (and they quickly become sick of it). Being in a room with all of these Wallace "wienies" (we need a better term maybe) was an exciting experience that allowed Wallace's work to be celebrated in an unashamed and unlimited way (if you can't already tell, I'm still on a high from the two days).

I can't make the forthcoming New York conference, much to my desperate disappointment, but it is sure to be a continuation of the general atmosphere of the Liverpool conference. DFW seems to inspire passion in people and having a forum to share that passion is a privilege. So thanks to David for organising it, and for Greg Carlisle for the insight of his keynote speech.

I think I should stop now, lest I become even more gushing than I am already. I hope this illustrates what the conference was like...

Best wishes,
Graham Foster

Adam Kelly (David Foster Wallace and the New Sincerity in American Fiction)
is a PhD Candidate and Government of Ireland Scholar at University College Dublin, where he is currently completing a dissertation entitled “Moments of Decision in Contemporary American Fiction.” He received his MA from the University of York. He teaches courses on American Modernism and contemporary American fiction, and his articles have appeared or are forthcoming in Critique, Philip Roth Studies, and Phrasis.

Having had the good fortune to attend the Consider David Foster Wallace conference in Liverpool this week, and as a devoted reader of The Howling Fantods, I thought I’d write a little report on the event for your esteemed website.


To say that the conference was a success would be a rather large understatement. Congratulations and thanks must go to David Hering for his seamless organisation (to say nothing of his extraordinary paper on triangles and circles in Infinite Jest). Greg Carlisle gave a wonderful keynote talk, hitting all the right notes in his analysis, his praise of Wallace, and his call for a deep scholarly response to the work. And everyone who attended, both in a speaking and listening capacity, responded to that call, contributing to what felt like an immensely valuable communal experience.


At the end of the day, of course, the conference’s success can only be a tribute to Wallace himself. Close engagement with his work produced papers, many delivered by scholars at the very beginning of their academic careers, the standard of which seemed to me a good deal higher than can be found at the vast majority of such events. This had to do, I think, with the way presenters declined to subsume Wallace’s work to pre-formed and/or tired theoretical models; rather, there was a real response to the work in its own terms, a willingness to allow it to push arguments of all kinds in new and fruitful directions. The vast array of perspectives, and the way they dialogued with each other in the course of the two days, was an intellectual pleasure to witness.


As more people read Wallace into the twenty-first century, regard for his literary achievements will only increase, so the joy right now is being present at the beginning of something that feels so large and important. My experience in Liverpool confirmed my view that Wallace’s work, for reasons of its ethical and human concerns even more than for its brilliance, offers a perhaps unprecedented opportunity to make a new case for the importance of literature and the humanities in our world. This may sound like a rather grand statement, but I think many of your readers, both inside and outside academia, will instinctively know what I’m talking about. Yet this can only be a gradual project, and for now, with the experience of Liverpool fresh in my mind, it feels enough of a privilege simply to love and appreciate the work as it stands, and to share that love and appreciation with others.


Gaudeamus igitur.



Last Updated on Monday, 03 August 2009 19:34  

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