The Howling Fantods

David Foster Wallace News and Resources Since March 97

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Jesse Klein Explores the DFW Archive

Awesome article by Jesse Klein just got posted over at This Recording, In Which We Explore The Archives Of David Foster Wallace: Holy Text.
There are some very minor Pale King spoilers in this one, with most of the article considering other archive contents:
"Good Old Neon", a short story that appears in the 2004 collection Oblivion, is perhaps Wallace’s most deliberate, unadorned conversation with himself. I first read it in a car ride from Montreal to New York on a sunny, summer day. Through the Adirondacks, with my sister on my right and my parents in the front, I was totally destroyed and absolutely electrified. When I finished the story, I couldn’t speak, I just thought to myself remembering the time before I read the story, who I was then, a couple hours ago.
In it, a man sees a "therapist" (a word he later changed to "analyst"), finds it useless, and, without alternative, decides to kill himself. In BOX 24, at the top of the first page of this first handwritten draft is "FRAUD" followed by, "This is the bad part, the foggy part where there's way more than I can ever make you see." Wallace, and the reader, has no choice but to go on.
In different pen colors, blue to black to red to green, the story gets better, shorter, fuller. Where there was once an "analyst" with a "mustache", there is later an "analyst" with a "small ginger mustache", a mustache that is likely taken seriously by its owner and not by anyone else. In his revisions, Wallace would not only correct himself but comment, taunt. Unsatisfied with the first few pages, he wrote at the top of four above the first line, "(I know this part is boring and probably boring you, but it gets a lot more interesting after I kill myself)." This aside made it into the final version of the story. But even the thin sheen of self-defacing humor fades away: "Everything gets so abstract all this free-writing I can't be bothered to even type up. We tried to bombard our problems with will power instead of bringing it into alignment with God’s intention for us." Wallace did not write or talk in extremes, he lived in them.
"Good Old Neon" ends with an oracular exhale, a portion of prose that makes the reader at once alive, aware, terrified, and tired. After going over it for probably the hundredth time, he wrote in a tidy box, "incoherent, but moving." The story is dense, bleak, again necessary, but not incoherent. The last line on that page is also that, "[Ghosts talking to us all the time—but we think their voices are our own thoughts.]" It is no longer the "I" of the protagonist, or the writer, but a "we" that includes us in the nightmare, a self-imposed nightmare, though it feels inevitable.