The Howling Fantods

David Foster Wallace News and Resources Since March 97

  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Final Thoughts - Infinite Wallace 2014

Final Thoughts - Infinite Wallace 2014

-Tony McMahon

Well, your faithful correspondent has made it safely back to Australia, is slowly recovering from his jet lag, and is beginning to formulate somewhat coherent thoughts on the overall tenor of Infinite Wallace.


Most of the blogs I’ve posted here have concerned the exciting new directions I saw Wallace studies as taking through the lens of the conference, so I won’t bore you with any more of that. In order to flesh out my reporting, I will endeavour to describe in a more detailed manner some of the specific talks that went into making the event such a success.



Thursday, September 11

Institut du monde anglophone, Sorbonne-Nouvelle

9:30 Performance, entertainment, media I


Bart Thornton spoke entertainingly about Wallace and the Situationists. Since my paper was concerned with similar themes, I tried my best to listen. As has already been noted in earlier posts, your reporter was, well, let’s just say petrified of taking the stage, which made paying attention not just a difficult task, but flat out impossible.


Mike Miley has some serious Wallace game. Again, though, fear prevented me from making any legible notes. I did write stuff down, but I’m looking at it now and it appears to be either hieroglyphics or some dead language I didn’t know I could speak. (This will soon change, I promise. After I present my paper I start to feel a lot more relaxed).

11:15 Performance, entertainment, media II


Tony McMahon did not, it seems, make quite as much of a tool of himself as he thought he would (more here).


Jay Johnson. Sorry, Jay, but I barely caught a word. I was too busy wiping sweat away. Something about Canada maybe? Sounds as if it would have been really interesting.


Okay, so, your correspondent was feeling much better by this stage, and the Plenary by Professor Marshall Boswell actually makes, you know, sense. Boswell spoke of Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot as a kind of literary love triangle where Eugenides and Wallace (through the character Leonard Bankhead, widely believed to be based on Wallace) face off for the affections of the reader. Boswell also made the simple but poignant point that the trope of suicide in Wallace’s work should not be conflated with Wallace’s actual suicide, which, of course, is not a trope, but a real life, tragic event.


15:15 Wallace the auteur / Questions of reading and writing I


Tim Groenland spoke of the wraith in Infinite Jest as the return of the putatively dead author, and Jackie O’Dell suggested that the same book’s titular cartridge was a play on the anxiety between serious art and entertainment. In question and answer session following their talks, the two scholars touched on the paradox that, for a writer who seemingly subscribes to the death of the author theory (except, maybe in ‘Greatly Exaggerated’), Wallace was obsessive about controlling the way he was read.




Friday, September 12

Institut du monde anglophone, Sorbonne-Nouvelle

9:30 Influences and transmissions I


Calvin Thomas is the author of a book called Male Matters, a copy of which he apparently sent to Wallace. Thomas then proceeded to suggest that Wallace’s story ‘The Suffering Channel’ was influenced by same. Although this sounds, on paper at least, like the musings of someone who is – okay, I’ll say it – up themselves, Thomas delivered his talk in a humorous and self-deprecating manner. He also gets extra credit for explaining the origins of the term ‘front bottom’ to replace vagina. Would have been an absolute ripper to have walked into half way through.


Stephanie Lambert examined something of the differences between postmodernism and post postmodernism, a subject that will no doubt inform not just Wallace scholarship, but academic thinking more widely, for some time to come. Really won me over when she dragged one of my favourite philosophers, Henri Lefebvre, into the proceedings.


Lefteris Kalospyros and Kostas Kaltsas teamed up to talk about Wallace and Pynchon, making the excellent point that comparisons of the two writers are everywhere, but little attention has been paid to the details of the similarities. Kaltsas gets extra credit for being the only presenter that I know of at Infinite Wallace to have the last line of Infinite Jest tattooed on his forearm.


11: 15 Influences and transmissions II

The paper presented by Tore Andersen was an absolute hoot. I don’t need to say too much more about this as I believe it will be making an appearance on this very website.

Daniel Mattingly was one of the few scholars here who spoke about influence from the other direction: namely the writers Wallace has inspired. Special mention needs to be made of the fact that Mattingly was due to submit his PhD on the Thursday following the conference. A superhuman effort, really.


Pater Waldstein was the only monk to present at Infinite Wallace. ‘Nuff said? Probably. But it’s also worth noting he was one of the only people to mention Wallace’s undergraduate thesis, his non-fiction book Everything and More and Franzen’s (some would say horrible) Kenyon College commencement speech.

14:30 Post-secular Wallace? I


Christopher Kocela spoke eloquently on Wallace and Buddhism. This, for me, marked a real turning point in the conference overall, a bit of a Light Bulb Above the Head moment when the idea that Wallace Studies could potentially go anywhere seemed to really take hold.


To wit: Jason Ford spent a good deal of time examining minor characters from Wallace’s work. Steeply and Marathe’s wife fromInfinite Jest were two examples.

16:15 Post-secular Wallace? II

David Hering is arguably one of the world’s leading Wallace scholars, and his talk was commensurate with this lofty status. Hering began by dragging Russian high literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin into the proceedings, and your hapless reporter’s head started to ache. But pens went almost unanimously to notebooks when Hering mentioned that he’d recently discovered in the archives that Hal was originally called Dave in an earlier draft of Infinite Jest. Then the speaker and Adam Kelly, another superstar Wallace guy, got into some ultra interesting back and forth during the Q&A, and wannabes like me just kind of cowered.

19:00 In an evening presentation, Bill Lattanzi, a native of Boston, took us on a psychogeographic tour of the town where Wallace’s most famous book is, of course, set. With a slide show to absolutely die for, and your reporter’s already well-documented interest in Situationism, the words pig in shit come to mind. What a way to end day two!



Saturday, September 13

École normale supérieure

10:00 David Foster Wallace and philosophy I

Michell Cunningham discussed allegory in ‘The Soul is Not a Smithy’ and proved that Australian Wallace scholarship is indeed alive and well, and up there with anything else from any other part of the world.

Camus got a guernsey when Jacopo Cozzi started talking up Wallace as ‘The Rebel’.

11:15 David Foster Wallace and philosophy II

Hadrien Laroche is one of France’s leading writers, and it was a real pleasure to hear his take on DFW.

Lee Konstantinou is another Wallace superstar and somehow managed to answer the question: What is a Turdnagel?

16:15 Humor, Sentiment, Communion II

Ralph Clare took a seriously left field view of Wallace scholarship, some of which has been examined in earlier posts here and here.

Mary Holland See earlier post.

Adam Kelly Ibid.



-Tony McMahon

Last Updated on Monday, 29 September 2014 02:16

Random Factoids 3: On Translations, Translators and Gately

RANDOM FACTOIDS /3 : On Translations, Translators and Gately

-Ariane Mak

Here’s a (way too) small selection of some interesting or funny things which were said during the Paris conference, during presentations or in their margins.


*** Infinite Jest Spoiler Warning - To those of you involved in a group read right now... beware! ***





The Translator’s insight: Gately’s fate at the end of Infinite Jest

During one of the very stimulating talks I had with Laura Kreyder during the Paris conference, we discussed the ambiguity of Gately’s fate at the end of the novel. Laura told me a very interesting anecdote recounted by Edoardo Nesi, one of the Italian translators of Infinite Jest 1, in his acclaimed book, Storia della mia gente.  

Many thanks to Laura for sending me the aforementioned page of Nesi’s book and for summarising it to me!

When Wallace came to Capri, Nesi asked Martina Testa, one of Wallace’s Italian translators, to ask him whether Gately died at the end of IJ or not.

Wallace answered: “I had a first draft version where D.G. died, but this version had terrible problems… So I think it is truer that he doesn’t die (there are three hints in the definite version that he doesn’t die).”

Gately’s fate remains of course open to interpretations. (But what are these three hints? Laura and I could only track two of them…) 

I am sure this anecdote is well known by Italian readers and by many in the DFW community but I had never heard of it. And it strengthened my belief that DFW’s translators have a lot to tell us about his work, and not only those who had the chance to discuss with Wallace. Immersed as they are in his writing (Ulrich Blumenbach spent six years translating Infinite Jest into German for instance), they surely have made many discoveries and came up with new analysis we readers would be eager to hear.


Translating DFW

I was very excited to meet Jill McCoy at the Paris conference, who assisted Charles Recoursé on the translation of some tricky sections of the Pale King, and Eric Guéant who discovered DFW through these French translations.

We were reminded at the conference that David Foster Wallace had declared that Infinite Jest was “untranslatable”. It is certainly an immense challenge to say the least: dialects, at times wrong Québécois French, idiosyncratic expressions, professional jargon and slang, neologisms, puns… French readers are all the more eager to discover the French translation of Infinite Jest, which should be published around September 2015 at the Editions de l’Olivier. The novel appears to be in good hands with Francis Kerline who has already masterfully translated Will Self, Jonathan Lethem and Jonathan Franzen.

Readers discussed a lot during the conference about which title the French translation might adopt: “La plaisanterie infinie”, “La farce sans fin”, “L’infini divertissement”?  To preserve the reference to Hamlet, one could turn to French translations of the famous sentence “Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio, a fellow of infinite jest” 2 . We would then get “L’infinie gaieté” 3, “la drôlerie infinie” 4. But none of these seem to be a satisfying solution. The title chosen for the German translation was “Unendlicher Spass”, which translates into “Unending Fun/Happiness” 5, while the Italian version kept “Infinite Jest” which appears to be quite common in Italy 6.

The difficulty of translating DFW’s French Québécois also popped up several times during the conference, as well as the difficult rendering of the numerous American references. Aili Pettersson Peeker, a grad student who came all the way from Sweden to attend the conference, told me for instance that the Swedish translation of This is Water had erased many American references as well as many hints that the text was a speech, at times excluding whole chunks of text altogether. Learn more about this by reading her very interesting analysis of the Swedish translation 7- The United States in Swedish: How to Translate the Untranslatable (pdf).

What is certain is that French readers have plenty DFW books to discover in the meantime. Tout et plus encore: une histoire compacte de l’infini (Everything and more) has been published this year by éditions Ollendorff & Desseins. Otherwise most of Wallace’s work have been published at Le Diable Vauvert: La fonction du Balai (The Broom of the System), La fille aux cheveux étranges (Girl with Curious Hair), Brefs entretiens avec des hommes hideux (Brief Interviews with Hideous Men), Un truc soi-disant super auquel on ne me reprendra pas (A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again), Le Roi Pâle (The Pale King), C’est de l’eau (This is Water).

Charles Recoursé who translated many of these books, said that translating The Pale King “means major difficulties in each page, moral dilemmas every five minutes, never-ending notes.”

He just finished translating Lipsky’s road trip/interview with Wallace, Although of course you end up becoming yourself. I’m very eager to discover his French translation, Même si, en fin de compte, on devient évidemment soi-même – out this month!


-Ariane Mak

1. The three Italian translators of Infinite Jest are Edoardo Nesi, Annalisa Villoresi and Grazia Giua.
2. Véronique Thireau Aldridge and Nick Aldridge, who are currently working on a new translation of Hamlet into French, pointed to the parallel between “a fellow of infinite jest” and “a king of infinite space” (Hamlet, II, 2). They also highlighted that “infinite” and the king’s fool/jester were both solar attributes in opposition with the saturnine themes of melancholia, and darkness. Many thanks to both of them for these stimulating remarks!
3. François-Victor Hugo translated the sentence into « Hélas ! pauvre Yorick ! Je l’ai connu, Horatio ! – C’était un garçon d’une gaieté infinie » (1865)
4. « (…) d’une drôlerie infinie », translation by Jean-Michel Déprats (2002)
5. Many thanks to Jill and Christian from the conference!
6. Infinite Jest has been translated into Spanish as La Broma Infinita (The Infinite Joke) and in Portuguese as A Piada Infinita (tThe Infinite Joke but also its result: The Infinite Entertainment).
7. A comment by Aili regarding this text: "Please note that it was written as a university assignment and that some of the parts might not make very much sense to someone not in that particular class. The assignment was part of the examination in a "world lit" class, so we had to refer to all the literature (both primary and secondary) of the course. Hence the crammed in, sometimes very stretched, references to theorists and novels."

Last Updated on Monday, 29 September 2014 01:43

Random Factoids 2: Turdnagels, Ghosts and Autism

RANDOM FACTOIDS /2: Turdnagels, Ghosts and Autism - Paris 2014

-Ariane Mak

Here’s a (way too) small selection of some interesting or funny things which were said during the Paris conference, during presentations or in their margins.

Ghostwriters in the machine

David Hering explored motifs of possession and the “narrating ghost” from The Broom of the System to Oblivion. He showed that these leitmotivs were associated with a concern over the authenticity of the speaking voice and anxieties of influence, symbolised by possession and counter-possession. 

The theme of “ownership” is central to The Broom of the System and becomes a leitmotiv of ontological anxiety in “Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way” [GWCH]. And while Infinite Jest is the novel where the motif first appears in earnest with Jim’s wraith, an initial draft of the text also included the first occurrence of the author’s metapresence. Indeed, in the conversationalist scene, which was among the first written by Wallace, “Hal” was initially named “David”. “The Soul is Not A Smithy” [Oblivion: Stories] then presented a “dramatizing of linguistic possession” before multiple sites of possession appeared in “Good Old Neon” [Oblivion: Stories] (which weaves motifs of ghost, ghostwriter and metapresence).    

David Hering’s analysis of The Pale King was particularly stimulating. His study of the archives at the Harry Ransom Center revealed the importance of the phantom motif in the initial narrative structure for The Pale King. He examined one of the first versions of the novel demonstrating that it was to be narrated by a ghost. In this initial draft, IRS agent Shane Drinion is also a porn actor nicknamed “Sir John Feelgood” whose face is systematically digitally replaced by that of any viewer. David Hering suggested that this draft might have become “Good Old Neon” [Oblivion: Stories] and showed that at one point the novel was supposed to be narrated by both a ghost and a ghostwriter, “before these elements evolved into the more familiar metafictional structure that is present in the published text.”

What is a Turdnagel?

Listening to Lee Konstantinou’s paper we discovered (at last!) what a Turdnagel was and, more importantly, why this was actually a key question.

“Turdnagel” was the name of one of Wallace’s dogs, one of his email handles too.
But, above all, we know “turdnagels” as a special class of IRS employees in The Pale King. They basically extract and put data in computer systems and, as Lee Konstantinou stressed, are known for being very tight-knit and exclusives:

“I had come to a paragraph in the book [How to make people like you: An Instant Recipe for Career Success] that explicitly recommended loud laughter at someone in a group’s joke as being more or less an automatic way to signal or invite inclusion in that group […]. The turdnagels, though, never turned their heads or even acknowledged my laughter, which was definitely loud enough to be audible even against the background noise.” The Pale King.

Where does the term come from? Lee Konstantinou traced the first occurrence to Don DeLillo who uses it in Players as an obscure piece of slang. 

But drawing on The Pale King notebooks at the Harry Ransom Center, Lee’s presentation showed that Wallace actually connected the expression with American philosopher Thomas Nagel.

His work is concerned with “the human capacity to view the world in a detached way, and argues that analytic philosophy has become too prone to objectification”. In his famous 1974 essay “What is it like to be a bat?” Nagel examines “the subjective character of experience”. To put it very simply, we can’t really imagine “what it is like to be a bat” because we are rooted in our own perspective and our own perception. 

Thomas Nagel

The presentation showed that Nagel’s philosophical work resonated deeply with some of the central themes in the “John Feelgood drafts” of The Pale King mentioned earlier: abstracting yourself from your own desire, the irreducibility of subjectivity, the risk of solipsism and transformation of person into persona. What is a turdnagel then? What we become when we ignore subjectivity and are in perpetual war with our ghost.

By tracing Nagel’s influence on DFW's work, the presentation challenged the paradigm according to which Wallace’s interest in philosophy had mostly been an early preoccupation, dating from the time he was an undergraduate at Amherst College, and progressively superseded by his commitment to humanistic concerns. Lee Konstantinou demonstrated that DFW was still vigorously engaging with philosophy when he wrote The Pale King, although maybe in a subtler way than in The Broom of the System (which, according to Wallace himself, wore its philosophical references on its sleeve).

Autism and Posthuman Empathy

Ralph Clare picked up on the numerous Wallacian characters who could be situated at one point or another on the autism spectrum.

The autistic Lunt of “Little Expressionless Animals” [also GWCH], the seemingly cold doctor Kate Gompert meets in Infinite Jest and Mario come to mind.

Some characters point specifically towards Asperger syndrome: J.O.I.; Hal and his ability to consume tons of data, even if it is DMZ-induced [But is it? - Nick}; Sylvanshine, the “fact psychic” who can’t control the flow of data that surges onto his mind. [And one might add Avril Incandenza as obsessive behaviours have long been considered traits of autism.]

Even Wallace himself seems to have displayed some traits of Asperger syndrome. He apparently joked about it, saying that he was “semi-autistic”.

Ralph Clare connected this with Wallace’s posthuman paradigm which he defined in these terms: “Paul Giles has argued that David Foster Wallace is a “sentimental posthumanist” whose work admits to the fact that media, technology, and global networks have irreversibly fractured and complicated one-time notions of human identity, while nonetheless still exploring human affectivity, emotion, and longing as they persist within such techno-environments.”

These characters’ relation to data as well as their difficulties with human connection address the posthuman paradigm. But some of The Pale King characters seem to point towards a novel conception of the posthuman for Wallace, one that suggests a more radical mode of empathetic behaviour. Mario is deeply empathetic; Fogle possesses a secret sequence of numbers which gives him the power of total concentration; Drinion is depicted as a great listener despite his computer-like way of thinking.
All these suggest a new understanding of the autistic traits as potential qualities to better negotiate “what it is to be a fucking human being”. 

Still more "random factoids" to come!

-Ariane Mak


Cover Suggestions for Critical Insights: David Foster Wallace

Philip Coleman is editing a new volume of essays about David Foster Wallace for the Critical Insights series and he's after cover ideas. See below for information about the contents and the great field of writers lined up for this collection (cross-posted from Wallace-l with Philip's permission). If you can help out email him at philipcoleman[at], over to Philip:

Hi everyone,

I'm editing a new volume of essays on DFW for the Critical Insights series published by Salem Press/Grayhouse Publishing. The book will be out next Spring, and I'm happy to share the final table of contents here (see below). I'll provide more details, with titles of essays, in a few weeks.

For now, though, I was wondering if I could get the help of the Wallace-l community in choosing a cover image for the book. Ideally I'd like a previously unpublished photograph (high res) of Wallace, which could be used without cost, but other suggestions will also be considered. Time is tight, but if anyone has any suggestions, including personal art/photography, feel free to send them to me directly at philipcoleman[at]



Critical Insights: David Foster Wallace
Table of Contents
About this volume (up to 2,000 words)  Philip Coleman

Career, Life, and Influence
On David Foster Wallace (5,000 words)  Philip Coleman
Biography of David Foster Wallace (2,000 words)  Philip Coleman

Critical Contexts
Critical Reception  Adam Kelly
Cultural and Historical Context  Kiki Benzon
Critical Lens  Clare Hayes-Brady
Compare/Contrast  Mark Sheridan

Critical Readings
1.    Aisling O’Gara on The Broom of the System
2.    Steven Gronert Ellerhoff on Girl With Curious Hair
3.    David Hering on Infinite Jest
4.    Alex Resar on Infinite Jest
5.    David Coughlan on Brief Interviews with Hideous Men
6.    Charles Nixon on Oblivion
7.    Ron Callan on A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again
8.    Ira Nadel on later non-fiction
9.    Tim Groenland on The Pale King
10.   Jorge Araya on The Pale King and race
11.   Áine Mahon on DFW and philosophy
12.   Aengus Woods on Everything & More and infinity

Chronology of David Foster Wallace’s Life  Philip Coleman
Works by David Foster Wallace  Philip Coleman
Bibliography  Adam Kelly

Last Updated on Monday, 22 September 2014 22:16

Random Factoids 1 - Zen Buddhism and Pynchon

RANDOM FACTOIDS /1 : Zen Buddhism and Pynchon

Roger Federer, 12 Sept. 2014, Geneva. REUTERS/Denis Balihouse.

-Ariane Mak

Here’s a (way too) small selection of some interesting or funny things which were said during the Paris conference, during presentations or in their margins.

Zen Buddhism and Tennis

Strangely enough, we learned from Christopher Kocela that Zen Buddhism was one of Wallace’s favourite comparisons when talking about sports.

In “Derivative Sport in Tornado Alley”, Wallace mentions “my Zen-like acceptance of things as they were on court”.  In “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again”, he says that “3P Winston and I have both reached that level of almost Zen-like Ping-Pong mastery where the game kind of plays us”. And what about Coach Schtitt’s advice to see the net and the opponent as “allies in the quest for self transcendence”?

We knew already from reading D.T. Max’s biography that DFW had abruptly left his two-week meditation retreat with Zen Master Thich Nhat Hahn in Plum village, France, supposedly because he was unsatisfied with the food (!).

But Christopher Kocela’s paper brought new light on the relationship between meditation and Wallace’s writing practice. By showing the importance of Buddhist themes on Wallace’s earliest journalism and on IJ, he also challenged the idea that Wallace’s fiction had shifted from a focus on the critique of irony (“E Unibus Pluram”) to a focus on commitment and belief (This is Water).

“The – the – the “P” guy comes into mind”

“I bristle sometimes at getting compared to […] these classic postmodern guys. The - the – the “P” guy comes into mind. I won’t even say his name”, said Wallace in 1997.

How indeed did Thomas Pynchon become the recurring postmodern model to which Wallace was almost systematically compared? According to numerous reviewers, The Broom of the System held many resemblances to The Crying of Lot 49 and Infinite Jest was hailed as a second Gravity’s Rainbow.    

Tore Andersen provided a fascinating answer to this question.
He showed that these Pynchon-comparisons were born from Wallace’s publishers’ presentations of his books to readers and marketing strategies. In other words, they are to be traced to the paratexts (Genette)- blurbs, book descriptions, dust jackets- of Wallace’s work.

Many thanks to Tore Andersen for sharing these pictures with us!

One example was particularly telling: the strong similarities between Michiko Kakutani’s review of the Broom of the System, and Viking’s description of the book.

From its opening pages onward through its enigmatic
ending, ''The Broom of the System'' will remind readers
of ''The Crying of Lot 49'' by Thomas Pynchon.

-Michiko Kakutani’s review of The Broom of the System, The New York Times, Dec 1986.

The inventiveness, reach, and fine disdain for 'reality' of this novel will remind many readers of the works of John Irving, Vladmir Nabokov, John Barth, and especially the Thomas Pynchon of The Crying of Lot 49.

-Viking’s dust jacket of The Broom of the System.


Viking’s description of the Broom of the System

In that sense Tore Andersen contended that the paratext had acted as blinkers.
Indeed Wallace wrote to Franzen that he was actually glad everyone focused on Pynchon because it meant that people wouldn’t see how much the book took from DeLillo. To Tore Andersen, the DeLillo comparisons were in fact delayed by Pynchon’s massive presence in the (editorial) paratext of Wallace’s work.

He concluded with a spot on remark on the fact that since Wallace’s death in 2008, Pynchon had been almost completely absent of the paratext (with no more mention of him on the blurbs and book covers of The Pale King, Both Flesh and Not or This is Water).

To me, Tore’s brilliant paper pertains to a new trend in Wallace studies which favours the analysis of paratext but also “avant texte” (drafts and marginalia) to offer a new oblique reading of DFW’s work.

More “random factoids” to come.

-Ariane Mak

Download Tore Andersen's paper here: t_andersen_talk.docx

Download Tore Andersen's slides here: t_andersen_slides.pptx

Last Updated on Monday, 22 September 2014 22:26

DFW and Music: The Grunge Writer and the Hitherto Criminally Overlooked Importance of Signifying Rappers'

Tony McMahon blogged for The Howling Fantods while at the Infinite Wallace conference, but he was also there to present. Here is his slide show and talk from Day 1. Enjoy! (Title edit - I got the old and new titles mixed up. Sorry, Tony)

David Foster Wallace and Music: The Grunge Writer and the Hitherto Criminally Overlooked Importance of Signifying Rappers'

Tony McMahon (RMIT University, Australia)

Abstract: David Foster Wallace is rightly considered one of the twentieth and twenty-first century’s most media-immersed of writers. Yet despite his being the co-author of a book on rap, little academic attention has been paid to the potentially rich scholastic area of Wallace and music. It is my contention that Wallace scholarship would benefit immeasurably from exploring more closely the author’s relationship to this media. I begin this process by interrogating Wallace’s problematic status as a ‘grunge’ writer. Greil Marcus’ Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century provides a matrix for an examination of the relationships between avant-garde movements such as Dada, Situationism, punk and grunge, and how these relate to Wallace’s overall project. I also attempt to reinvigorate one of the author’s lesser known and extraordinarily under-theorised texts, Signifying Rappers, and present it as one of the keys to understanding Wallace’s work, as well as his development as a writer famed for the idiosyncratic use of language. In endeavouring to begin this revitalisation, I continue and develop arguments made by Tara Morrissey and Lucas Thompson in their paper ‘“The Rare White at the Window”: A Reappraisal of Mark Costello and David Foster Wallace’s Signifying Rappers’. Finally, I conclude that this potentially fruitful new area of Wallace Studies will not only provide fresh insights into the author’s work, but also have significant ramifications for the study of literature more widely.

Download Tony McMahon's talk here: t_mcmahon_talk.docx

Download Tony McMahon's slides here: t_mcmahon_slides.pptx

Last Updated on Friday, 19 September 2014 08:36

Antrim and Wallace

John Jeremiah Sullivan's piece in the NYT Magazine, Donald Antrim and the Art of Anxiety, includes a very moving story about Wallace supporting Antrim through hard times of his own. It turns out this is the story Antrim told at the 2008 NYC Wallace Memorial:


They told him they wanted him to undergo electroconvulsive therapy. He could take time to think about it. A nurse led him back into the hallway and down to his room.

The news destroyed him. Not because he didn’t believe them, that it was the best thing for him, nor even because he feared the pro­cedure itself (though naturally it terrified him to face it), but because he believed it would mean the end of him as a writer. That his talent would be scattered. His brains scrambled. The mechanism disassembled. Not to write? A living death. What would it even mean to go about your day?

Also he felt that it was, he said, “a confirmation that I would never leave hospitals.”

He sat down on a chair. “Not 20 minutes later,” he said, “a patient called out, ‘Mr. Antrim,­ there’s a phone call for you.’ ” He shuffled down to the phones near the medication dispensary. He picked up.

“Donald,” a voice said, “this is Dave Wallace. I heard you were in bad shape.”


Continue reading...


For more John Jeremiah Sullivan don't miss Too Much Information - his wonderful essay/review about DFW from GQ in 2011.

[Thanks, Matt, for remembering all the connections]

Last Updated on Friday, 19 September 2014 01:47
More Articles...

The Howling Fantods