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Home News by Category DFW Biography Tracing the Ghostly Origins of a Phrase

Tracing the Ghostly Origins of a Phrase

Great little article by D. T. Max up over at The New Yorker Page-Turner blog about the origin for the title of Every Love Story is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace.

D.F.W.: Tracing the Ghostly Origins of a Phrase:

What does “every love story is a ghost story” mean? It captures, I think, the futility of Wallace’s quest. What writer ever had a more passionate affair with language? For him, a thing wasn’t alive if he couldn’t write it down. Living around the corner from Mary Karr, he still wrote to her. There’s a sheaf of correspondence between him and Don DeLillo, but they only met twice—for Wallace, DeLillo was best as a literary construct. The phrase also captures the particular, morbid work of the biographer, who doesn’t open up his or her laptop until the casket shuts. And then…then it just captures. I’ve always been drawn to those weird titles from the Spanish Golden Age, “Life is a Dream,” “The Great Theatre of the World.” A title should create an aura, invite a journey.

Continue reading to find out just where the phrase pops up throughout Wallace's writing.




It is lovely to have a bit-part in the above story. I remember cycling over to the National Library in Canberra after work one day, calling down the manuscripts hoping to find something, but not expecting to find anything. I started with the folder D.T. Max had suggested, number 31. I read through 50-odd fragile typed pages looking for the phrase... no sign of anything. I had another hour or so until the research room closed, so I moved onto the next folder.


Then folder 33, just over half way through, near the top of a page, "Every Love Story is a Ghost Story." Part of a list of titles for a possible collection of stories. The excitement escaped my mouth momentarily and drew the attention of other readers in the quiet room. The librarian on duty was clearly pleased that I'd at least found something.

It's still a memorable moment for me.

I can only imagine how it feels looking through the papers in the David Foster Wallace Archive...

Last Updated on Wednesday, 12 December 2012 17:12  

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