My secret pretension…I mean, every writer wants his book to change the world, but I guess I would like to know if the book moved people. I assume that the future the book talks about, while it might be amusing, wouldn’t be a fun future to live in. I think it would be nice if the book could maybe make people think about some of the choices we are making, about what we pay attention to and give power to, so maybe the future won’t be quite that…glittery but cold.
The good folks over at Infinite Summer have a great article by Michael Pietsch on the editing of Infinite Jest. I was a little puzzled about some of the suggestions in the December 1994 letter, where Pietsch advises excising a number of beloved minor scenes which I would be sad to see go. Apparently there were different criteria, as Pietsch explains:
We’d agreed early on that my role was to subject every section of the book to the brutal question: Can the book possibly live without this?
Recall that one of Pietsch’s suggestions was to remove the story of Steeply’s father’s M*A*S*H obsession (one of my personal favorite internal IJ mini narratives.) Could the book live without it? I tentatively say yes, but I’m not sure what that would mean for its ‘quality of life’ (I’m going to just extend this metaphor as far as is humanly possible.) The story itself has very little utility for moving along the Canadian-terrorist narrative, but I think it’s really important in context of Wallace’s work, besides being really brilliant and darkly funny.
The story, in which Agent Steeply recalls his father’s descent into madness and life-controlling obsession with the TV show, explores the relationship between TV and our perception of reality/orientation towards the world. It’s a sort of case study for the argument Wallace sets out in his semi-notorious 1993 essay “E Unibus Pluram” (sans most of the moralizing.) The family’s initial reticence and growing trepidation around the father’s relationship to MASH as it moves from hobby to obsession to purpose in life is so so good - as the show’s characters become more and more “real” to the father, he becomes less and less real to the family, becoming a machine for analyzing the show’s data, living only to watch the show and take intricate notes.
It also serves to humanize Steeply, a supporting character who often lacks depth and serves alternately as comic relief (more to come on DFW’s transphobia w/r/t/ Steeply and the gag of the “failed woman”) or as a sort of apostrophist, explicitly discussing key themes about meaning and consciousness with Marathe, for the benefit of the reader.
It’s super amazing to me how verbose DFW was even in private correspondence, and it almost makes me wonder how much of this was performance for Pietsch, for himself, or for possible future audiences like you and me. Here are some great lines, again from Infinite Summer:
p. 52—This is one of my personal favorite Swiftian lines in the whole manuscript, which I will cut, you rotter.
p. 82—I cut this and have now come back an hour later and put it back.
p. 133—Poor old FN 33 about the grammar exam is cut. I’ll also erase it from the back-up disc so I can’t come back in an hour and put it back in (an enduring hazard, I’m finding.)
I want to read this footnote!!
pp. 327-330. Michael, have mercy. Pending an almost Horacianly persuasive rationale on your part, my canines are bared on this one.
Ppp. 739-748. I’ve rewritten it—for about the 11th time—for clarity, but I bare teeth all the way back to the 2nd molar on cutting it.
P. 785ff—I can give you 5000 words of theoretico-structural arguments for this, but let’s spare one another, shall we?
 Which I absolutely do not think (and do not think you think I think) is the main idea of the book. It is, however, the main plotline, which counts for something.
 I don’t mean this is in a derisive way; we actually do need these explanations. They’re a little didactic but they’re
 I don’t mean “unbelievable,” I can totally believe DFW would write like this in private correspondence, it’s just the sheer magnitude of his prolixity is amazing.
#DFW #Dallas #TX #Airport #Texas (at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW))
You may or may not have noticed some commentary going on in the tags, lately. Let me assure you that this is intentional. I started this project with very lofty intentions, planning on using only formal diction and purely functional organizational labels as tags. That was a terrible idea! I’m not doing that!
One of the things I love the most about the Tumblr format is the tagging system, which is a pretty obvious digital analog (haha get it) to DFW’s footnotes and endnotes. This system can be used for organization (“#41.5”), implicit commentary (“#placeholder for misogyny tag”), explicit commentary (“#identifying the female condition but never identifying WITH it”) etc. and little asides that don’t fit into the main text, which use Wallace was famously fond of.
It’s a happy accident that the theme I chose displays the tags right next to the main text instead of at the bottom, or on another page. This allows for really easy reading of (literally!) parallel texts, something that’s very hard to do with regular print. It’s also much, much less annoying than his involved footnote system (this may be a good or a bad thing, depending. Wallace often wanted to annoy/disturb the reader and intrude upon their thought processes, which is extremely rude but not intellectually without merit.)
A good case study to look at is DFW’s very annoying profile of the conservative talk radio figure John Ziegler, called “Host”, which print version you probably know from Consider The Lobster. Here’s a not-very-good sample page I scanned on my home printer of this “Talmudic” approach (page 292 in CTL, if you’re keeping score):
What a nightmare! If anyone has a print copy of the original Atlantic issue and wants to send it my way, that would be great; I’d love to compare the two structures, see what was changed for the magazine, etc.
What we have to work with is the online version the Atlantic has published, in which the boxes of referenced text are hyperlinked, popping up in a new window when clicked. This is a much more humane approach than the above. I’m not super convinced that DFW was using this disorienting style primarily to, uh, disorient the reader, or to establish an erratic/obsessive logical flow, a la "The Depressed Person". This piece seems to be more about taking the structure of graphic textual reference (footnotes, boxes, parentheses, arrows, diagrams) to the extreme, like a completely fucked up flowchart, but only in attempt to corral and organize all the information possible. And the flowchart form itself winds up being an impediment, or at the very least not a big help, because it is so difficult to follow all the arrows along with the text. The online article gets rid of this structural “flowchart problem” by making it irrelevant. I think that’s pretty cool.
It’s this sort of thing that makes me wish DFW lived to write more about the internet.
 I really like that the “tagged post” page of any given tag constitutes a document to reference in itself. I’ve been reblogging things from the posts tagged #DFW on Tumblr at large and tagging them #DFW tag tag, which I personally think is hilarious. The DFW posts on Tumblr are usually, according to my calculations, around 50% David Foster Wallace, 43% Dallas-Fort Worth, 7% unusual acronyms (Dear Future Wife, Dance Fit Walk, etc.)**