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dfw’s papers

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I’m sure most of you have seen this by now, but just in case you haven’t: the Harry Ransom Center has purchased David Foster Wallace’s papers and books and now a selection of them are on display on the website. Above are his notes on Don DeLillo’s Players. And here’s a handwritten draft of the first page of Infinite Jest:

Last week I finished – and really liked –  David Lipsky’s Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace. I didn’t have high expectations for the book, which is basically a long transcript of recordings that Lipsky made while accompanying Wallace on the last leg of his Infinite Jest book tour while interviewing him for Rolling Stone.

There’s a lot to say about the book, but let’s just start with this. Just as the new edition of Van Gogh’s letters reportedly (still looking for the link I want – sorry) demonstrate that the artist’s best work happened when he was living through moments of relative sanity – the harshes bi-polar episodes stopped the brushwork – Lipsky’s interview with DFW reveals not a romantically-depressed writer but rather one who struggled every day and in very material ways to hold off madness in order to get his eight hours a day of writing in and to keep those hours clear of anxiety.

For instance, one of the most interesting revelations for me was about DFW’s career as a teacher. We all know that “creative writers” earn their living by teaching in MFA programs and the like. But what’s interesting about Wallace is that, at least at the time of Lipsky’s interview, he was refusing to take an advance on his next book. Given the fact that he’d been profiled as America’s Best Young Novelist in just about every mainstream magazine, he was likely in a position to pull down a seven-figure advance for his next work, and even negotiate a long time frame in which to complete it, while if he waited till he actually produced the book, well after the celebratory hoopla had died down, there was a good chance that he’d take less. But the thought of working under deadline, of writing to fulfill a contract, filled him with terrible anxiety. Thus, despite the fact that he really didn’t need to, the teaching provided him with a financial buffer against one of the few preventable forms of anxiety that come of writing.

More on related matters from the Lipsky book soon….

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May 4, 2010 at 12:21 am

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