All The Things David Foster Wallace’s Parents Said to Him

I’ve been making my way through Conversations with David Foster Wallace, and as expected, it’s […]

David Zahl / 6.12.14

I’ve been making my way through Conversations with David Foster Wallace, and as expected, it’s chock-full of interesting exchanges. You also get to witness a certain evolution in his thought. Anyway, three favorite quotes thus far would be the following. The first comes from an interview with Salon in 1996, post-Infinite Jest:

fgroovies“It seems to me that the intellectualization and aestheticizing of principles and values in this country is one of the things that’s gutted our generation. All the things that my parents said to me, like ‘It’s really important not to lie.’ OK, check, got it. I nod at that but I really don’t feel it. Until I get to be about thirty and I realize that if I lie to you, I also can’t trust you. I feel that I’m in pain, I’m nervous, I’m lonely, and I can’t figure out why. Then I realize, ‘Oh, perhaps the way to deal with this is really not to lie.’ The idea that something so simple and, really, so aesthetically uninteresting–which for me meant you pass over it for the interesting, complex stuff–can actually be nourishing in a way that arch, meta, ironic, pomo stuff can’t, that seems to me to be important. That seems to me like something our generation needs to feel.”

Next, speaking to the Boston Globe in 1997 about the role that addiction plays in his work:

“I’m interested in religion, only because certain churches seem to be a place where things can be talked about. What does your life mean? Do you believe in something bigger than you? Is there something harmful about gratifying every single desire you have that is harmful?… One place where I discovered stuff was being talked about was AA meetings. I’m not in [Alcoholics Anonyous], but I went to open meetings.. There’s a certain amount of goo, and there’s a certain amount of serious [stuff]. Like the fact that it takes enormous courage to appear weak. Hadn’t heard that anywhere else. I was just starting to entertain the fact that that might be true.”

Finally, responding to his oft-quoted position about the ‘tyranny of irony’ in 2004, DFW backpedaled in quite a convincing way:

I think The Simpsons is important art. On the other hand, it’s also–in my opinion–relentlessly corrosive to the soul, and everything is parodied, and everything’s ridiculous. Maybe I’m old, but for my part I can be steeped in about an hour of it, and I sort of have to walk away and look at a flower or something. If there’s something to be talked about, that thing is this weird conflict between what my girlfriend calls the “inner sap”–the part of us that can really wholeheartedly weep at stuff–and the part of us that has to live in a world of smart, jaded, sophisticated people and wants very much to be taken seriously by those people. I don’t know that it’s that irony tyrannizes us, but the fashions that are so easy to criticize but are so incredibly powerful and authentic-seeming when we’re inside them, tyrannize us. I don’t know that it’s ever been any different.

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