David Foster Wallace

David Foster

American Novelist, Short Story Writer, Essayist and Professor of English and Creative Writing

Author Quotes

Where do they get these giant flags? What happens to them when there's no campaign? Where do they go? Where do you even store flags that size? Or is there maybe just one, which McCain2000's advance team has to take down afterward and hurtle with to the next THM to get it put up before McCain and the cameras arrive? Do Gore and the Shrub and all the other candidates each have their own giant flag?)

Writing well in the sense of writing something interesting and urgent and alive, that actually has calories in it for the reader?the reader walks away having benefited from the 45 minutes she put into reading the thing?maybe isn?t hard for a certain few. I mean, maybe John Updike?s first drafts are these incredible... Apparently Bertrand Russell could just simply sit down and do this. I don?t know anyone who can do that. For me, the clich? that ?Writing that appears effortless takes the most work? has been borne out through very unpleasant experience.

You teach the reader that he?s way smarter than he thought he was. I think one of the insidious lessons about TV is the meta-lesson that you?re dumb. This is all you can do. This is easy, and you?re the sort of person who really just wants to sit in a chair and have it easy. When in fact there are parts of us, in a way, that are a lot more ambitious than that. And what we need? is seriously engaged art that can teach again that we?re smart. And that?s the stuff that TV and movies ? although they?re great at certain things ? cannot give us. But that have to create the motivations for us to want to do the extra work, to get those other kinds of art? Which is tricky, because you want to seduce the reader, but you don?t want to pander or manipulate them. I mean, a good book teaches the reader how to read it.

Which he said was the big lie they all bought that made doctors and standard therapy such a waste of time for people like us -- they thought that diagnosis was the same as cure. That if you knew why, it would stop. Which is bullshit. You only stop if you stop.

Yes, I?m paranoid?but am I paranoid enough?

You want to know the story? I'd be happy to tell you. I think I have just enough caloric energy stored up to make it through the telling of the tale. It's short. I am monstrously fat. I am a glutton. My wife was disgusted and repulsed. She gave me six months to lose one hundred pounds. I joined Weight Watchers? See it there, right across the street, that gaunt storefront? This afternoon was the big six-month weigh-in. So to speak. I had gained almost seventy pounds in the six months. An errant Snickers bar fell out of the cuff of my pants and rolled against my wife's foot as I stepped on the scale. The scale over there across the street is truly an ingenious device. One preprograms the desired new weight into it, and if one has achieved or gone below that new low weight, the scale bursts into recorded whistles and cheers and some lively marching-band tune. Apparently, tiny flags protrude from the top and wave mechanically back and forth. A failure--see for instance mine--results in a flatulent dirge of disappointed and contemptuous tuba. To the strains of the latter my wife left, the establishment, me, on the arm of a svelte yogurt distributor whom I am even now planning to crush, financially speaking, first thing tomorrow morning. Ms. Beadsman, you will find an eclair on the floor to the left of your chair. Could you perhaps manipulate it onto this plate with minimal chocolate loss and pass it to me.

Who are we to say getting incested or abused or violated or any of those things can?t have their positive aspects in the long run?? You have to be careful of taking a knee-jerk attitude. Having a knee-jerk attitude to anything is a mistake, especially in the case of women, where it adds up to this very limited and condescending thing of saying they?re fragile, breakable things that can be destroyed easily. Everybody gets hurt and violated and broken sometimes. Why are women so special? Not that anybody ought to be raped or abused, nobody?s saying that, but that?s what is going on. What about afterwards? All I?m saying is there are certain cases where it can enlarge you or make you more of a complete human being, like Viktor Frankl. Think about the Holocaust. Was the Holocaust a good thing? No way. Does anybody think it was good that it happened? No, of course not. But did you read Viktor Frankl? Viktor Frankl?s Man?s Search for Meaning? It?s a great, great book, but it comes out of his experience. It?s about his experience in the human dark side. Now think about it, if there was no Holocaust, there?d be no Man?s Search for Meaning? Think about it. Think about being degraded and brought within an inch of your life, for example. No one?s gonna say the sick bastards who did it shouldn?t be put in jail, but let?s put two things into perspective here. One is, afterwards she knows something about herself that she never knew before. What she knows is that the most totally terrible terrifying thing that she could ever have imagined happening to her has now happened, and she survived. She?s still here, and now she knows something. I mean she really, really knows. Look, totally terrible things happen? . Existence in life breaks people in all kinds of awful fucking ways all the time, trust me I know. I?ve been there. And this is the big difference, you and me here, cause this isn?t about politics or feminism or whatever, for you this is just ideas, you?ve never been there. I?m not saying nothing bad has ever happened to you, you?re not bad looking, I?m sure there?s been some sort of degradation or whatever come your way in life, but I?m talking Viktor Frankl?s Man?s Search for Meaning type violation and terror and suffering here. The real dark side. I can tell from just looking at you, you never. You wouldn?t even wear what you?re wearing, trust me.

You are excused from doing the work of constructing the fantasy. The ads do it for you. The ads, therefore, don?t flatter your adult agency, or even ignore it?they supplant it.

You want your art to be hip and seem cool to people, but a great deal of what passes for hip or cool is now highly commercially driven. And some if it is important art. 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 is ridiculous. Maybe I'm old but for my part I can be steeped in about an hour of it and then I have to walk away and look at a flower. 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.

Who teaches your U.S.A. children how to choose their temple? What to love enough not to think two times?

You are what you love. No? You are, completely and only, what you would die for without, as you say, the thinking twice.

You will become way less concerned with what other people think of you when you realize how seldom they do.

?Who would die for this chance to be fed this death of pleasure with spoons, in their warm homes, alone, unmoving?

You burn to have your photograph in a tennis magazine. I?m afraid so. Why again exactly, now? I guess to be felt about as I feel about those players with their pictures in magazines. Why? Why? I guess to give my life some sort of meaning, Lyle. And how would this do this again? Lyle, I don?t know. I do not know. It just does. Would. Why else would I burn like this, clip secret pictures, not take risks, not sleep or pee? You feel these men with their photographs in magazines care deeply about having their photographs in magazines. Derive immense meaning. I do. They must. I would. Else why would I burn like this to feel as they feel? The meaning they feel, you mean. From the fame. Lyle, don?t they? LaMont, perhaps they did at first. The first photograph, the first magazine, the gratified surge, the seeing themselves as others see them, the hagiography of image, perhaps. Perhaps the first time: enjoyment. After that, do you trust me, trust me: they do not feel what you burn for. After the first surge, they care only that their photographs seem awkward or unflattering, or untrue, or that their privacy, this thing you burn to escape, what they call their privacy is being violated. Something changes. After the first photograph has been in a magazine, the famous men do not enjoy their photographs in magazines so much as they fear that their photographs will cease to appear in magazines. They are trapped, just as you are. Is this supposed to be good news? This is awful news. LaMont, are you willing to listen to a Remark about what is true? Okey-dokey. The truth will set you free. But not until it is finished with you. Maybe I ought to be getting back. LaMont, the world is very old. You have been snared by something untrue. You are deluded. But this is good news. You have been snared by the delusion that envy has a reciprocal. You assume that there is a flip-side to your painful envy of Michael Chang: namely Michael Chang?s enjoyable feeling of being-envied-by-LaMont-Chu. No such animal. Animal? You burn with hunger for food that does not exist. This is good news? It is the truth. To be envied, admired, is not a feeling. Nor is fame a feeling. There are feelings associated with fame, but few of them are any more enjoyable than the feelings associated with envy of fame. The burning doesn?t go away? What fire dies when you feed it? It is not fame itself they wish to deny you here. Trust them. There is much fear in fame. Terrible and heavy fear to be pulled and held, carried. Perhaps they want only to keep it off you until you weigh enough to pull toward yourself. Would I sound ungrateful if I said this doesn?t make me feel very much better at all? LaMont, the truth is that the world is incredibly, incredibly, unbelievably old. You suffer with the stunted desire caused by one of its oldest lies. Do not believe the photographs. Fame is not the exit from any cage. So I?m stuck in the cage from either side. Fame or tortured envy of fame. There?s no way out. You might consider how escape from a cage must surely require, foremost, awareness of the fact of the cage.

You'll worry less about what people think about you when you realize how seldom they do.

Who wouldn?t love this jargon we dress common sense in: formal innovation is no longer transformative, having been co-opted by the forces of stabilization and post-industrial inertia, blah, blah. But this co-optation might actually be a good thing if it helped keep younger writers from being able to treat mere formal ingenuity as an end in itself. MTV-type co-optation could end up a great prophylactic against cleveritis?you know, the dreaded grad-school syndrome of like Watch me use seventeen different points of view in this scene of a guy eating a Saltine. The real point of that shit is Like me because I?m clever?which of course is itself derived from commercial art?s axiom about audience-affection determining art?s value.

You can be shaped, or you can be broken. There is not much in between. Try to learn. Be coachable. Try to learn from everybody, especially those who fail. This is hard... How promising you are as a Student of the Game is a function of what you can pay attention to without running away.

Your basic-type jailhouse tatt is homemade with sewing needles from the jailhouse canteen and some blue ink from the cartridge of a fountain pen promoted from the breast pocket of an unaltert public defender, is why the jailhouse genre is always the same night-sky blue. The needle is dipped in the ink and jabbed as deep into the tattoo as it can be jabbed without making him recoil and fucking up your aim. Just a plain ultra-minimal blue square like Gately's got on his right wrist takes half a day and hundreds of individual jabs. How come the lines are never quite straight and the color's never quite all the way solid is it's impossible to get all the individualized punctures down to the same uniform deepness in the, like, twitching flesh. This is why jailhouse tatts always look like they were done by sadistic children on rainy afternoons.

Why do prostitutes when they get straight always try and get so prim? It's like long-repressed librarian-ambitions come flooding out.

You can't unring a bell.

Your concern for what others think of you disappears once you understand how rarely they think of you.

Why is the truth usually not just un- but anti-interesting?

You decide. You be the judge. It says You are welcome regardless of severity. Severity is in the eye of the sufferer, it says. Pain is pain.

You're just displaying the sort of cynicism that lets readers be manipulated by bad writing. I think it's a kind of black cynicism about today's world that Ellis and certain others depend on for their readership. Look, if the contemporary condition is hopelessly shitty, insipid, materialistic, emotionally retarded, sadomasochistic, and stupid, then I (or any writer) can get away with slapping together stories with characters who are stupid, vapid, emotionally retarded, which is easy, because these sorts of characters require no development. With descriptions that are simply lists of brand-name consumer products. Where stupid people say insipid stuff to each other. If what's always distinguished bad writing -- flat characters, a narrative world that's clich?d and not recognizably human, etc. -- is also a description of today's world, then bad writing becomes an ingenious mimesis of a bad world. If readers simply believe the world is stupid and shallow and mean, then Ellis can write a mean shallow stupid novel that becomes a mordant deadpan commentary on the badness of everything. Look man, we'd probably most of us agree that these are dark times, and stupid ones, but do we need fiction that does nothing but dramatize how dark and stupid everything is? In dark times, the definition of good art would seem to be art that locates and applies CPR to those elements of what's human and magical that still live and glow despite the times' darkness. Really good fiction could have as dark a worldview as it wished, but it'd find a way both to depict this world and to illuminate the possibilities for being alive and human in it. You can defend Psycho as being a sort of performative digest of late-eighties social problems, but it's no more than that.

Why not? Why not? Why not not, then, if the best reasoning you can contrive is why not?

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David Foster
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American Novelist, Short Story Writer, Essayist and Professor of English and Creative Writing