David Foster Wallace

David Foster

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

Author Quotes

?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?

You get to decide what to worship.

When he thinks of the starry-eyed puerility and narcissism of these fantasies now, a rough decade later, Schmidt experiences a kind of full-framed internal wince, that type of embarrassment-before-self that makes our most mortifying memories objects of fascination and repulsion at once, though in Terry Schmidt's case a certain amount of introspection and psychotherapy had enabled him to understand that his professional fantasies were not in the main all that unique, that a large percentage I bright young men and women locate the impetus behind their career choice in the belief that they are fundamentally different from the common run of man, unique and in certain crucial ways superior, more as it were central, meaningful--what else could explain the fact that they can and will make a difference in their chosen field simply by the fact that thy themselves have been at the exact center of all they've experienced for the whole 20 years of their conscious lives?

With still, underneath, the old respectable-girl-versus-slut thing. It?s OK to fuck around if you?re a feminist but it?s also not OK to fuck around because most guys aren?t feminists and won?t respect you and won?t call you again if you fuck around.

You have a great deal of yourself on the line, writing? your vanity is at stake. You discover a tricky thing about fiction writing; a certain amount of vanity is necessary to be able to do it all, but any vanity above that certain amount is lethal.

When I say or write something, there are actually a whole lot of different things I am communicating. The propositional content (i.e., the verbal information I'm trying to convey) is only one part of it. Another part is stuff about me, the communicator. Everyone knows this. It's a function of the fact there are so many different well-formed ways to say the same basic thing, from e.g. I was attacked by a bear! to Goddamn bear tried to kill me! to That ursine juggernaut did essay to sup upon my person! and so on.

Wolf-Spiders Ruleth the Land

You have decided being scared is caused mostly by thinking.

When I was drunk I wanted to get sober and when I was sober I wanted to get drunk,' John L. says; 'I lived that way for years, and I submit to you that's not livin that's a fuckin death-in-life.

Word inflation... Bigger and better. Good greater greatest totally great. Hyperbolic and hyperbolicker. Like grade-inflation.

You have wondered perhaps, why all real accountants wear hats? They are today?s cowboys.

When people call it that I always get pissed off because I always think depression sounds like you just get like really sad, you get quiet and melancholy and just like sit quietly by the window sighing or just lying around. A state of not caring about anything. A kind of blue kind of peaceful state.

Words and a book and a belief that the world is words.

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