Literary Lust

Gideon Lewis-Kraus reviews DFW's final non-fiction collection, the forthcoming Both Flesh and Not, which includes the 1998 essay on writing, "The Nature of the Fun":

When you first start to write, [says DFW] "you’re writing almost wholly to get yourself off." When your work starts to get some attention, the masturbatory motive is supplanted by a seductive one: You start to need to feel liked. But if you can work through the fear and vanity that characterize art-as-seduction, the fun returns. "Under fun’s new administration, writing fiction becomes a way to go deep inside yourself and illuminate precisely the stuff you don’t want to see or let anyone else see, and this stuff usually turns out (paradoxically) to be precisely the stuff all writers and readers share and respond to, feel."

The implicit trajectory is from masturbation to seduction to love. This is perhaps clearest in his best late essay, "Federer Both Flesh and Not," which opens the new volume and gives it its title. By the time of this piece (2006), romantic love has become his symbol of maturity, the ability to be up-front about one’s own needs while attending to the needs of someone else.