DFW, From Iconoclast To Icon

Andrew Sullivan —  Jan 17 2015 @ 12:29pm

Alexander Nazaryan considers the recently released, over one-thousand page David Foster Wallace Reader, which includes everything from excerpts of Wallace’s fiction to the syllabi of classes he taught:

[D]o we need The David Foster Wallace Reader? According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, probably not. Though the book seems like a Christmas gift in the making, it contains almost no new work. But I think I get what [editorial adviser and Wallace’s former editor Michael] Pietsch is doing here, and I am all for it. You need evidence of miracles for sainthood; you need something only marginally more mundane to sustain a bid for lasting literary greatness, for entrance into that pantheon protected from the vicissitudes of literary taste. This is part of that effort, a reminder of how good Wallace could be, whether he was writing about Kafka or the Illinois State Fair, whether he was making stuff up or trying to see things as they actually are.

Tim Groenland posits that the Reader answers the eternal dilemma of what DFW newbies should read first:

The David Foster Wallace Reader is, essentially, an attempt to address this question by presenting as many of the answers as possible between one set of covers. Assembled with one eye firmly on the classroom (and, perhaps, the other on a world in which people are less and less likely to read 1,079-page novels), it includes selections from each of Wallace’s fictional works as well as several of his most celebrated essays with occasional commentary from writers, critics and friends.

The foreword (written jointly by Wallace’s editor, his agent and his widow) claims that “teachers will find here an ideal introduction for students”, a statement that makes the book’s main purpose clear. The Reader can be seen as a move by the Wallace estate in the emerging struggle to manage his legacy. Since his untimely and tragic death (he took his own life at the age of 46) a certain amount of romantic tortured-genius aura has accumulated around Wallace, to the dismay of friends and family. A Hollywood biopic is due shortly in which the author will be played by Jason Segel (star of The Muppets and Knocked Up, among others); the Wallace estate has already disowned the film. The Reader represents an attempt to position the writer as a serious literary figure rather than a pop icon.

Recent Dish on David Foster Wallace herehere, and here.