The Essential Creepiness Of DFW Fandom

by Dish Staff

Mike Miley owns up to it in a fascinating essay about his experiences at the David Foster Wallace Archive at the University of Texas, confessing, “I came to Austin as a stalker, the kind of person who ought to be the recipient of a restraining order, not a research fellowship”:

The fellowship faintly disguises the fact that I am here to invade David Foster Wallace’s privacy, and that I took advantage of the Mellon Foundation to satisfy my personal compulsion to get as close to the inside of Wallace’s literary head as I could possibly get. What I failed to anticipate during all my academic grifting was how much peering into the dark recesses of Wallace’s skull would give me the howling fantods. What I wanted, I learned, was much more than I bargained for.

This realization came fast and hard the moment I opened DFW’s copy of End Zone. I knew the DeLillo books would be juicy because DeLillo was pretty much Wallace’s favorite author, but that was no preparation for the words that greeted me when I carefully opened the book’s brittle paperback cover: “SILENCE = HORROR.”

My breath tripped in my throat. I was hoping for revealing annotations, and Wallace exceeded my expectations with his first gloss. Freaky things like “SILENCE = HORROR” are not the first thing a researcher stumbles across anywhere outside of a TV show. Wallace may have been talking about End Zone, but the context was totally different now; these were words from beyond the grave, written in a dead man’s hand, and even though I’d never met him, here I was holding his treasured book, staring his mind in the face, and his first utterance to me is “SILENCE = HORROR.”

Alan Jacobs marvels, “I don’t think I’ve seen, in my lifetime, a writer who has generated the kind and intensity of veneration that DFW has”:

We might contrast his fans to, say, Tolkien fans, who know a little bit about the author — enough to have an image of a man in a colorful waistcoat smoking a pipe – but who can’t spare much time for him because they are so fully absorbed in his legendarium. But the people I know who love every word of Infinite Jest are also fascinated by Wallace himself: they are constantly aware of him as its author, of its relations to the circumstances of his own life.

Montaigne said of his Essays that “It is a book consubstantial with its author,” and this seems to be true for everything DFW wrote. Absorption in his work seems almost necessarily to involve scrutiny of his life. And given how his life ended, it’s hard not to see this as a worrisome trend. What I wouldn’t give for a detailed and sensitive ethnography of DFW devotees – something like what Tanya Luhrmann did for charismatic evangelicals.