Month: February 2016

Alas poor Wallace! Infinite Jest approaches 20th anniversary

Tom Bissell has written for the The New York Times Book Review this weekend [ ] an appreciation of David Wallace’s Infinite Jest — he’s written, in fact, an introduction to the 20th anniversary edition of the novel, to be published soon, from which introduction this appreciation is taken. It’s a nice piece, a joyous piece. It’s an intelligent and non-cringe-worthy hug. I wrote about the book at the time of its publication for Vogue, not with great insight; I don’t remember what I said except some version of ‘this guy is the most important American writer of his generation’ which he unquestionably was, and remains. The most intelligent (by far) contemporary review that I saw was Walter Kirn‘s. [Which I guess in those days would have been in New York Magazine(?)]. The book was monumental, and still is, but it thrived despite a condition that Norman Mailer smartly (okay, exaggeratedly) saw in Burroughs’s Naked Lunch — that you could excise a hundred pages and the author would be hard pressed to know what they were or what parts of the text might now be missing them. Bissell says, admitting he can’t describe how, that Wallace was a spiritual writer; I’d say he was first and foremost a moralist and like all great moralists he had a vast horizon of spirituality he was seeing and hiking toward. Once the moralist achieves this place, he won’t need to moralize anymore; or not nearly so much. Wallace saw the moral implications of everything: most devastating for him, he saw the moral impurities that went into his own work, and he could not forgive them. Following his battle against irony is like watching a great pianist one by one lopping off his fingers — which are, after all, the source of all his mistakes. I don’t think a satisfying (comprehensive, penetrating) critical appraisal of Wallace’s work has yet been written and I don’t think it will be any time soon, for we do not live in a critical age. We live in a celebrity age, and it’s way too soon to wash the celebrity off of Wallace’s story, his work, and his reputation.