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Monday, February 20, 2012

Remembering David Foster Wallace, Journalist

Posted by on Mon, Feb 20, 2012 at 3:39 PM

In honor of President's Day and all the work you're currently not doing, I recommend that you read this rather luxurious essay that examines David Foster Wallace's successful career as a journalist—arguably in the vein of Hunter S. Thompson—as opposed to just a universally revered fiction writer.


In his nonfiction, Wallace most closely resembled another writer before him, a man who was also considered something other than a journalist: Hunter S. Thompson. Both writers took reportage a step further than the literary techniques of Gay Talese, Joan Didion and the New Journalism. Yes, both Thompson and Wallace shirked objectivity, happily injecting their own commentary and asides into factual reportage, but today scores of journalists reject objectivity (Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi, Esquire’s Tom Junod or, to a lesser extent, Jon Krakauer, who certainly makes his own views clear by the end of “Where Men Win Glory”).

What Thompson did differently that Wallace emulated (consciously or not) is more about a slippery definition of honesty and truth. An essay Wallace wrote about attending the Adult Video News (AVN) Awards opened the collection “Consider the Lobster.” It’s a rollicking tour in which the author plays representative for the reader’s disgust and fascination (when a girl meets Wallace and brags about small valves in her new breast implants that allow her to adjust the size of the breasts by adding or draining fluid, she raises her arms to show him and Wallace can only write, “There really are what appear to be valves”).

It's a fascinating read that prompted me to remember some of my favorite DFW essays, and just in time: tomorrow would've been Wallace's 50th birthday.


Comments (3) RSS

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Having read Thompson and scanned a bit of DFW, I don't quite see the similarity. Other than the willingness to interject the commentary into the reportage, I believe that Thompson in his non fiction (and personal life) was far more willing to be confrontational with and to belittle the powers that be than Wallace.
Posted by neo-realist on February 20, 2012 at 7:04 PM · Report this
There is also some evidence that DFW was in fact not universally revered as a fiction writer - at least, not until David Eggers wrote the forward for the 2006 edition of Infinite Jest. But look, we are talking about David Eggers here.
Posted by minderbender on February 20, 2012 at 4:30 PM · Report this
DFW may have been a universally revered fiction writer, but his non-fiction writing was less-than-universally revered. See here and here. So, the tally is: successful as a journalist, universally revered as a fiction writer, at best mediocre as a writer of non-fiction books.
Posted by minderbender on February 20, 2012 at 4:20 PM · Report this

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