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Posts in “David Foster Wallace”

A Review of Every Love Story Is A Ghost Story, by D. T. Max

Sep 6, 2012
The publicity for this book worried me. I thought that some of the revelations sounded improbable or sensationalist. In just about every case, however, this worry came from the journalists responsible for exaggerating or misrepresenting the book. I was promised by those who had read the book already that it contained much that I didn’t know about Wallace, and that’s certainly true. Max’s sources go far beyond what’s been published about Wallace and what’s available in the Harry Ransom Center.

Continuing Adventures in Topic Modeling Infinite Jest

Aug 11, 2012
I thought I’d continue my experiments in topic modeling with Infinite Jest. A twenty-topic Gibbs sampling turned up such free-associative gems as: {“alarm,” “fur,” “nude,” “matrix,” “rehab,” “warns,” “hallway,” “underwear,” “hispanic,” “beach”}, which I’d argue is a pretty good thematic summary. (I especially love that “matrix” showed up there; bless the randomized oracular algorithm and its serendipitous discoveries.) Anyway, the full list is below. Sorry for the formatting. Topic 1 Topic 2 [1,] "alarm" "granted" [2,] "fur" "blocked" [3,] "nude" "anticipate" [4,] "matrix" "paint" [5,] "rehab" "guilty" [6,] "warns" "nurture" [7,] "hallway" "lord's" [8,] "underwear" "lurid" [9,] "hispanic" "piss" [10,] "beach" "check" Topic 3 Topic 4 [1,] "leisure" "context" [2,] "booth" "valuables" [3,] "hiked" "distress" [4,] "descend" "petropolis" [5,] "darts" "mark" [6,] "fate" "pure" [7,] "lottery" "bldg" [8,] "raison" "realizing" [9,] "ironed" "logic" [10,] "designer" "stern" Topic 5 Topic 6 [1,] "dropping" "smothergill" [2,] "required" "teaching" [3,] "utilize" "openness" [4,] "compromised" "hawaiian" [5,] "she'll" "abstraction" [6,] "feature" "millicent's" [7,] "pour" "bowls" [8,] "homosexual" "stations" [9,] "undistinguished" "hesitant" [10,] "invitational" "tend" Topic 7 Topic 8 [1,] "admission" "perform" [2,] "casually" "tones" [3,] "really" "january" [4,] "stink" "scalp" [5,] "thorax" "bush" [6,] "suspects" "drip" [7,] "decade" "high-resin" [8,] "soma" "discussed" [9,] "acquire" "ascend" [10,] "toothless" "km" Topic 9 Topic 10 [1,] "protect" "gathering" [2,] "helped" "vast" [3,] "straightened" "dismantled" [4,] "birthday" "fatal" [5,] "untitled" "panels" [6,] "kindness" "prostitute" [7,] "named" "intellectual" [8,] "sucking" "newspaper" [9,] "troubling" "bangs" [10,] "frustration" "trained" Topic 11 Topic 12 [1,] "unspeakable" "legend" [2,] "dependence" "jennie" [3,] "temples" "amused" [4,] "wept" "dart" [5,] "magic" "arrayed" [6,] "tapered" "deeper" [7,] "planes" "delivering" [8,] "knuckle" "supreme" [9,] "wiping" "gardens" [10,] "swell" "sooty" Topic 13 Topic 14 [1,] "wears" "subtly" [2,] "dial" "spectral" [3,] "theaters" "fuzzy" [4,] "blowing" "vividly" [5,] "roach" "steaming" [6,] "colleague" "caution" [7,] "latin" "fire" [8,] "psychology" "pronounce" [9,] "tear" "rhetorically" [10,] "citizens" "neglect" Topic 15 Topic 16 [1,] "overwhelming" "separatism" [2,] "philosophical" "strategy" [3,] "altered" "lowered" [4,] "go" "surprisingly" [5,] "formality" "m.


Apr 1, 2011
I’ve never thought about the Reagan experiment in Keynesianism from the perspective of the revenuers. Cut taxes (for the upper brackets) and increase military spending. Tell people that the monies in the pockets of the entrepreneurs will create new wealth to fill the treasury’s coffers. This doesn’t actually happen, though. So the IRS is told to decrease the tax gap, the difference between what is owed and what is collected. (This figure is currently estimated to be around 290 billion dollars.

Thoughts on Waiting for The Pale King

Mar 29, 2011
I haven’t been writing much here for several reasons. The most important of them was that I was devastated to learn of the untimely death of a teacher, mentor, and friend of mine, Jim Paxson. This form of writing began to seem even more trivial, vain, and frivolous than I had usually thought. At the same time, even the modest audience I have here is likely to be greater than that of the academic articles I have been working on (not exactly “instead of,” but rather than writing nothing).

Logic Game

Nov 2, 2010
The logic puzzle section of the GRE doesn’t exist anymore, does it? That’s too bad. The only real memory I have of my weekly G&T; class in elementary school was learning to solve the grid-style logic puzzles, whose presumed psychometric validity remain, as I have said before, one of the great unanswered questions of the 20th C. Anyway, I’ve been preparing to teach Wallace’s “Mister Squishy” for the second time, and it occurred to me that there might be enough details offered for the members of the focus group (and the two unintroduced assistant facilitators) to deduce who is who using the grid-elimination format.

Tracer Cookie

Aug 6, 2010
In a discussion of Wallace’s “Mister Squishy,” I believe, a member of the wallace-l discussion list made a comment about how he didn’t seem to understand computer jargon very well, despite his penchant for deep research. I don’t know if I thought that was entirely fair at the time, but I would like to offer the following passage from Thomas Harris (an often deep researcher himself) for comparison: “The FBI has a closed system and some of it’s encrypted.

Jagged Little, Brown (on David Lipsky's Memoir of David Foster Wallace)

Apr 18, 2010
I first read Infinite Jest in October of 1996. I had been working for an industrial manufacturing concern after I had graduated in May in a capacity that involved certain manipulations of computers and also the odd bit of filing. I was planning to go to graduate school the next year, and I even retook the GRE that month. It’s possible that the book raised my verbal score significantly, though the fact that I scored worse on the quantitative section by the same amount suggests it might have been accident, or that I wasn’t paying as much attention to the book’s math as I might have.

Web Transcription Perils

Mar 15, 2009
I learned from the wallace-l list, which I recently rejoined, that the D. T. Max article I mentioned earlier misquoted Larry McCaffrey’s interview with Wallace from the Review of Contemporary Fiction. The transcribed web version has Wallace reporting that “most ‘familiarity’ is meditated and delusive” instead of “mediated.” The print version is available as a scanned pdf in EBSCO. I last made this joke when a Malcolm Gladwell article identified Linus Torvalds as Norwegian, but it sounds like this one landed on the Bright Lights, Big City fact-checker’s desk.

Map of the Interviews in Brief Interviews with Hideous Men

Mar 10, 2009
Is here. I created this quickly, without checking to see if some other enthusiast had done this before and with more detail. A couple of things I noted: 1) I cannot find a place called “Drury” in Utah. I’ve pinned it in Salt Lake City. I don’t know if this is deliberate, the name of a place (or airport, though I would have seen that I suspect), or a suburb that’s not showing up on the maps (St.

Must of

Mar 10, 2009
I’ve written about the apparently inexplicable use of homophonic spellings with this construction in dialogue in M. John Harrison and Cormac McCarthy before. Here’s another example from Wallace’s Brief Interviews: “The bastard even must of faked that call” (26). I’m surprised that Wallace, of all the writers I’ve seen this in, didn’t think about this. Perhaps if he did, he had more a direct free indirect style justification for it.

Wallace's Death Is Not the End

Mar 8, 2009
I’ve done some preliminary rummaging around on the internet for commentary on this short piece from Brief Interviews and have found little. The title appealed to people writing about Wallace after his death, I suppose, but I didn’t see much commentary on the story itself. (The archives of the wallace discussion list seemed to be closed to search engines, and I actually didn’t track that down and search the archives, which a good scholar would have done.

An Odd Gesture

Mar 1, 2009
In this revealing and sad New Yorker article on David Foster Wallace and his unfinished novel, D. T. Max writes the following: Doug Hesse, a colleague, made the mistake of praising an essay of Wallace’s. “He did this gesture of wiping the butt with one hand and pointing to his mouth with the other,” Hesse remembers. “I learned really really quickly not to go beyond the equivalent of ‘How’s the weather?

Canadian Separatist Literature

Dec 10, 2008
I’ve always thought that the manifest ludicrousness of the Quebecois elements in Infinite Jest was a clear indicator of the diegetic embeddedness of much of the book, but I have learned from two review articles* in SFS that bizarre extrapolations about many different varieties of Canadian separatism have a rich literary history. Wallace, who enjoyed science fiction, might well have read some of them. Heinlein’s Friday, for example seems about on par from a plausibility perspective, if lacking in the grotesquerie of Wallace’s scenario.

Election Day

Nov 5, 2008
I carried my food-stained old copy of Infinite Jest to the voting fire station this afternoon. In the hour or so I waited to cast my ballot (mostly) against various stupendous Louisiana initiatives and (nearly) for the Prohibition Ticket, I read the first fifty or so pages. The insect crawling around the stereo equipment and the beach ball in Orin’s condo pool were far more artless ficelles than I had remembered, and of course it’s poignant to read the Kate Gompert section.

Another Brief Comment on Wallace

Oct 2, 2008
Characters like Schmidt in “Mr. Squishy,” the dead man in “Good Old Neon,” and, in particular, the law student in the last BIwHM, are far more verbally (and intellectually, in the middle case) adept than realism would dictate. I know that the Yale Law School doesn’t just let anyone in (and the only language missing from the frequent quotations at Scott Horton’s Harper’s blog, as far as I can tell, is Hittite), but what are the chances that this law student being interviewed would a) know the word “catamenial” and b) use it in conversation?


Oct 1, 2008
I just deleted the last twenty-one comments. There seems to be no way to reverse that. Sorry. From “Mr. Squishy”: “Awad, whose knowledge of small craft operation came entirely from a manual he was now using as a paddle…” (60). I hope to write some more extended reflections on some of Wallace’s fiction in the near future. One thing I have in mind is an interpretation of the above-quoted story. His humor might be underappreciated.


Sep 14, 2008
Wallace believed, with good reason, that Michiko Kakutani could not possibly have read Infinite Jest before writing her original impercipient review, and her appraisal remedies little. The only thing that showed a lack of discipline about Infinite Jest is Wallace allowing it to be edited down as much as it was, almost certainly out of commercial necessity. (The letters to DeLillo in the Harry Ransom Center discuss this in passing.) I do not mean this as an evaluative comment; it’s just that there are more descriptively accurate ways to criticize the book than claiming it suffers from self-indulgence.


Aug 24, 2006
As I finally read the title story in Wallace’s recent collection last night, I noticed a reference to Kurt Eichenwald’s Serpent on the Rock that I couldn’t quite place. I thought of an experimental or symbolist Austrian writer, perhaps, one whom the precious narrator might choose for his livre de chevet. The actual book was, of course, even more suitable; but these hyperintellectualized interior portraits (think of the last brief interview with a hideous man, the law student) seem comments only on the impossibility of narrative projection or empathy.