Review: David Foster Wallace: “The Last Interview and Other Conversations”

David Foster Wallace

The Last Interview and Other Conversations by David Foster Wallace
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a collection of interviews with David Foster Wallace, which is published posthumously. DFW does these interviews either face-to-face or by e-mail (which he perfers, as he refers to himself as a “five-draft man”).

On “Infinite Jest“:

MILLER: What were you intending to do when you started this book?

DFW: I wanted to do something sad. I’d done some funny stuff and some heavy, intellectual stuff, but I’d never done anything sad. And I wanted it not to have a single main character. The other banality would be: I wanted to do something real American, about what it’s like to live in America around the millennium.

MILLER: And what is that like?

DFW: There’s something particularly sad about it, something that doesn’t have very much to do with physical circumstances, or the economy, or any of the stuff that gets talked about in the news. It’s more like a stomach-level sadness. I see it in myself and my friends in different ways. It manifests itself as a kind of lostness. Whether it’s unique to our generation I really don’t know.

On using pop-cultural references in his writing:

MILLER: Are you trying to find similar meanings in the pop culture material you use? That sort of thing can be seen as merely clever, or shallow.

DFW: I’ve always thought of myself as a realist. I can remember fighting with my professors about it in grad school. The world that I live in consists of 250 advertisements a day and any number of unbelievably entertaining options, most of which are subsidized by corporations that want to sell me things. The whole way that the world acts on my nerve endings is bound up with stuff that the guys with leather patches on their elbows would consider pop or trivial or ephemeral. I use a fair amount of pop stuff in my fiction, but what I mean by it is nothing different than what other people mean in writing about trees and parks and having to walk to the river to get water a 100 years ago. It’s just the texture of the world I live in.

On being furry:

DFW: I’ve never had a beard. I’ve tried periodically to grow a beard, and when it resembles, you know, the armpit of a 15-year-old girl who hasn’t shaved her armpit, I shave it off.

On making up his own words:

Q: I mean, when you have something like the oil rigs “bobbing fellatially”—

DFW: Yeah, except that’s exactly how they look. [Laughs]

On reviews:

Q: Do you read reviews of your work?

A: It’s tempting to. It’s also tempting to try and eavesdrop on people who are talking about you and don’t think you can hear them. But you almost always get your feelings hurt if you eavesdrop like this. It’s the same way with reviews. It took me a while to figure out that reviews of my work are not for me. They’re for potential book-buyers. I have a nice tight established circle of friends and associates I can send stuff to and get honest critical response that helps me make the stuff better. By the time the stuff is published, though, anything I hear about it amounts to me eavesdropping.

And, to finish off, a quote from an interviewer to DFW:

Anyway, I remember you once actually answering your phone by saying not “Hello” but “Distract me,” which struck me as the truest way to put it—when you pick up the phone, you’re leaving the submersion of good writerly concentration.

All in all, this is a short book which works well into getting insight to how DFW’s mind worked. I think reading his interviews is a way to get into his authorship, even though his writing, especially “The Pale King“, is unlike his interview techniques. For further interview reading, soon to be turned into film, I must recommend “Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace” by David Lipsky.

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