Wednesday, December 14, 2011

David Lipsky on David Foster Wallace: A Slow Descent into Idolatry

Hi fellow DFW fans (obsessives?) I went to the Lipsky event last night. I thought about cleaning up my notes of the event, but as you will see there wasn't much to actually report, sadly. Essentially, Lipsky, in a disconcerting nervous manner, regurgitated many facts he collected for his book(He spent a considerable amount of time just quoting other people, of which he includes in his book,) and actually just read quotes from his book for at least an hour. I left after an hour so I cannot attest to the end of the program, or to the intelligence of the question and answer part, but I can attest to the fact that Lipsky seriously phoned this one in.
For the most part, I didn’t understand the actual need for this event. He wrote the book many months ago, and it was safe to assume that most people read the book, and yet, he still just read from the book, and told anecdotes that he uses in the book, or, if you are any sort of DFW fan you already knew. I could understand that perhaps he wanted to discuss the aftermath of the book, or DFW’s legacy today, but for him to just get up there and not safely assume that we read the book, or that we did, but still go on to just read from it, well it felt a little patronizing. I hope someone else at the event disagrees with me. Lipsky seemed like a nice enough guy, but the event seemed truly pathetic, and wasteful, though the free wine was a nice touch, and because of the Wallace list serve, I bought Parallel Stories, and so far, it has been quite enjoyable. Anyway, instead of a synopsis of the event, which I can’t actually do, I thought it would be fun to give you a slightly edited stream of consciousness of the event. Enjoy, I hope.

Um, ok, not sure where to start one this one. At least there is a great deal of variance, I think, if you count every type of white person as variance. Mostly women, it seems, which is different from other DFW events, but it’s still a fucking hipster fest, which makes me kind of feel like shit. Am I this desperate? Feels like the substantiation of the book Stuff White People Like, and the website Look at these Fucking Hipsters. Cool shoes, where did you get them Urban Outfitters, or a vintage shop in Williamsburg, let me guess are you getting a master or doctorate in something pointless? The ironic point, because we all know DFW loved irony, is that he railed against this over-intellectualization.I KNOW
The place, The Center for Fiction, which is a pretty ballsy name, seems like a white person haven, full of indie books,  a baby grand piano; as if its the last place where slavery is allowed, OK, just kidding, but not really, you know…busts of famous authors, wearing Christmas hats, how fucking quaint. A first generation air conditioning, lights hanging from the ceiling that ooze elegance. OK, maybe too much self-hatred here, perhaps, perhaps.
Also, what makes Lipsky any sort of authority on anything? An opportunistic book? I can't fully imagine the demographics here, a Pale King members group, cool, a bunch of old people that are perhaps Lipsky family or more likely members of the Center for Fiction. So much corduroy. ugh, I think i hate myself, what does this to people. The room feels like a mirror to what I must look like to other people. I basically can see what I will look like and be doing at every stage of my life. Old with circular glasses, chintzy sweaters, wiry hair. Oh man, I can feel the loneliness in the group. stop, it hurts, please, stop. Somehow, I've never seen more red heads in a room. It's odd. I don't really know what Lipsky looks like, so he could pretty much be anyone in this room, I think.
There's a strange assumption about a roomful of DFW obsessives. You assume some sort of kinship, not only because you've read pretty much everything, even those pdf of the archives and his first poem (oy vey), but because somehow, you think, that someone who gets DFW will get you, which, well, I can't tell if that's a bad assumption, elitist, desperate, or correct, or a nice mix of everything. I don't know why the ambiance makes me feel uncomfortable. Perhaps it highlights how elitist I truly am: I am that guy, sitting next in front of me, sloppy hair that he think looks cool, hipster clothing that is purposefully disheveled, interested in esoteric movie, nay, film theory. It's funny, this gap between who DFW chooses to write about, and the people who read him. What passes, often, as challenging fiction, sometimes just mimics elitist fiction, fiction that cannot be fully enjoyed without the leisure of substantial time, a deep vocabulary, the skill to sit and read etc etc etc.
Overhead conversations: “this is my grandson, he's on the editorial staff of New York magazine. Shepping some serious nachas.”
“I read like 20 manuscripts today, I described one as a masturbatory exercise of intellectual showoffery,” Sheesh.
The women sitting next to me looks desperately sad, like she clings to books the way someone in the water clings to a life-vest.
I feel comfort from the dude wearing a harley davidson sweatshirt.
Hasty made up statistics of the event:
1. skinny jeans and cool shoes - 87%
2. amalgam comfort with sexuality - negative 27%
3. prescriptions of anti-depressants - 90%
4. logged therapy hours - ugh
5. existential angst - see previous question.
6. iphones- 98%

Lipsky sits down in the front: Handsome in a sort of politician manner. Tall, wearing a well fit suit, blue shirt, and red tie, a young republican in the making.

The introduction is given by some nice guy named Bill who teaches at the center for fiction. He described his class as “plunging deeply into DFW.” too easy, I know. Stop, please. He described teaching Infinite Jest as “stimulating and exciting adventure as their ever was.” Dude needs to get out more.
I think we can agree that no one actually gives a shit about Lipsky, and that it's getting stranger and stranger to hold these vigils. Lipsky feels like a relic, a bone of a saint, a clothe the saint touched.
Bill actually makes the comparison that Lipsky is the equivalent of Boswell to Johnson. Nope. Incorrect. Lipsky knew DFW for six days.

Lipsky now speaks. Tells us how he came to write the book - (forget me if I'm wrong, but you knew him for like six days, at most?) Tells the basic story - why he chose to write this book, (It’s starting to feel more and more that he wrote the book to capitalized on a situation and he didnt actually know DFW at all.)  Quotes Costello, a lot. Quotes more Costello.
He keeps on referring to DFW as “Dave.” He needs to stop doing this. He really likes laughing at his own jokes, oh man. Lipsky is seriously nervous. Sweating, a nervous tic of scratching at the back of his neck, drinking a lot of water. What’s Lipsky actually thinking right now? Maybe he really just doesn't realize that people read his book? because he just says the same thing from his book over and over again. Lipsky can’t emphasize enough how jealous he was of “Dave.” He keeps asking us really patronizing questions - “do you know how book tours work?”  Well, probably not from our own experiences, but we do know how they work because we read your book, that came out a while ago. “Are any of you graduate students?”
Best part of the night: Lipsky’s gf wanted to sexy-time DFW.
Lipsky tries to make it seem that his book was meant to show how electric of a person DFW was, how awake, and alive, despite the fact that in the book, DFW, comes off as seriously neurotic and anxious, obsessed with image. So, at the end of an hour, we end up were we started, still saddened by the loss of a mythic character, obsessively holding on to him anyway we can, looking for answers, for clues both to his death, and to his power, ever more leaning towards some form of worship.
That truly was an hour of our time. Not sure what happened afterwards. But I hope it redeemed the hour that came beforehand. I think we need to stop talking so much about DFW the person and considerably more about his work. Which seems obvious, but apparently not? 


  1. Wah. I didn't go (was late at work), but I would have at least skewed the white and hipster percentages.

  2. Great comment from George Carr - Yeah, you have pointed at a patch of fertile ground, for a longer
    essay on DFW readers and how their entry points into his work relate
    to their demography. And the demographics have changed over time; when
    I joined wallace-l lo these many years ago, it included a fair number
    of chatty substance-abuse counselors & recovering addicts, who were
    amazed at how pitch-perfect the AA portions of IJ were, and a fair
    number of chatty looking-for-love people, who were amazed at how
    pitch-perfect the Hideous Men were. Now that whole crowd seems to have
    vanished, as the singles have married and had kids and the substance
    folks have moved on with their lives, and this list mostly chats about
    the academic aftermath of DFW's career: conferences, papers,
    translations, etc. (Also, social networking has moved a bunch of the
    stuff we used to chat about on wallace-l into other fora.) But there
    is still some weirdly populist appeal for Our Man, and I shudder to
    think that he could eventually be labeled as an author whose expertise
    is 20-to-30-year-old ennui, in the way that 'Catcher in the Rye' has
    pigeonholed Salinger as a teen-angst master.