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Posts Tagged ‘David Foster Wallace’

Under the Volcano

July 21, 2014 | by

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John Gardner in 1979. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

I think that the difference right now between good art and bad art is that the good artists are the people who are, in one way or another, creating, out of deep and honest concern, a vision of life in the twentieth century that is worth pursuing. And the bad artists, of whom there are many, are whining or moaning or staring, because it’s fashionable, into the dark abyss. If you believe that life is fundamentally a volcano full of baby skulls, you’ve got two main choices as an artist: You can either stare into the volcano and count the skulls for the thousandth time and tell everybody, “There are the skulls; that’s your baby, Mrs. Miller.” Or you can try to build walls so that fewer baby skulls go in. It seems to me that the artist ought to hunt for positive ways of surviving, of living.

That’s John Gardner, from his Art of Fiction interview, which The Paris Review published in 1979—three years before Gardner died in a motorcycle accident. As far as lines in the literary sand go, this one seems defensible enough: make salutary art, wall off the volcano, protect the crania of your babies, et cetera. But here Gardner has given us the distillate of what had been, a few years earlier, a very controversial opinion; he’s paraphrasing his thesis from On Moral Fiction, a polemical book of criticism in which he took to task nearly every prominent American writer, pissing off a good number of them in the process. As Dwight Garner wrote a few years ago, “It wasn’t Gardner’s thesis, exactly, that made him enemies. It was the way he indiscriminately fired buckshot in the direction of many of American literature’s biggest names.”

Pynchon? Too inclined to “winking, mugging despair.”

Updike? “He brings out books that don’t say what he means them to say. And you can’t tell his women apart.”

Barthelme? Merely a disciple of “newfangledness.”

And the whole New Yorker crowd? Too into “that cold, ironic stuff … I think it’s just wrapping for their Steuben glass.”

If you’re thinking that picking fights is a pretty poor way of seeding one’s literary philosophy, you’re completely correct. As Per Winther, the author of The Art of John Gardner, has written, “One cannot help but think that Gardner’s cause would have benefited from less stridency of tone … What Gardner risked in couching his arguments in such bellicose terms was a hasty dismissal of his book and all its views.” Read More »

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What Talent Wants to Serve: An Interview with Donald Margulies

June 26, 2014 | by

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Photo: Ethan Hill.

The playwright Donald Margulies is at what he describes as a “delicious” point in his career. He’s written the screenplay for The End of the Tour, an adaptation of David Lipsky’s Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself that recently completed filming. His newest play, The Country House, opened June 3 in Los Angeles at the Geffen Playhouse, and begins New York previews September 9 at The Manhattan Theater Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theater. It’s an “homage” to Chekhov, employing themes and images from Margulies’s favorites: Uncle Vanya, The Cherry Orchard, and The Seagull. It’s also his first play ostensibly about the theater itself. The play is an ‘off-stage comedy’ set during the Williamstown Theatre Festival, focusing on a family of actors who have returned to a familiar house in the Berkshires after the recent death of a beloved family member.

Margulies is the author of over a dozen plays, including The Model Apartment, Sight Unseen, and Dinner With Friends, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2000. He lives in New Haven with his wife; he has a son at college in Minnesota. His workspace is a series of rooms on the third floor of his home, walled by books, with windows overlooking his abundant backyard. When we spoke, first in his “bill-paying” room and then over fat sandwiches in New York, he appeared energized by his career’s activity, as if even its description gave him inspiration. He is now at work on the book for a musical, an adaptation of Father of the Bride, which would be a first.

Has any of your writing for the screen begun as writing for the stage?

I’ve adapted three of my plays into screenplays—Sight Unseen, which has not been filmed, and Collected Stories and Dinner With Friends, both of which were produced for television—but I have never begun a play that I decided would be better served as a screenplay. In the case of my most recent screenplay, The End of the Tour, my long-time manager, David Kanter, sent me David Lipsky’s book, Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, with a note that said, “Take a look at this, there might be a play in it,” because the book is almost entirely dialogue, the transcription of a four-day conversation between Lipsky and David Foster Wallace. I started reading it and was excited because I thought it did lend itself to adaptation—not for the stage but for the screen. I saw its potential as something much more expansive than two guys sitting around talking—namely a road picture. I was intrigued by the idea of seeing this iconic figure on the American landscape. The End of the Tour is consistent with themes that have interested me as a dramatist for forty years, which is what no doubt attracted me to it. Read More »

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What We’re Loving: Reckless Love, Love via Telegraph

June 20, 2014 | by

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From an early twentieth-century postcard. “Kisses from both are now flying about / Where all of a sudden the current runs out.”

After reading David Constantine’s story “In Another Country,” which the Canadian publisher Biblioasis passed along to me, I can’t figure out why a U.S. press hasn’t caught on to his work. He’s won a number of big prizes, including the Frank O’Connor International Short Story award twice—last year, he beat out Joyce Carol Oates, Deborah Levy, and Peter Stamm—and no wonder: this story has me wanting more. (Thankfully, Biblioasis will publish a selection of his stories next year.) The sentences are restrained, the tone muted. The remoteness between the husband and wife of the story is never described but is made palpable through the stillness in their interactions and the spareness of the prose, but the tension created by the slow unraveling of the past within the present is innervating: “What worried Mrs. Mercer suddenly took shape. Into the little room came a rush of ghosts. She sat down opposite him and both felt cold. That Katya, she said. Yes, he said. They’ve found her in the ice. I see, said Mrs. Mercer.” If you get excited, as I do, by stories in which very little happens, then this one is for you. —Nicole Rudick

In 1949, Niki de Saint Phalle and Harry Mathews eloped together, both a bit shy of their twentieth birthdays. The ten-year marriage that followed saw joy, sorrow, electroshock therapy, disapproving parents, reprimanding neighbors, two children, suicidal episodes, numerous infidelities, artistic awakenings, homes in more than four countries, and, ultimately, insurmountable growing pains. In Harry and Me: 1950–1960, The Family Years, de Saint Phalle chronicles their famous, tumultous relationship in verse and image. A remarkably generous portrait of their time together—it includes sidebars of text written by Mathews in response to de Saint Phalle’s account, in which he corrects and addends but never criticizes—this book is a must-read for anyone interested in the work of either artist. Their developmental years were spent in stride, and the naïveté that brought them together (and eventually drove them apart) was instrumental in shaping their artistic desires, particularly the whimsy and color that marks de Saint Phalle’s sculpture. Though the relationship ends, the children suffer, and the hurt never truly goes away, neither party, many years later, seems to regret the marriage. Instead, they go to bat for the young, reckless love that directed the course of their lives. —Clare Fentress

Lots of people are nostalgic for rotary phones and handwritten letters. Not so many have the same wistfulness for the telegraph. But William Saroyan’s “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8,” from his 1934 short story collection The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze, has left me rethinking the old teletype machine and its nuanced relation to our digital age. The story tells of two telegraph operators, who meet—virtually—by striking up a conversation over the wires. Saroyan’s depiction of the giddy thrill of instantaneous, faceless communication, in which half the fun is in the imagined possibilities, seems oddly anachronistic to the modern reader, but it also predicts the appeal of instant messaging and texting. From the first hello hello hello, the narrator realizes the untapped opportunity of his teletype machine as a personal device of contact, of love: “I had never thought of the machine as being related in any way to me … I began to try to visualize the girl. I began to wonder if she would go out with me to this house I wanted and help me fill it with our lives together.” —Chantal McStay Read More »

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Darwin’s Basket Cases, and Other News

May 29, 2014 | by

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James Davis Cooper after a James Crichton-Browne photograph, Illustration from Chapter XIII of The Expression of the Emotions of Man and Animals; Insane Woman Showing the Condition of Her Hair, c. 1871-1872; image via the Public Domain Review

  • “It’s a curious thing to think of Charles Darwin sitting alone, closely studying photographic portraits of the afflicted and insane. But in the late 1860s, that’s exactly what he began doing: he sifted through portraits of kleptomaniacs, nymphomaniacs, sufferers of severe self-importance, hysteria, and general mania.”
  • Our very own Nicole Rudick on Bough Down, a new book of prose fragments and collage by Karen Green, who “faces a special difficulty: her husband was David Foster Wallace. This fact is both central to Bough Down and incidental to it. On the one hand, he was a famous, much admired writer, and Green’s new identity as ‘the designated survivor’ is one she can’t escape. ‘You are like the moon,’ she writes to Wallace, ‘you shed light on my insignificance from a great, wordless distance.’”
  • Charles Simic remembers the poet Russell Edson: “He thought of poetry as a cast-iron airplane that sporadically flies, chiefly because its pilot doesn’t seem to care if it does or does not.”
  • At the Library of Congress, two hundred and fifty of Thomas Jefferson’s books are missing.
  • The Mesmerists of the eighteenth century believed that music played a vital role in the practice of animal magnetism. The proper tune could cure what ailed you, especially if it were played on one instrument in particular: the glass harmonica. “In fact, the association of the instrument with Mesmerism was one reason why it quickly went out of fashion.”

 

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I Did Not Approve This Message

May 1, 2014 | by

David Foster Wallace, James Joyce, and the trouble with public image.

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Jesse Eisenberg and Jason Segel filming The End of the Tour, a movie about David Foster Wallace not authorized by his literary trust. Photo: loveleeliz, via Instagram

In 2010, just under two years after David Foster Wallace’s death, the journalist David Lipsky published Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace, a memoir of transcripts from an interview he’d conducted with Wallace in 1996 for Rolling Stone. The book was well reviewed—it made the Times best-seller list—and late last year it was announced that it would become a film starring Jesse Eisenberg as Lipsky and Jason Segel as Wallace. The End of the Tour is already in postproduction and slated for release in late 2014, but last week, the Wallace Literary Trust issued a public statement making it “clear that they have no connection with, and neither endorse nor support” the film: “There is no circumstance under which the David Foster Wallace Literary Trust would have consented to the adaptation of this interview into a motion picture, and we do not consider it an homage.”

I was struck by similarities between this situation and the case of James Joyce and Samuel Roth, which began in 1926. In his recent book Without Copyrights: Piracy, Publishing, and the Public Domain, the scholar Robert Spoo devotes two chapters to Joyce’s desperate attempts to defend his intellectual property against Roth, an infamous American “booklegger” who reprinted the entire text of Ulysses, as well as large portions of Finnegans Wake, without permission. Roth’s actions, like those of the filmmakers of The End of the Tour, were not illegal: Joyce didn’t possess the U.S. copyright on his works, which were originally published in Europe and—after a brief window during which he could have established copyright by securing American publication—fell immediately into the U.S. public domain. Read More »

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Searching for Cervantes, and Other News

April 29, 2014 | by

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We’re going to find this man—with radar. Juan de Jauregui y Aguilar, Miguel de Cervantes, seventeenth century.

 

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