David Foster Wallace, Travel Writer

infinite_jest

By PAT HARTMAN
News Editor

As multimedia books journalist for The Guardian, Alison Flood writes profusely on all things book-related. In “David Foster Wallace biography snapped up by Viking”, she tells us about, well, the biography of DFW that will be published by — you guessed it — Viking. One reason Flood is good: she knows when to stop being a writer, and quote somebody else. Here, she quotes DT Max, who signed up to write the book:

You have a guy who came to play a larger role in culture than maybe what his sales would indicate…. Most writers’ intellectual lives are very contained, but that’s not true of David. If he went to the laundromat, it posed an interesting moral question, and that’s what I want to capture.

Marco Ursi, editor of MastheadOnline, calls DFW “ridiculously gifted” and reflects on his words about dishonesty in the media, specifically the blending of essay-type prose with promotion. Hmmm.

Just as Eric Johnson is a guitar hero, David Foster Wallace is a narrative non-fiction hero. His take on the porn industry is brilliant. And on the illness of political systems, and the inimical nature of “political correctness,” oh, any number of things. And then there’s Infinite Jest, the mega-novel that has inspired a whole lot of people to join a virtual book club in order to accompany one another in reading this summer.

Was DFW a travel writer? Absolutely. There’s the Caribbean cruise, and the Illinois State Fair, for instance. His method was to research intensely, listen to people on the scene, and maintain plenty of both subjectivity and attitude. In “Consider the Lobster,” he traveled to the Atlantic coast to cover the Maine Lobster Festival. Did you know that lobster used to be considered lower-class food, like chitlins or hog maw, that people only ate if they had no choice? Did you know that Maine used to have a law saying lobster couldn’t be fed to institutionalized people more than once a week, because that would be cruel and unusual? We didn’t either.

Picture this. Gourmet magazine hires a guy to write a piece on the famous lobster fest. He hands in a rant about the erroneous claim that lobsters don’t feel pain, and about the eating of animals in general. They publish it anyway. Could anyone but David Foster Wallace get away with this?

Strangely enough, Kevin Dolgin also wrote about lobsters. There’s an essay called “Odysseus and Grilled Lobster: Bonifacio, Corsica, France” in The Third Tower Up From the Road.

These two guys remind me of each other in some elemental way, and there’s more to it than both writing about lobsters. Reading one of their travel pieces is like going to the event with your best friend, with a controlled substance involved. As David Foster Wallace put it, there’s “a kind of persona or narrative voice that will have qualities that the reader will like and find engaging.” This type of writer processes the thing through the filter of his or her brain, and what comes out, when partaken of by the reader, is even better than being there yourself. You get all the best parts of the experience, without the expense of buying a plane ticket. You gotta love it.

photo courtesy of Wolf Gang , used under this Creative Commons license

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