David Foster Wallace, Peanuts and a Prize

David Foster Wallace world copyright Giovanni Giovannetti/effigie
An idea-free young typist in Axl Rose bandana is holding our collective critical faculty at gunpoint. In a bank vault. And he’s talking a mile a minute!

Post-Literacy’s Poster Child; the Bard of Save-On; The Lilliputian Confucian. Yeah, it is unreasonably cruel to pick on a dead pharma-guy, unless until it can be shown that his critical and commercial beatification flows from that sorry and admittedly tragic aspect.

I’ll confirm the basis of your already delicious contempt by stating outright that this essay will follow Steve Martin’s dictate to ‘criticize things you don’t know about’. I’ve never deeply ‘read’ David Foster Wallace, the thrice-named statue covered in the shit of our most mindful birds. I read a bit of ‘Broom of the System’ and waded with arms and legs bound into the speed-freak printout ‘Infinite Jest’; a conundrum wrapped in a dumpling, buried in absolute flapdoodle. It was immediately clear in both cases that the guy was a blinking neon fraud.

But I’ve been stunned over the years since his terribly sad but, it must be said, stagey demise, to see his Gas Giant of a star continue to rise, his crummy ideas and jarring sentences taken out periodically and waved about like the Queen’s silverware, his published lines and phrases and dimwit neologisms taken up by our normally discerning literati and declared ‘brilliant’ and life-affirming, his boosters (seemingly everyone) falling into line and throwing even more tender kindling on the rank and uncontrolled flaming shit pyre of praise. It boggles. dfw states the sophomorically obvious in a reverently mumbled, broken Freshman English. His revelations both include and are limited to: We’re each alone and struggling not to be. This is a consumer society. We’re very busy. Buying groceries is a strange ritual. We’re isolated from each other. We’re each alone and struggling not to be; and so on.  He says Postmodern a lot and once said ‘glabrous’. His whispered epiphanies are the sort that were thoroughly worked over long before Mark Twain had a mustache, yet dfw earnestly and unknowingly disinters the obvious with great declamatory aplomb and then illuminates his own late-blooming scholarship by elaborately flogging stuff most of us stopped mulling in high school. His jaw-dropping flunkie word processing is the foul icing. Like the guy at the bus stop who stares down at his shoes while yelling at you, dfw is not a gifted eccentric but wishes he were. His enablers lavishly convinced him of his ‘unshaven avatar’ status, and then he killed himself. It’s a very very painful situation.

This is just my opinion, but I’m right. Below I’ve included several rage-fueling examples of a doomed dimwit on Nardil who could not stop typing. Let’s start with this satiny sentence that takes John Updike’s novel Toward the End of Time to task. But for the dated Axl Rose headgear and cultivated air of superior resignation, this may have been scribbled by a caffeinated 8th grader trying not-hard-enough to impress the cute new English teacher:

“It is, of the total 25 Updike books I’ve read, far and away the worst, a novel so mind-bendingly clunky and self-indulgent that it’s hard to believe the author let it be published in this kind of shape.”

Nuf sed? Good. Why would any author worth dfw’s now-celebrated regard even think of publishing a book in that kind of shape? One is right to ask. We take a well-advised step back, though, on being assured by dfw that he has read 25 Updike books. whew. Seriously? whew again. To be called clunky and self-indulgent by dfw is like being told by Hitler you have a stupid little mustache. It rises to the level of irony and then continues noisily on through the ceiling. dfw’s entire oeuvre is a pill-driven edifice of wildly clunky self-indulgence, and the sort of brand-x writing that, if English were a corpse (and thanks to culture-choking algal blooms like Wallace, soon enough will be), would be clawing her way out of the crypt and roaming the moors with an aluminum baseball bat.


And now I’ll allow this onanistic Chance the Gardener to regale us with more knee-weakening kryptonite. He really is something, you know. Ask anyone.


What the really great artists do is they’re entirely themselves.

Lane Dean summoned all his will and bore down and did three returns in a row, and began imagining various high places to jump off of. – The Pale King; dfw’s thankfully incomplete final slap at literature.

I’d like to be the sort of person who can enjoy things at the time, instead of having to go back in my head and enjoy them.

True heroism is minutes, hours, weeks, year upon year of the quiet, precise, judicious exercise of probity and care—with no one there to see or cheer.

The interesting thing is why we’re so desperate for this anesthetic against loneliness.

Are we not all of us fanatics? I say only what you of the U.S.A. pretend you do not know. Attachments are of great seriousness.

We’re all lonely for something we don’t know we’re lonely for. How else to explain the curious feeling that goes around feeling like missing somebody we’ve never even met?

Whatever you get paid attention for is never what you think is most important about yourself.

I do things like get in a taxi and say, “The library, and step on it.” My instincts concerning syntax and mechanics are better than your own, I can tell, with all due respect.

In dark times, the definition of good art would seem to be art that locates and applies CPR to those elements of what’s human and magical that still live and glow despite the times’ darkness.

The cruel thing with depression is that it’s such a self-centered illness – Dostoevsky shows that pretty good in his “Notes from Underground”. The depression is painful, you’re sapped/consumed by yourself; the worse the depression, the more you just think about yourself and the stranger and repellent you appear to others.

The next real literary “rebels” in this country might well emerge as some weird bunch of anti-rebels, born oglers who dare somehow to back away from ironic watching, who have the childish gall actually to endorse and instantiate single-entendre principles. Who treat of plain old untrendy human troubles and emotions in U.S. life with reverence and conviction.

Gifted salesmen explain how people are always most vulnerable, hence frightened, hence persuadable, when they are approached solo.

…a song of tough love for a generation whose eyes have moved fish-like to the side of its head, forward vision usurped by the numb need to survive the now, side-placed eyes scanning for any garde of which to be avant.

A toxic sampling. This is bold, exquisite junk, and highly praised. dfw wins this round. Somebody tell his estate. Sorry, John. This shit is killing me, too.

St. Johnny II

7 thoughts on “David Foster Wallace, Peanuts and a Prize

    1. Thank you! Love your site, and I don’t mean that in the dull, reflexive blogger way. Too much out there to deliberately seek out jewels like your place. Lavishing all that attention on poetry. Delighted to see Larkin venerated by one of your visitors. THANK YOU FOR YOUR PROSELYTIZING OF POETRY. Now more than ever. I’m in.


  1. Thanks! I’ve always felt that great poetry is the most powerful form of linguistic communication, the purest and the most memorable. Great poetry has more punch, panache and insight per phoneme (haha) than even the whole text of the best novel. Great poets and poems are rare, though. (Even though millions today fancy themselves poets.).


    1. COMPLETELY AGREE. And the bracing insertion of ‘phoneme’ into your rejoinder causes me to straighten my tie. Thanks again for your work/mission. I’ll be around, maybe once in a while borrowing a cup of sugar or something. Looking forward to exploring your offerings. I’m no poetry scholar so I take my schooling where I can.


  2. thanks so much for this. i linked to it in the comments on one of the articles on a.v. club covering the segel-as-dfw movie.

    this is a link to he end of the discussion:

    the most important thought coming from my little pink bear head was this part: “i love that essay. i want to marry it, grow old with it, and be buried side-by-side on an alpine hillside with it. and i don’t even care that there is an apology to john updike in it, albeit snarky– it says everything i’ve ever wanted to say about dfw and his posthumous canonization.”

    also, i made this http://oi58.tinypic.com/71n5fp.jpg

    –and if joan didion bugs you like she does me, here’s another thing i slapped together http://oi62.tinypic.com/20uv3no.jpg

    once more, many thanks for this piece. “onanistic Chance the Gardener” — such a perfect encapsulation. i roared with laughter, i cried with tears of recognition. apologies for my gushing, but the kid who yells ‘the emperor wears no clothes’ needs this kind of validation every once in a while.


    1. In a word – thank you!! ( I know; two words…). Not that anyone is reading my private little crib sheet of essays and poetry, but I did expect the pungency of my very heartfelt critique to see the thing out onto the highway where, I further naively fantasized, it might engender discussion and paint some Wallacians into a slappy-fight corner defense of his canon. Your nicely written note is more than a little gratifying. In fairness, Wallace’s sugary and wholly unearned bravado comes at the behest of an enabling dipstick culture that doesn’t know nonstop blabbing from profundity. Give me the right prescription and I’ll write an Infinite Jest, too. Any bright h.s. sophomore could do the same, and likely to the same outpouring of staring veneration. Don’t know who you are but I really appreciate your taking a minute to concur. And I dig your tinys. Nice little summations – though you could probably educate me on the Didion movement.Haven’t read her since college and never picked her up again. Thanks, friend. Let’s pop these moron bubbles while our struggling culture still has a heartbeat.


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