Interview: David Foster Wallace

By TOM SCOCCA  |  November 30, 2010

One reason why I might have put in some not-particularly-kind stuff on the cruise is that I felt like I'd learned my lesson. I wasn't going to hurt anybody, but I was going to tell the truth. I couldn't worry so about Trudy's feelings that I couldn't say the truth, which was -- you know, a terrific, really nice, and not unattractive lady who did happen to look just like Jackie Gleason in drag.

Your footnotes have a way of making the reader break stride, or have to loop around and backtrack. How hard do you want the reader to have to work?
I don't really think that way, because I don't want to go down that path of trying to anticipate, like a chess player, every reader's reaction. The honest thing is, the footnotes were an intentional, programmatic part of Infinite Jest, and you get sort of addicted to them. A lot of these pieces were written around the time that I was typing and working on Infinite Jest. It's a kind of loopy way of thinking that it seems to me is in some ways mimetic.

I don't know about you, but certainly the way I think about things and experience things is not particularly linear, and it's not orderly, and it's not pyramidical, and there are a lot of loops.

Most of the nonfiction pieces are basically just: Look, I'm not a great journalist, and I can't interview anybody. But what I can do is slice open my head for you, and let you see a cross-section of an averagely bright person's head. And in a way, the footnotes I think are better representations of thought patterns and fact patterns.

The tricky thing with the footnotes is that they are an irritant, and they require a little extra work, and so they either have to be really germane or they have to be fun to read. It does get to be a problem, though, when every single gag that occurs to me, I think I can toss in as a footnote. The most heavily cut thing in the book was the David Lynch essay. The book editor had me cut like a third of it, and a lot of it was footnotes that were just gags. And I think he had a good point.

How much gag writing do you do? To what extent do you try to be deliberately humorous?
[Sighs.] I'll tell you, I think another reason I'm not doing any more of these for a while is that by the end there really was kind of a schtick emerging: the somewhat neurotic, hyperconscious guy showing you how weird this thing is that not everybody thinks is weird. I think it's more trying to notice stuff that everybody else notices but they don't really notice that they notice. Which I think a fair number of good comedians do, too.

I mean, when you have something like the oil rigs "bobbing fellatially" . . .
Yeah, except that's exactly how it looks.

That is exactly how they look, but it's funny enough to . . .
But that was another big fight, 'cause I originally had fellatically, which I thought sounded better and had more of a kind of harsh, glottal, fellatiatory sound, and then the copyeditor goes, "There's no such word, we've got to say fellatially," and I think that sounds like palatially, and I don't like it, and so 48 hours is spent thumb-wrestling over this bullshit.

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  Topics: Books , David Lynch, Books, David Foster Wallace,  More more >
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