Letter 19: Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: Finding the correct label

Dear Mr. Wallace,

Although I still have not yet finished reading Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, I feel compelled to begin writing about it.  I am absolutely loving the book and have a feeling my first time through the book will not be my last.  Perhaps after I read Infinite Jest I will give it another read.  I’m sure much of the conversation about characters and events in Infinite Jest will make a lot more sense after reading it.  So I’m sure I’ll be back for round two in about six months or so.  Maybe the new insight from IJ will spur more Letters in the future.

Within days of the book’s release, discussion threads on Wallace-I began popping up.  Some posted and commented on their favorite quotes and passages.[1]  Others wrote about the “raw and real” nature of the “pomo interview”[2] that is Lipsky’s book.  The discussions that caught my attention were those surrounding the literary classification of this book.

The label on the back cover, just above the bar code and price tag, calls it an “autobiography / biography – literary.”[3]  But in reading this book, I don’t think either label really fits.  It is certainly not your autobiography.  You do tell much of the story of your education and writing career, but it comes out in a rather fragmented, non-linear sort of way.  Your story is mixed with your thoughts on Hollywood directors and talk of your feelings about Alanis Morrisette.[4]  And I don’t get the impression that you saw this as your “Barbara Walters” moment; you certainly didn’t seek out this opportunity to tell your story.  Nor do you seem to have an agenda during the course of the five-day interview.  You answer Lipsky’s questions rather candidly, but you are also cautious and guarded at times, fully aware that anything you say could end up in Rolling Stone.  So I really don’t believe that the “autobiography” label is a fitting one.

Nor would I consider it to be a biography, at least not in the traditional sense.  It seems that Lipsky’s assignment was to uncover where this book came from.  How much of your life and experiences are found in the 1100+ pages of Infinite Jest?  And how is this newfound success affecting you?  What do you make of all the attention and the PR events?  I think the biographical elements are more of a beneficial byproduct of the conversations than the purpose of them.

So neither the “autobiography” nor the “biography” term seems to fit.[5]  It isn’t even an “as told to” autobiography, because again that is not the purpose of the interview.  So how should the book be labeled?

Considering the subject of the book and how the conversations unfolded, I began to wonder if this book is perhaps the next step in the evolution of the narrative non-fiction genre.  Will the success of this book lead to more of these kinds of transcripted dialogues?  Is this the direction auto/bio’s will go in our postmodern literary world?  Or is this book a one-of-a-kind?  If someone does use a similar format to tell someone’s story, will their attempt simply be seen as a knock-off or copycat?  No matter who the subject is or how well it is written, anything published in similar style will more than likely be compared back to AOCYEUBY.  After all, there could be only one Blair Witch Project.[6]

I realize that this is going to sound rather obsessive, but this issue of AOCYEUBY being incorrectly labeled has really been bothering me since I first noticed it.  Autobiography doesn’t work because you didn’t write it, although the vast majority of the text are your words.  Biography doesn’t work because it is not Lipsky’s telling of your life’s story. 

Since there doesn’t seem to be a word to describe a book like this, I decided to go back to the Latin roots to coin a word for it.  I came up with the word “alidictography,” meaning “words written by another.” 

So I guess my next move should be to copyright the term so that if anyone does try to pull off what Lipsky did[7], and if they decide to use my word on the back label, at least I’ll get a cut of the profits.

[1] Since I am only about two-thirds of the way through the book, it has been interesting and entertaining to finally come across many of the sections mentioned in the threaded discussions.  I’ve found myself thinking, “Oh, that’s what they were talking about” many times in the last few weeks.

[2] “Pomo” being short for post-modern.

[3]Can you get any more general than that?  I think the only label that could possibly be more vague than that would be to simply call it “nonfiction.”

[4] I think I laughed out loud as you spoke of your obsession with not only Morrisette, but also your previous obsession with Margaret Thatcher.

[5] Although, FYI, the original Rolling Stone article never ran, but Lipsky did take parts if the conversations and work them into a rather moving biography/eulogy that was printed in Rolling Stone shortly after DFW’s death in 2008.

[6] I mean no disrespect by this analogy.  I simply mean that what was done in BWP can really never be repeated without being compared to this film.

[7] Which I can’t say enough times how awesome it is.  Although we get a pretty good sense of who Wallace was through both his fiction and non-fiction, what a rare treat this is to just hear (or read) the man talk about so many fascinating topics.

2 thoughts on “Letter 19: Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: Finding the correct label

  1. I like “littérature vérité” because it reminds me of the cinéma vérité documentary aesthetic (i.e. Grey Gardens, American Movie, Marjoe, etc.)

    What do you think? The French makes it seem high-concept-ey.

  2. That works too. I’m not as familiar with French as i am with Latin roots. But it does have a nice high-concept-ey ring to it.

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