One more review of “The End of the Tour”

TEOTT

After months of waiting and anticipation, I finally got to see “The End of the Tour,” the film based on David Lipsky’s book, Although of Course You End up Becoming Yourself, a transcription of his five-day interview with David Foster Wallace at the tail-end of his Infinite Jest book tour. During those months of waiting, I read far too many articles about and reviews of the film. Most of these – even the negative reviews – made me all the more excited to see it; although as I entered the theater, I hoped that all this reading and all the hype didn’t build my expectations too high. I didn’t want to end up disappointed and feeling I had wasted that free movie ticket.

I was not disappointed. On my way out of the theater, I texted my wife, “Such a great film. Loved it!” So, here I will add my thoughts to the myriad others who have already seen and written about the film.

When I first met him, my master’s thesis advisor shared with me a quote from Jean-Luc Godard that stuck with me through the process of writing my thesis and beyond. The quote goes something like this: “When you turn on the camera, the lie begins. But leave it on long enough and the truth comes out.” There could not be a truer statement about “The End of the Tour.”

posterThe film is all about artifice and facade. You have Jason Segal taking on the persona of the literary giant, David Foster Wallace (and giving a damn good performance), who is very aware of the fact that Lipsky’s tape recorder is always running. He watches his words and guards his image, wanting to come across as an “everyday guy.” All the while, he knows that the commercial success has made him anything but an “everyday guy” anymore. Dave (Wallace) is very careful to never let Dave (Lipsky) see too much of his real self.

Then there is Dave Lipsky, played by Jesse Eisenberg, an up-and-comer hoping that this interview with Big Shot David Wallace will rocket his own career into orbit. Part fanboy, part interviewer, Lipsky tries to hide his jealousy of Wallace’s success. He’s the rookie in the big leagues who’s trying to play it cool, even though Dave W (and we) can see right through it.

And yet, the camera is left on just long enough for us to see through the facade and artifice to find something real and true. My favorite quote of Dave (Wallace)’s – and the foundation of my philosophy of literature – is “fiction is about what it means to be a fucking human being.” There are those moments in this film that allow us to see glimpses of the human condition. In all its frailty and self-consciousness and insecurity, we see these two young men for who and what they really are.

These are my favorite moments of the film. The scene when Dave is talking about his crush on Alanis Morissette. The scene when Dave goes back for more food at the convenience store when Dave Lipsky says his expense account will cover their junk food indulgences. And probably my favorite scene when the two Daves are eating McDonald’s burgers in Dave’s living room and Jeeves and Drone (Wallace’s two dogs) are begging for food. Dave tells Jeeves over and over to sit, but the dog just ignores him. There is something so simple, yet so real about that scene. Just two guys shooting the breeze over lousy burgers while trying the fend off a couple of hungry Labradors.

And then the last scene. The one of Dave dancing at the Baptist Church social. Yes, I read the article about how Dave didn’t actually like to dance and how “church” was his code word for his recovery group. But I loved that scene.

See, I wrote my thesis on “Singin’ in the Rain” and Plato’s Cave (not your normal bedfellows, I know). The gist of the paper is that the “Singin’ in the Rain,” like Plato’s Cave, is all about illusion and reality. When the viewer first meets Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) and Kathy Seldon (Debbie Reynolds), both characters lie about who they are. Don tells the glamorous story on his rise to fame while on the red carpet of his latest premiere; all the while, the viewer sees the truth of his less-than-dignified career. Kathy tells Don about her success on the dramatic stage, but we soon see that she is really just a nightclub showgirl. It is only when the two dance together on the empty soundstage that they are honest with each other.

My point is that dance is one of the few truly honest expressions. You can’t lie while you’re dancing. Which is why I loved the last scene. We finally see the real Dave. Now I know that this probably didn’t really happen, but hear me out. In “The End of the Tour,” we see Dave Wallace’s ongoing struggle with simply being himself. He is on guard every time the tape recorder is on, and when it’s off, he is too overly analytical to know who his true self even is at times. He just wants to be a regular guy, even if that goal is unattainable. But in that final moment, we see regular Dave, dancing and free.

Click here to watch the trailer.

Just Dave

I first heard about DT Max’s biography of Wallace about two years ago. There was an open call on The Howling Fantods for all things Wallace: letters, notes, stories, etc. Max was asking for fans and friends to send anything that might help him in writing what would become “Every Love Story is a Ghost Story.”

This sparked quite a discussion on Wallace-l, one filled with what could best be described as a cross between Chuck Norris jokes and Dos Equis commercials. “Dallas-Forth Worth Airport was named after Our Man,” and “David Foster Wallace knows an English word that rhymes with ‘orange.'”

Fast forward about eighteen months when a release date for “Every Love Story” was announced. I used an Amazon gift card to preorder the book. And the wait began.

Over the past several weeks and months, the internet has been a-buzzin’ with reviews and responses to reviews and discussions of responses to reviews.

Another discussion on Wallace-l arose in the last few weeks. Someone posed the question of “what do you hope for the biography?” Responses varied, but many wanted the “warts-and-all” story that we haven’t heard yet. Not that people wanted juicy, gossipy details; but rather they expressed a desire to see Our Man as just a regular guy. To knock him off his pedestal a bit.

I never chimed in, but it got me thinking. What do I hope for as I read Max’s book? I read Max’s piece in the “New Yorker” and Lipsky’s piece in “Rolling Stone,” so I know most of his story.  And with all the prerelease material that’s been circulating, I doubt there will be many surprises when I read it. But I guess, like others, I want to get to know Dave. The man. Not just the writer or public figure or the persona he created. Just Dave.

And now the release date has arrived. I received an email this afternoon that my book has finally shipped. It should be here on Saturday.

But I got this other email. A rep from Penguin Books asked me to post a promotional video commemorating the long-anticipated release.

My response: I’d be happy to.

So here you are. Penguin Books’ promotional video.

Enjoy.

An interesting article that poses lots of questions

This article was posted today on Wallace-l and really struck a chord with me. This topic of Wallace and religion has been simmering for me for quite awhile. Faith and religion, particularly Christianity, are important themes in much of Wallace’s work; although he seems to ask a lot more questions than he attempts to answer. As I continue to read my way through his canon, and as I anxiously await Max’s biography, it is a topic that I think is an important one and I hope to continue to explore it.

What are your thoughts? What role do you see faith, religion, and Christianity playing in Wallace’s writing? What do we know about the role of faith in his own life?

Follow this link, read the article, then share your thoughts.

Guest Post: W/R/T DFW

Blogger Here. Andrew Harrell shares his first encounter with David Foster Wallace, reading David Lipsky’s piece in Rolling Stone Magazine, “The Lost Years and Last Days of David Foster Wallace.”

Mr. Wallace,

I don’t know how the magazine made the trip, but Greg and I got from the Piedmont to the mountains in his brother’s tiny black Honda two-door. The drive was almost perfect.

Out of the eight or so times we thought we were lost, only once had we actually gone the wrong way, ending up in a cramped town with narrow, wavering streets and a terrible pervading smell coming from the paper mill. For half an hour we drove in circles, looking for someone to ask for directions, only to find the town deserted. Eventually we were attracted by bright lights in the distance, and found the entire town leaving a high school football game. At another point in the journey, while searching for a grocery store to purchase s’mores supplies, an Ingles Market seemed to materialize in front of us out of nothing.

We drove in shifts of about two hours. The little thing handled like a dream. Or, at least, it handled like a dream compared to my car, which has inches of dead space to push through if you want to apply the brakes.

As a driver, Greg scared the shit out of me. His mind is never fully on the road, and he always leans on the gas too much, to the tune of, like, 20 mph too much. So I turned the tables while I could, ignoring the decreasing visibility and increasingly winding roads, taking turns too fast and throwing Greg against the passenger side door.

It was October or November and I was a sophomore in college. Greg was a freshman and for fall break we were headed to a family friend’s cabin, where my girlfriend and half a dozen or so others were already playing beer pong and flip cup. Greg and I listened to the new Keane album off of my iPod and edited a speech he had to give for some student organization or another when he returned. When it came to language and writing, this was an insanely exciting and formative time in both our lives. We’d both heard from teachers and peers that we were good with words. But now we were realizing that we wanted to be better. We were realizing that there is power behind words, that they are something you can be passionate about. The speech probably suffered from severe over-editing.

Unmarked from the road, the secluded cabin was nestled at the bottom of a steep hill and accessible only through a subtle gap in the guardrail. Even with all our cars, the front lawn was huge—acceptable ultimate Frisbee space, if that gives you any sense. A trail led to a nearby stream.

The drive there turned out to be the best part of the trip.

I was not much of a partier. At this point in my life I was able to count on my fingers the times I’d been drunk or high. I normally had trouble interacting with others, let alone when one or both of us in an altered state of mind. So when the weed and the booze came out, I was a little uncomfortable. The feeling was compounded over the next few days by cramped living quarters and too little food. I had a fight with my girlfriend, and she went off to get high with some of the others. I was left alone—at least, I felt alone, there might have been others half asleep in armchairs nearby—in the cabin.

A magazine was on the wooden coffee table.

Soon-to-be-president Barack Obama was on the cover, his tie the same red as the Rolling Stone logo. The headline level with Obama’s smiling eyes read: “DEATH OF A GENIUS: The Tragic Last Days Of David Foster Wallace.” I was in the mood for death and tragedy.

Not to mention my curiosity was piqued; what made you such a genius? I’d never heard of you. I expected an article dominated by technical explanations of the work done by a Nobel Prize-winning physicist. Maybe some small, amateur pictures of guys with pocket protectors in their garage laboratory.

The first picture took up an entire page. You didn’t look like a physicist. You looked like a college slacker. Bangs in your eyes. And is that a Basquiat shirt?[1]

The opposite page called you “the greatest writer of his generation—and also its most tormented.” I was in the mood for torment.

Being in the mood for death, tragedy and torment does not always leave one in the mood for close reading, however. I only skimmed the article, reading enough to glean that you were a great writer, that you liked tennis and you loved dogs, that you committed suicide and that I had never heard of you or your work. The pictures, though, I examined closely.
There was something endearing about your rugged figure that reached out of those glossy pages. The long hair, the stubble with a lopsided shot of gray, the silly bandanna, the kind eyes. Glasses. Full lips like mine. How different you looked from picture to picture, which makes sense now but didn’t right then—it seemed like I was looking at different men, and maybe in a small way I was. You didn’t look like a fiction writer; you looked like a fiction character. It was the fall of 2008, so maybe in a not so small way you already were.

What I did read start to finish was a sidebar about a movie adaptation of one of your books. The blurb caught my eye because it said the actor John Krasinski was directing and producing the film.[2]  I was intrigued, and eventually I bought a paperback copy of Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. It wasn’t until summer 2009 that I read the book of short stories at the beach.[3]  It was difficult, funny and strange. And, for the most part, way over my head. I enjoyed the style and I recognized the writing as brilliant. But sometimes I didn’t really know what was going on. And I definitely struggled with the fact that I didn’t know what it meant. Krasinski’s adaptation turned out to be a great thing for me, because it spelled things out with Hollywood simplicity—or, at least, spelled out one interpretation of the stories.

Overall, though, your collection left me impressed but uninspired. The paperback made it onto my shelf of favorite books, partly out of respect and partly because of that cool cover,[4] but, largely, you were put out of my mind. I probably went and reread Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close for the fourth time.

Months later, I was in the bookstore with a gift card burning a hole in my pocket. At the time I had no author or book I was itching to read. I was just browsing. A beautiful cover caught my eye, which is enough to make me want a book, even if I know I won’t like it. It was white and textured, with an illustration of a yellow cockatiel reflected upside down in an ornate hand mirror. The name David Foster Wallace was on the cover. I remembered my mixed reaction to reading you the last time, but it was a beautiful book, and the name recognition justified the purchase.

I began reading The Broom of the System as soon as I got home, and even though I knew nothing about Wittgenstein or postmodernism, it made perfect sense. Words had never felt so real to me. I realized you might not be as dead as Rolling Stone claimed.

In some sick way, did your leaving bring you closer to more people than ever before? I guess so.

Did your private struggle turn you into a public figure you didn’t want to be? I don’t know. Would I even be aware of you if you hadn’t ended things on your own terms? I don’t know.

What I do know, Mr. Wallace, is that you wrote and read at least in part to be a little less lonely. Evidently, for you the battle against loneliness didn’t only play out between covers.

The important thing to me isn’t if you won or lost that battle with loneliness. What’s important to me is that you were the only one who figured out what we’re fighting against.

Thanks for letting us know. Thanks for the company.

 

Andrew Harrell is from North Carolina and has written for sites such as Thought Catalog, Knews Corp and The Daily Heel. He is building a wiki to serve as a reference guide for The Broom of the System.


[1] Do they even make Basquiat shirts? Is it some kind statement on or counter piece to Keith Haring’s commercial stuff?[back]

[2] I had recently watched the entire first four seasons of The Office—which stars Krasinski—in the span of a week. My grades suffered appropriately.[back]

[3] At the beach, in a house looking out onto the sound, not literally on the beach. The combination of suntan lotion and folding chairs and David Foster Wallace is a little absurd.[back]

[4] To me, those black and burgundy horizontal stripes look damn good on a bookshelf.[back]

Guest Post: Paying Attention

Blogger here.  After posting an open invitation for guest posts, I received a number of responses from fellow writers and fans of Wallace.  This piece comes from Jean McEwan, an artist and writer from the UK, and is in response to Lipsky’s Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself.

Enjoy.

These pieces were orginally made for Issue 3 of ‘This Is Water’  – a 7 day personal zine about trying to pay attention I make and self publish.

I started ‘This is Water’ ( which of course steals its name from David Foster Wallace’s 2005 Kenyon College speech) in 2010 as an attempt to personally and meaningfully engage with the ideas he talks about in the speech;  the importance of awareness, the difficulty of transcending our ‘natural, hard-wired default setting’ of being ‘deeply and literally self-centred’ and trying to live ‘consciously, adultly, day in and day out’.
Attention and compassion form the very deep core of DFW’s writing, and are the reason I return to his work, again and again.

The zine is my own modest attempt to practice attention by dedicating some time to noticing the ‘stuff’ of daily life for a week – and to record things I see, find, overhear, read, and say each day. The zine contains both words and images and are always hand-made, a page made each day, with the idea of giving time and respect to documenting these daily experiences.

Issue 3 was made over the New Year period when I spent a week at the seaside with family and friends. I had been given David Lipsky’s ‘Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace’ for Christmas and this was my holiday reading.  I had just finished re-reading Infinite Jest and I found Lipsy’s book, written shortly after the publication of Infinite Jest, both fascinating and almost unbearably sad.

Jean McEwan, UK based visual artist and independent curator

To find out more about Issues 1-3 of This Is Water, visit

http://jeanmcewan.com/zines-and-artist-books/zine-shop/this-is-water/

“Consider David Foster Wallace” Conference – part IV

Julius, the moderator, asked the panelists about the recurring themes of adolescence and adulthood in Wallace’s works.  Laura brought up the obvious connections between Hamlet and Infinite Jest, focusing particularly on those between Prince Hamlet and Hal Incandenza as both try to escape the legacies of their parents’ generations.

On this topic of adolescence, Jonathan brought up the interesting biological idea of neoteny.  Neoteny is an evolutionary principle in which adult members of a species retain certain infantile or adolescent or even ancestral traits that give the organism a survival advantage.  He applied this idea both to Wallace’s characters and to Wallace himself as a writer.  Many of his characters – and again most of this portion of the discussion focused on IJ – rely on childlike behavior to cope and to survive.  Additionally, Infinite Jest is full on childish, sometimes infantile, jokes and silliness.[1]  Others of his stories can also be seen as childlike and immature.[2]

As a writer, Wallace placed great value on the things of childhood.  As one of the panelists said (I believe it was still Jonathan talking), great art comes from childish behavior, and the act of playing matters even in the adult world.  He went on to explain how Wallace exalts in his writing things[3] that most other writers “grow out of.”

Daniel chimed in during this part of the discussion to highlight the fact that most of Wallace’s writing has a certain self-conscious, juvenile affect to it, until we get to The Pale King.  His last, unfinished novel stands out in that it is much more “grown-up” than his other works.  The characters, themes, and conflicts are all much more mature than those in his earlier works.

The last topic of conversation brought up by Julius was the power of language.  The question was asked, what is art – in whatever form it takes – for?  The panelists discussed how Wallace might answer such a question.  They talked about how he didn’t seem to hold much of an “art for art’s sake” attitude, but rather that art – and especially fiction – ought to serve a purpose.  And in Wallace’s writing, much of that purpose was to explore and address real moral issues and problems.  His writing was very philosophical, engaging in dialogue with the likes of Wittgenstein and Kierkegaard,[4] among others.  Good fiction ought to have a positive value.

Before opening it up for questions from the floor, Julius asked each of the panelists for a non-Infinite-Jest-related reading recommendation.  Daniel’s two recommendations were The Pale King and the short story “Good Old Neon” from Oblivion.  Jonathan’s recommendations were “Westward the Course of Empire Takes It’s Way” from Girl with Curious Hair and “Brief Interview #20,” the “Granola Cruncher” story from Brief Interviews with Hideous Men.  Laura had several recommendations: the entirety of Girl with Curious Hair, the Dostoyevsky review in Consider the Lobster, and the previously mentioned “E Unibus Pluram” from A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again.[5]

Julius thanked the panelists for their lively discussion and wonderful insights into both the writing and person of David Foster Wallace while the audience enthusiastically applauded.  A majority of the crowd left at that point, but a few people stuck around to ask questions of the panel.

As the crowd died down, I made my way up to the front to ask a question of DT Max.  I waited my turn as others asked him questions, and finally had my chance.  I shook his hand, introduced myself, and asked him what he thought of the role religion and spirituality played in Wallace’s life and writing.  He thought it an interesting question that he hadn’t seen any obvious answers to.  We discussed several examples from his fiction, primarily from The Pale King.  I mentioned how “Good People” was probably the more real and authentic depiction of a Christian faith I’ve ever read.  I asked about the references to church in his nonfiction, such as “The View from Mrs. Thompson’s” and the end of AOCYEUBY.  Daniel said that some of the “church” references in his nonfiction were a cover for AA groups.

We talked about these various examples and through out questions for each other to consider for a good five minutes.  We didn’t arrive at any definitive answers – none probably exist – but concluded that Wallace saw the importance of faith and religious community in an individual’s life.  And both Wallace’s fiction and nonfiction writings have a very moral and didactic bent to them.  If anything, I think I left my short conversation with DT Max with more questions than I had before I introduced myself and with a greater desire to pursue this line of thought.

I left the Ballroom and walked across the darkened campus to my car.  Four pages of notes and too many thoughts and questions to even begin to count.  I tried to begin processing it all on my drive home, but it had been hours since I last ate.  Fortunately I had spotted what looked to be a good Mexican food restaurant on my way to the College.  So I topped off my wonderful evening with a delicious carne asada burrito.

It had been a good day.


[1] I haven’t gotten more than about 60 pages into the behemoth of a book.  But I have engaged in and listened in on plenty of conversations about the book, and I’ve see plenty of quotes from the book online, so I’ve come across many of these jokes.[back]

[2] “Forever Overhead” comes instantly to mind, as does “Little Expressionless Animals.”  The first is a coming of age story of a thirteen-year-old boy; the second has an ensemble cast of physically mature adults all trapped in juvenile and immature relationships with others.[back]

[3] I don’t recall what any of those “things” are, or if he even gave specific examples.  But the YouTube video should be able to fill in any gaps here.[back]

[4] These are philosophers whose writings are on my “to-read” list as I proceed with my reading and research into the spiritual and religious themes in Wallace’s works.[back]

[5] A number of these I have not yet read, but based on their descriptions, I think I will be diving into “Good Old Neon” next.  Though rather dark sounding,* it seems like it would be a fascinating character study.

* It is a first-person narration of someone who has just committed suicide, explaining all his reasons for doing so.[back]

“Consider David Foster Wallace” Conference – part III

“Fiction is about what it means to be a f***ing human being.”

The panelists – DT Max, Jonathan Letham, and Laura Miller – went on to describe how unique and different Wallace was from his contemporaries.  His novels and short stories were not the self-indulgent metafiction that dominated the literary fiction of the 1980’s.  And while other writers and much of academia focused on the international literary scene, Wallace’s fiction had a distinctly American feel to it.  He wrestled with what it meant to be an American in the late Twentieth Century, in all its glory and all its vices.  In his consummate nonfiction piece, “E Unibus Pluram,” he explains and describes many of the problems that exist in Twentieth Century American life, and these themes are then illustrated throughout his fiction as well.

Not only was Wallace unique in his style and subject matter, the panelists went on to say, but also in his purpose and approach to literature.  I believe it was Laura who first brought it up, and the others echoed the point, that Wallace was a very moral and even didactic writer.[1]  He wrote about very real – and very difficult – aspects of our humanity.  In the midst of this discussion, Daniel quoted what is perhaps Wallace’s most famous line,[2] that “fiction is about what it means to be a f***ing human being.”  It is through the reading and writing of fiction that we wrestle with our own humanity, that we try to make sense of the absurd and nonsensical.  Daniel went on to say that, in his estimation, there has not been such a moral writer since Dostoyevsky.

Part of this moral didacticism was Wallace’s tackling of two of the biggest – and most intertwined – problems in American society: entertainment and addiction, the two primary themes in his magnum opus Infinite Jest.  Daniel explained that the original title for the book was A Failed Entertainment[3] and that the book itself functions similarly to other addictive substances.  By beginning the book at or near the end of the story, the reader is left feeling unsatisfied and must go back and begin reading it again to satisfy those unfulfilled feelings.

In Infinite Jest, Wallace explores the role of faith and 12-Step programs in the recovery process of addiction.  As the panelists explained, these AA-type programs depend on clichés and platitudes to be successful.  Despite their banality, these clichés are real and effective and meaningful, and recovering addicts must put their faith in the truth of these statements in order to break free from their addictions.[4]  It is a humbling experience to put one’s faith in something that seems so simple, to realize that one is not too smart for words that are so trite and banal, to know that one cannot simply outsmart his addiction.

In addition to being a very morally didactic writer, Wallace was also a very personal one.  One of the panelists[5] pointed out that most of his characters are trying to break free from their own solipsism and believe that other characters in their world exist; they are trying to see inside the other.  They want to know they are not alone.  In the same way, Wallace used his writing to bridge the gap between selfs and connect on a very personal level with his readers.[6]  It is this personalness that draws such a loyal following of readers, and it is this sense of connection between writer and reader that drew a packed house to the Pomona College campus that Saturday evening in February.

 


[1] I don’t use these descriptors – nor did the panelists use them – in the “Aesop’s Fables” sense of the words.  But rather, he dealt with very moral issues and asked very moral questions, but unlike the fables of old he never answered the questions or concluded with a “slow and steady wins the race” sort of thing.  He just threw the idea out there to let us – the readers – wallow in it for awhile and try to figure it out on our own.[back]

[2] It was inevitable.  Someone had to repeat the quote.*  If none of the panelists did, I would have felt obliged to take the microphone during the Q & A just so that the line would be spoken.

*I began my paper for the Antwerp conference with the line, and I believe at least three other presenters quoted it in their papers as well.[back]

[3] I believe this is also brought up in Lipsky’s book, Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself.[back]

[4] Although it wasn’t specifically mentioned during the discussion, this is the central message of Wallace’s Kenyon College speech: the life and death importance of the totally ordinary and banal.[back]

[5] At this point, nearly a month after the event as I look at my notes, I don’t recall which one.  This is what I get for waiting so long* to write about the conference.

*It hasn’t been out of laziness or procrastination that I have waited this long.  Moving into second semester and now just a few months before AP exams, my grading load has increased exponentially over the last few weeks.  Plus I have other writing projects I am working on.

I have plenty of excuses, but very few of them are good ones.[back]

[6] My friend Maria Bustillos wrote a wonderful piece last year about her trip to the Wallace archives, during which she was particularly drawn to his own collection of self-help books.  In that piece, she describes in much better detail than I do here Wallace’s desire to connect with others through his writing.[back]