A Lost 1996 Interview with David Foster Wallace

By Kunal Jasty, producer at radioopensource.org


In February 1996, David Foster Wallace came to Boston. He was the not-quite recognized writer of the massive book, Infinite Jest, which was just beginning to capture the attention of reviewers, readers and a generation of writers. Christopher Lydon interviewed David Foster Wallace on The Connection on WBUR in Boston, and told him he seemed to be living in “a moment between of cultish obscurity and international artistic celebrity, perhaps even immortality.”

Last winter, we went to the WBUR archives to see if we could find the tape. We found it in the dusty basement, nestled between shows about the 1996 presidential primaries and escalating violence in the Middle East. The conversation is almost heartbreaking to hear now in light of Wallace’s suicide in 2008. Back then he was attempting to explain the sadness he saw among the twenty- and thirty-somethings around him; he admitted to feeling lost and lonely himself. But he also spoke of his hope to have children and the prospect of a long career.

The whole conversation is worth a listen, and I’ve transcribed the full tape below (with minimal editing for clarity):

Christopher Lydon:

I’m Christopher Lydon, this is The Connection. Our guest this hour is living in a moment between cultish obscurity and international artistic celebrity and maybe even immortality. David Foster Wallace is the novelist of the heaviest new tome in the book stores. Infinite Jest is the title of his 1179 page book. Infinite Jest is also the title of a movie that is buried deep in the plot of his novel. “Infinite Jest,” which is a phrase out of Hamlet, is also the spirit of this whole, sprawling, dark, druggie and ominous enterprise, which is also gamesome, tennis-filled, hilarious, and absurdly clever. Most interesting to me, it’s a Bostonian novel down to innumerable details of Commonwealth Avenue geography and local language — not just the accents of Boston, but distinctive Boston words and phrases like “Bob Hope” or “sporting lint.” Do they sound familiar to you? We will surely ask David Foster Wallace to explain them. It’s going to be a trick to get our heads around this novel in an hour on The Connection, but I can assure you that David Foster Wallace is a man you’re going to want to get to know. Critics are calling him the “Proust of Generation X,” the new genius in the experimental prose tradition of Thomas Pynchon, Don DeLillo, William Gass and others. But it’s just as important to say about this impossibly long book that every page is irresistible in some surprising way. So don’t be daunted, just plunge this hour with the novelist David Foster Wallace.

Infinite Jest is about the near future in America. It’s a world of compressed and digitized entertainment cartridges. It’s a world of epidemic drug taking and obsessive withdrawal from drugs. It’s a world of even more inhuman sports training than today. It’s a world of pollution so hopeless that a large slice of Northern New England has been deeded to Canada and is used as a dump for bailed refuse catapulted from cities like Boston into the great beyond past Vermont. Think of this book as Allston’s revenge from a thirty-something who got to know the Boston neighborhood and the slacker thing all too well. Listen up, and be prepared to give David Foster Wallace a call. Good morning and welcome — welcome back — David Wallace.

David Wallace, you call it “Enfield.” Enfield is a community that seems to be centered around Cleveland Circle. It’s somewhere between Heartbreak Hill on the marathon route and Boston University. Tell us about it. What is Enfield? How did you get to know it?

David Foster Wallace:

I used to live in Brighton so I know the area. I think I wanted to do something that was about America, and Boston has certain obvious attractions for that, and I was living in Boston at the time. But also I wanted… I have a hard time doing anything that’s real, because there’s so much real stuff that I get overwhelmed. I like to mess with maps a little bit, and part of the book is about messing with maps. I reconfigured the Allston-Brighton-Newton area and stuck this town in that was actually the name of a town close to where I went to college that was inundated for a reservoir.

Christopher Lydon:

You’re sitting in new studios, we just moved uptown from Kenmore square right into the heart of Enfield at the time I’ve been getting my head into your book. Let me ask you the rude question that everyone talks about. Why did it have to be so long?

David Foster Wallace:

It used to be longer. I got real lucky with the editor on this. He didn’t just buy it. He edited it with me and it’s about 400 or 500 pages shorter than it was before. There are a bunch of reasons. A big part of it was that I wanted to do something with a whole bunch of different characters and a lot of thematics. What I hope is that at least in the final version it’s long but it’s fairly tight. The thing that scares me is I don’t want people to get the idea that it’s longer than it needs to be, because I’ve read stuff that’s longer than it needs to be and it’s annoying.

Christopher Lydon:

The other rude question everybody asks is it is, in certain respects, it has the mark of Generation X on it, a generation some people think is awfully short in its attention span and not inclined to these big books. Who did you write it for?

David Foster Wallace:

It’s not like I’ve been writing that long, but the background I come out of is an experimental or avant-garde tradition, and there’s a lot of very cool stuff in that tradition. Stuff that’s very rich intellectually and aesthetically. The problem I have with it is that a lot just isn’t very much fun to read.

Christopher Lydon:

Well I was just going to say… Thomas Pynchon has daunted me. William Gass and The Tunnel invited me but I didn’t get through it. William Gaddis… these folks scare me and yet — and not to blow smoke at you — this book is irresistible.

David Foster Wallace:

Obviously I applaud your taste. I mean [Infinite Jest] is pretty hard. There’s a lot of theoretical stuff going on that’s probably not of interest to most readers. The thing I was trying to do was have something be hard but also be fun enough so that you can’t help yourself but do it, which ideally ties into certain stuff that the book’s about.

Christopher Lydon:

Give us a quick theoretical key here, and then we’ll get off it because this book is incredibly concrete too. I want to get back to the Boston bits, the Boston AA meeting, for example, but give us a quick higher theory, graduate school key.

David Foster Wallace:

Seriously? Will you make a chopping motion if I start to get boring or something?

Christopher Lydon:

(Laughs) sure.

David Foster Wallace:

A certain amount of the book is about the theoretics of entertainment. I come from the avant-garde tradition. The other side is a commercial entertainment tradition, which is often a hell of a lot of fun to read, but it often panders to the reader. It’s stupid and it’s reductive and things are too neat and too tight and are made too easy for the reader. So a certain amount of the way the book is structured is to seduce the reader into doing more work than is normally required, but not to have that work be odious. If you want to know the theoretical underpinnings I can start spouting French names at you, but that’s less interesting to me than whether people find it fun.

Christopher Lydon:

I wish you’d read somewhere around page 350. You start by saying that Boston AA — Alcoholics Anonymous — is like AA nowhere else on the planet. We’re deep inside an AA meeting, and we seem never to get out. On page 350 you could start with the scary old guys at the top of the page… does that make sense?

David Foster Wallace:

Will people know who the scary old guys are? The scary old guys are the crocodiles, most of whom have been sober in Boston AA for like 30 years, and they all have scally caps and white crew cuts and noses like red cucumbers.

“You ask the scary old guys How AA Works and they smile their chilly smiles and say Just Fine. It just works, is all; end of story. The newcomers who abandon common sense and resolve to Hang In and keep coming and then find their cages all of a sudden open, mysteriously, after a while, share this sense of deep shock and possible trap; about newer Boston AAs with like six months clean you can see this look of glazed suspicion instead of beatific glee, an expression like that of bug-eyed natives confronted suddenly with a Zippo lighter. And so this unites them, nervously, this tentative assemblage of possible glimmers of something like hope, this grudging move toward maybe acknowledging that this unromantic, unhip, cliched AA thing–so unlikely and unpromising, so much the inverse of what they’d come too much to love– might really be able to keep the lover’s toothy maw at bay. The process is the neat reverse of what brought you down and In here: Substances start out being so magically great, so much the interior jigsaw’s missing piece, that at the start you just know, deep in your gut, that they’ll never let you down; you just know it. But they do. And then this goofy slapdash anarchic system of low-rent gatherings and corny slogans and saccharin grins and hideous coffee is so lame you just know there’s no way it could ever possibly work except for the utterest morons . . . and then Gately seems to find out AA turns out to be the very loyal friend he thought he’d had and then lost, when you Came In. And so you Hang In and stay sober and straight, and out of sheer hand-burned-on-hot-stove terror you heed the improbable-sounding warnings not to stop pounding out the nightly meetings even after the Substance-cravings have left and you feel like you’ve got a grip on the thing at last and can now go it alone, you still don’t try to go it alone, you heed the improbable warnings because by now you have no faith in your own sense of what’s really improbable and what isn’t, since AA seems, improbably enough, to be working, and with no faith in your own senses you’re confused, flummoxed, and when people with AA time strongly advise you to keep coming you nod robotically and keep coming, and you sweep floors and scrub out ashtrays and fill stained steel urns with hideous coffee, and you keep getting ritually down on your big knees every morning and night asking for help from a sky that still seems a burnished shield against all who would ask aid of it–how can you pray to a `God’ you believe only morons believe in, still?–but the old guys say it doesn’t yet matter what you believe or don’t believe, Just Do It they say, and like a shock-trained organism without any kind of independent human will you do exactly like you’re told, you keep coming and coming, nightly, and now you take pains not to get booted out of the squalid halfway house you’d at first tried so hard to get discharged from, you Hang In and Hang In, meeting after meeting, warm day after cold day…”

Christopher Lydon:

There’s a taste of one of the many things Infinite Jest is about. It’s about withdrawal. It’s about withdrawal at the end of a century or maybe the start of a new one. It’s about AA with a Boston accent. It’s also about tennis on the professional ramp up, a kind of tortuous training. I suppose it’s about American politics, too. It’s also about an advertising culture and a technology of advertising that has run riot a few years into the future. Years in David Wallace’s novel are named for sponsors, like “Depends.” What’s that all about?

David Foster Wallace:

Well most critics seem to take it as a joke. It seems to me not all that implausible that at some point we’ll sell our time.

Christopher Lydon:

It’s in the footnotes that the phrase “Bob Hope” is explained. Can I read footnote 27 on page 994?

David Foster Wallace:

You read much better than I do, go ahead.

Christopher Lydon:

I doubt it, but this is footnote 27 on the phrase “Bob Hope”:

“Metro Boston subdialectical argot — origin unknown — for cannabis, pot, grass, du-Bois, dope, ganja, bhang, herb, hash, m. jane, kif, etc.; with ‘Bing Crosby’ designating cocaine and organic methoxies (‘drines), and — inexplicably — ‘Doris’ standing for synthetic dickies, psychs, and phenyls.”

That explains Bob Hope. You know an awful lot about drugs. There are very few pharmacists I know who know as much about drugs as you do. How does this happen?

David Foster Wallace:

This book is researched pretty carefully. It’s kind of funny now… my friends in my hometown call me about the prescriptions they get from their doctors to find out about interactions. Now I go around presenting myself as kind of a life pharmacist.

Christopher Lydon:

Did you do a lot of drugs?

David Foster Wallace:

I don’t know a whole lot of people under 40 who haven’t had periods where they’ve done a lot of drugs, and I’m under 40.

Christopher Lydon:

And how about the alcohol side?

David Foster Wallace:

You know, once again I’ll tell you the book’s real heavily researched. One of the reasons that it is set in Boston — this is a real unsexy reason — is Boston AA is very strange and unique. Most of its meetings are speaker meetings, and its got a lot of open meetings, which means you don’t have to be a member to go, which means I could go and sit and take notes. There’s something like 9 or 10 halfway house facilities licensed by the Division of Substance Abuse Services who would more or less let you walk in and lurk. And I’ve met few human beings as gregarious as drug addicts who’ve recently had their drugs taken away from them.

I’ve got a certain amount of experience with some of the stuff in the book. It’s hardly an autobiographical book.

Christopher Lydon:

Who are you? How did this begin? How did David Wallace come to Boston, how did you come to writing, how did you come to literature, how did you come to this kind of interest… this literary tradition?

David Foster Wallace:

I grew up in central Illinois. My parents are academics. They read a lot. I read a lot. I also watched a lot of television as a kid. When I was a kid I wanted to be a professional tennis player, which, during puberty it emerged that that was not going to be possible.

Christopher Lydon:

How does that emerge? You start getting beat?

David Foster Wallace:

You start getting beat or you stop getting better at the rate that coaches tell you you need to be getting better at. In college I was essentially a math and philosophy major but fell in with some friends on a humor magazine who were interested in writing. I decided to do a double thesis, and do a early draft of a novel for my english thesis, which was something called The Broom of the System, which ended up becoming my first book. And I went to graduate school briefly for fiction writing in Arizona. I came to Boston because in the late 80s I was pretty confused about writing and not sure what I wanted to do. I thought I would get a philosophy Ph.D from a school here in Boston. I came here and tried it for about a semester, and discovered I was too old to be in school. I lived in Boston for a couple of years and sort of drifted around and lurked with vague ideas of researching something. I taught part time at Emerson down by the Cheers bar, and that’s pretty much it.

Christopher Lydon:

Who encouraged you? Who were the literary gods up there, and also who on the ground said, “David, stick with it”?

David Foster Wallace:

Well, it’s real weird. College was neat for me because I had sort of been a jock in high school. In college I discovered that I really liked my classes and also that I was smart and could have authority figures pat me on the head for stuff. So I began working real hard in college. A lot of my professors would point out that my papers were really more like stories than papers, and while they were good they were a little bit strange.

The first thing that I remember reading that made me absolutely want to write fiction was a short story by Donald Barthelme called The Balloon. A lot of my encouragement has been less from teachers and other writers than from my peers. My best friend from Amherst who’s now a D.A. in New York was writing before I was and really brought me along.

Christopher Lydon:

Who was that?

David Foster Wallace:

His name’s Mark Costello. He’s from Winchester actually originally.

Christopher Lydon:

Mark Costello from Winchester. This is a writer we’ve got to get to know. Who are the others?

David Foster Wallace:

Most of the people in Boston who I knew were poets rather than fiction writers. There was kind of a poetry mafia in Cambridge — Tom Lux teaches at Sarah Lawrence but I think he still lives in Newton. At that time Mary Karr lived in Belmont. She’s now in Syracuse. Marie Howe, I believe, still lives here. Lucie Brock-Broido still lives here. At that time Debra Spark, who’s a fiction writer, lived here. Lucy Grealy, who ended up writing an autobiography about losing her jaw to cancer, lived here. It was weird. I have a hard time in big cities, and I think one of the reasons I hung around long enough to research the book was that I had really wonderful friends and the community was cool, and you don’t get that in a small town the same way.

Christopher Lydon:

David Foster Wallace is our guest, his new novel — it’s his second novel and his third book — is this huge doorstop of a post-modern, experimental, funny, dark, incredibly compelling… my taste does not run to avant-garde fiction generally, but this is an irresistible book. I was dreading it, and then I didn’t want it to stop. Don is calling from Rockport.

Don:

I have a short question. Just talking on your program months ago with John Updike about Thomas Pynchon, who gave a kind plaudit to him… is Mr. Wallace the Generation X’s Tom Pynchon?

Christopher Lydon:

David Wallace, what do you think?

David Foster Wallace:

I’d need some kind of cogent explanation of what Generation X is. I hear the term a lot and I’ve honestly never understood what it means. I don’t know Pynchon as well as you do, but for me Pynchon is a quintessentially sixties writer. His sensibility comes out of the late Beats of the sixties. One of the things that I think my generation misses is that real sense of unity and community in the sixties. One of the things I find amusing about Generation X is that it’s kind of a clumsy attempt to form some kind of rubric or community out of our generation. I’m 34, so we’re talking mostly about people who are younger than I, but I think one of the difficulties of my generation is that there’s a great amount of atomism and anomie, and there doesn’t feel like a whole lot of a community. There aren’t a whole lot of shared values. There aren’t a whole lot of shared ideals. I mean [Generation X] seems silly. It seems like it’s trying to impose some kind of sixties type agenda on a generation that as far as I can see is essentially very lost and lonely.

Christopher Lydon:

There is an incredibly lost and lonely feeling running through this whole book, I’ve got to say, running through maybe all of American life at the end of this century. Can you talk about the lost and lonely piece?

David Foster Wallace:

When I started the book the only idea I had is I wanted to do something about America that was sad but wasn’t just making fun of America. Most of my friends are extremely bright, privileged, well-educated Americans who are sad on some level, and it has something, I think, to do with loneliness. I’m talking out of my ear a little bit, this is just my opinion, but I think somehow the culture has taught us or we’ve allowed the culture to teach us that the point of living is to get as much as you can and experience as much pleasure as you can, and that the implicit promise is that will make you happy. I know that’s almost offensively simplistic, but the effects of it aren’t simplistic at all. I don’t have children but I’m sort of obsessed with the idea of what my children will think of me, and of us, and of what we’ve done with all we’ve been given, and why we are so sad.

Christopher Lydon:

Did you pick this up, did you talk about it, did you notice it among your friends in Boston? Or more in terms of your own parents, your siblings, or what?

David Foster Wallace:

You know it’s hard to say. I know a certain amount of it parallels my own experience, which was that I got real lucky early on in my twenties and had some career success and got a lot of the stuff that I thought, “If only I could get that then I would be all right,” and then discovering that I wasn’t. This sounds kind of embarrassing. I was raised in an academic environment and in a pretty middle-class one. I’d never really seen how a lot of other people lived. My chance to see that was here in Boston, and a lot of it was in the halfway houses for this book. I didn’t really understand emotionally that there are people around who didn’t have enough to eat, who weren’t warm enough, who didn’t have a place to live, whose parents beat the hell out of them regularly. And again when you say it it sounds really clichéd and blah blah blah blah. We read about it in newspapers, but to get to look into the eyes of people like this…

Christopher Lydon:

Is the sadness in seeing it, David, or in confronting a life that hasn’t experienced any of that?

David Foster Wallace:

I’m not explaining it well. The sadness isn’t in seeing it. The sadness is in realizing, for me, at age 27 or 28, how phenomenally lucky I’ve been, not only to have never been hungry or cold, but to be educated, to have access to books. Never before in history has a country been so blessed, materially and intellectually, and yet we’re miserable.

Christopher Lydon:

For me, the experience of reading this book will forever be entwined with the last five days of the New Hampshire Republican primary, this sense that nobody gets out of here unwounded or with much of a clue about where in the world this society wants to go.

David Foster Wallace:

The thing that strikes me about the election is watching everyone contort about not raising taxes and balancing the budget. I don’t know what this has to do with the book, but it seems bizarre to me that we are one of the least taxed industrial nations on Earth, that we demand all these services, punish politicians who raise our taxes, and then dislike politicians for lying when we encourage them to lie. I guess what makes me sad is that I would like my generation to realize that it would be way better for us, like inside, in our stomachs, to be willing to pay higher taxes to be able to shelter and feed poor people, not for their sake but for ours, so that we would be the sort of culture that doesn’t let people die. And instead we’re all so worried about an extra 4% off our monthly paycheck that we get all exercised about it. And I see you looking at me… I know this sounds all pious and weird and it’s got nothing to do with the book, but doing this book was hard for me because it was about why exactly are we so sad and how have we become so unbelievably selfish, like lethally selfish and self-indulgent.

Christopher Lydon:

I have to tell you, David Wallace looks like a tennis jock. He looks like the ex-captain of the Boston University tennis team. And he’s about to be the hottest writer in the universe. His book is like nothing else I’ve ever read. Amanda is calling from Brighton.

Amanda:

Mr. Wallace, I was wondering if you were working on another piece for Harper’s at the moment?

David Foster Wallace:

The editor at Harper’s, Colin Harrison, has figured out that what he needs to do is come up with assignments that make me just short of suicidal. The more miserable I am on an assignment the funnier an essay he gets, so he and his brain trust are trying to come up with something more hair-raising than a cruise.

Christopher Lydon:

You took a cruise and wrote about it?

David Foster Wallace:

Yes sir.

Amanda:

And my second question is, as a former resident of central Illinois, I’d like to know what drew you back there?

David Foster Wallace:

Yeah it sure wasn’t the geography… it’s land that looks ironed. There’s a lot of different reasons. I liked things about Boston, but I am not wired for the East Coast. For one thing it’s loud here, and I can’t take constant noise. I don’t really like being snarled at by people in convenience stores. There’s bad stuff about the Midwest, plenty of bad stuff, but one thing about it is that folks smile at you and use their turn signals. I haven’t heard a car alarm since I moved to Bloomington. These are small things but it turns out I need a lot of quiet. But it’s very nice to be back to visit.

Christopher Lydon:

Katie is calling from Newton.

Katie:

I just wanted to say I really loved The Broom of the System. I’d never read anything like it.

Christopher Lydon:

Where do I get a copy?

Katie:

That’s what I want to know. I’ve lost mine and I want to know if it’s still in print.

David Foster Wallace:

I’m trying to think. That’s gone in and out of print and on and off various remainder tables. I think Little Brown, because this is doing well, is going to bring it back into print, but usually that takes six months or nine months or something like that.

Christopher Lydon:

Jim is calling from Concord.

Jim:

I have not read the book, I confess, but it is my intention to hang up the phone and rush out to buy a copy. But I had a question about the title. “Infinite Jestobviously comes from Hamlet’s famous gravesite elegy to his court jester, Yorick. My question, Mr. Wallace, is if there is any other deeper significance for the title for you?

David Foster Wallace:

There are about 170 different dimensions for me. The book was sort-of written for a relative of mine who died, who I knew well and no longer know, and one of the characters is an art-film director whose company is Poor Yorick Entertainment. There’s a fair amount of Hamlet stuff. I think to the extent that we’re a generation we’re kind of a Hamlet-ish one.

Christopher Lydon:

Hamlet fits into the lost and lonely, Gen-X mode himself. There he was temping his way through life until poor dad got it.

David Foster Wallace:

Didn’t do Ophelia any good either.

Christopher Lydon:

There was a Gen-X romance, I think. How many Hamlet references are there in the book?

David Foster Wallace:

I don’t know about references. When you’re doing something long you’ve usually got a whole tapestry of other stuff in your head at the time. And Hamlet was one, because I’d read it in high school and blah blah blah blah the language was hard. I reread it when I was 26 or 27, and of course if it’s a time when you yourself are confused and also full of self-loathing for your inability to act it’s something that punches you in the stomach, the way it didn’t when you were in high school. I know that’s kind of a meandering answer… I don’t know how many references there are.

Christopher Lydon:

Mike is calling from Roslindale

Mike:

I haven’t read the book but I’ve read some reviews of it that comment on the fact that Americans seem to be fascinated with entertainment, and I was wondering if you could make some comment on that area.

David Foster Wallace:

Well, that’s more or less what the book’s about, America’s relationship to entertainment. This film, Infinite Jest, is a movie that’s so good that once you watch it you want only to watch it over and over and over again. It is the star by which imperfect entertainment steers. And the guy who makes it kills himself because it’s lethal.

Christopher Lydon:

People who watch it kill themselves.

David Foster Wallace:

Well, to an extent. Their spiritual energies are somewhat depleted, and people are willing to cut digits off to see it over and over again. In the book Canada’s not particularly pleased with the U.S., and certain Canadian groups are planning to get hold of a copy of the film to disseminate in the U.S. to get the U.S. to kill itself. It’s sort of like choking to death on candy.

Christopher Lydon:

All the reviewers make some reference to the title of Neil Postman’s book, Amusing Ourselves to Death. That does seem to be one of the main metaphors of the society and of the book, is it not?

David Foster Wallace:

To an extent, although really the book is strategically set in the future. It’s not really supposed to be a reflection of the way things are now but a kind of extrapolation on trends. I remember seeing Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, where everybody has TVs coming on rods out of their foreheads and everybody’s watching TV all the time… it’s not quite that. When you think about how first HDTV’s going to come, then there’s going to be virtual reality, and then there’s the prospect of things like virtual reality porn… we’re going to have to come to some sort of understanding about how much we’re going to allow ourselves, because it’s probably going to get a lot more fun than real life.

Christopher Lydon:

Then there’s the other thought that I tend to subscribe to, that broadcast television is already dead, and that the new world of interactive media, the Internet world, is a counter to that and not an extension.

David Foster Wallace:

The idea, though, that improved technology is going to solve the problems that the technology has caused seems to me to be a bit quixotic. I understand that there’s a certain amount of hope about the Internet democratizing people and activating them. The fact of the matter is that it seems to me if you’ve still got a nation of people sitting in front of screens interacting with images rather than each other, feeling lonely and so needing more and more images, you’re going to have the same basic problem. And the better the images get, the more tempting it’s going to be to interact with images rather than other people, and I think the emptier it’s going to get. That’s just a suspicion and just my own opinion.

Christopher Lydon:

Richard is on the line in Cambridge.

Richard:

I want to go back to The Broom of the System, which I loved. I was curious if what got you to write that more than anything else was the desire to play with dialogue. It’s full of such unbelievably inventive dialogue. Few books have made me laugh out loud quite so much.

David Foster Wallace:

It was hard when that book came out because the Japanese lady from The New York Times and other people said it was a rip-off of The Crying of Lot 49, which in my own defense I claim I had not read at that time. But there were parts of it that were a rip-off of an Argentine writer named Manuel Puig, who is best known for the book that Kiss of the Spider Woman is based on. And most of his stuff is entirely in dialogue. One of my professors was also a playwright, and so that was a time when I was real excited by dialogue. I mean it’s straight dialogue without attribution, so the reader has to tell who is talking by difference cadences. That was fun.

Richard:

The ending left me a little bit perplexed. Maybe it was supposed to.

David Foster Wallace:

You don’t want to hear my explanation of the ending.

Christopher Lydon:

Tom is calling from Wellesley.

Tom:

I just had a quick follow up on this whole idea of Gen-X and yuppie angst and neuroses… whether our culture of work is starting to contribute to that? Whether we’re reverting to this Victorian idea of work as religion? I was wondering if you could respond to that?

David Foster Wallace:

My knowledge of the Victorians is not what it might be. Most of my friends and I tend to be pretty neurotic about achievement and jobs and who’s doing what, who’s got what. I’m not sure. Generalizing from some of the people I know, I think what’s causing the unhappiness isn’t the work. It’s the attitude towards the work. It’s not that the work is enjoyed or fulfilling in itself, it’s more about how the work stacks up with other peoples work, how much am I making, what does my boss think of me, all the standard psychic sludge.

Christopher Lydon:

David Wallace, this is a big subject, you’re a big man. Is there more to come here? Is there a lifetime ahead for a 34 year old writer who’s just delivered a thousand page bomb on us?

David Foster Wallace:

I think assuming I drive carefully, sure.

Christopher Lydon:

Please do. Thank you very, very much. Thank you for being here, and thank you for this marvelous book.

David Foster Wallace:

Thank you

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