Into the mind of David Foster Wallace

(First page of a handwritten draft of Infinite Jest by DFW, via HRC @ U of T.)

A year ago I explained why I thought it would be so rewarding if the world could get a deeper look at the personal correspondence of the late, great David Foster Wallace. Bravo to his longtime publisher, Little, Brown and Company, and to the University of Texas at Austin, who are making it happen. Many of his letters and other personal notes, annotations and scribbles will soon be available at the Harry Ransom Center, a research library and museum at UT. “David’s letters are delightful to read in themselves,” affirmed his longtime editor Michael Pietsch, “and we hope that scholars will benefit from finding his notes to his editors and copy editors in the same archive with his draft manuscripts, journals and other correspondence.” The archive opens in fall 2010; in the meantime here’s a taste of what’s in store.


A few years back when I was working on craft at USF, I found inspiration in the idea that writers work in perpetual dialogue with their fellow scribes — not just immediate peers, but also those across geography and time. The books whose authors spoke to you — the ones that you kept returning to and sat with and spoke back to — granted insight and spurred productivity as much as any workshopping of manuscripts ever did. That kind of literary communion was something David Foster Wallace knew well. The archive at UT has already put some of his on display, with this look inside some of DFW’s intricately annotated books. (Click on the images at the above link to zoom in.) Inside his copy of The Puttermesser Papers, for example, you can see his studied list of Cynthia Ozick’s diction, from “telluric” to “pullulating” to “fructuous.” Notes scrawled inside the cover of Don Delillo’s Players reveal traces of his thinking about The Pale King, a novel he had yet to complete at his death: “Guy hired as lawyer for IRS. Sent to Peoria, but no one ever complains or contests audits in Peoria.”

Even just visually, as his copy of “Borges: A Life” shows, it’s easy to see that DFW’s immersions went deep:

There’s also a poignancy to seeing these snatches of handwritten script, an intimate reminder of his tragic, early exit. May the scholars soon get to work at UT and take us even deeper into the mind and methods of one of the great writers of his generation.

UPDATE: Lots more on the contents of the DFW archive from the New Yorker’s Book Bench blog.

Advertisements

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: