David Lipsky & David Foster Wallace - The parts of me that used to think I was different or smarter or whatever, almost made me die

David Lipsky, Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace (Broadway Books, 2010)

«David Lipsky followed David Foster Wallace around the Midwest for five days in 1996, his tape recorder running for nearly the entire time. While the Rolling Stone article that Lipsky was interviewing Wallace for never ran, Lipsky held onto the tapes. Now, 14 years later, the tapes have been transcribed verbatim (including many “off the record” comments) and published as Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip With David Foster Wallace. To be a fly-on-the-wall for their rambling conversation is an exhilarating experience.
Lipsky and Wallace talk about writers as varied as Stephen King, Elizabeth Wurtzel, and John Updike. They sit in the front of a theater to catch the action flick Broken Arrow. Wallace gives a reading at a bookstore for Infinite Jest, his recently released masterpiece, and he’s ambushed with an excruciating question and answer session (his least favorite part of readings). Lipsky and Wallace talk about Wallace’s rumored illicit drug abuse (just rumors, for the most part) and depression. Every word takes on new, haunted meaning through the lens of Wallace’s suicide, which Lipsky addresses in the afterward.
Lipsky makes minimal contributions to the text—fragmentary questions and explanations—that only give the reader the barest sense of the settings and context. Could the book have worked a little better as a proper biography of Wallace, with the interview cut up? That was my first thought when I started reading it. But it’s clear that Lipsky and his editor made the right choice: Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself is an intimate portrait told mostly in Wallace’s own words. It’s as close to an autobiography as we’ll ever get, and it deserves a spot on the bookshelf of every David Foster Wallace fan.» - Andrew Shaffer

«You know just from the fact of it that Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, David Lipsky’s road-trip bio/interview of DFWallace, is gonna be sad, or maybe not so much sad as hard: it’s Wallace in here, almost undiluted and pure, and while it’s wonderful to have this transcript, to have more bits of his voice to digest, it’s frustrating to know how little more there will be. Meaning: if you want to feel even shittier about September 12, 2008, read this book.
If you read this site at all, you care about books, and I can’t imagine anyone who presently cares about books who wouldn’t know/care quite a bit about DFWallace as well. Maybe that’s myopia. Regardless: sometime after his death, Rolling Stone ran this article which drew from some interview Lipsky’d done in ‘96, literally right after Jest came out (like: on the book tour, specifically the last stop of the tour, which just so happened to be in St. Paul’s own dearly beloved + departed Hungry Mind Books [which was later named Ruminator, and which has since bit dust in all nomenclatures], which was where this reviewer first found out about and/or purchased copies of all sorts of massively important [to me] work [House of Leaves, Conjunctions 37, most of the first lit journals I ever purchased]). That Rolling Stone article was largely good (despite [and I can't imagine I'm the only one who felt this] that Lipsky seemed to go out of his way to articulate that Franzen was Wallace’s best friend…I didn’t know Wallace and don’t know Lipsky or Franzen, so maybe that’s how Wallace spoke of Franzen all the time ["my best friend"], but it felt weird–seriously, the phrase was used at least 3 times) and sad, which was about par for the course at that time (D. T. Max’s New Yorker piece was amazingly good and smart and sad, but it also had a hell of a lot less Wallace in it, so).
Well so now there’s this book, Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, and let’s get the public-service part of this review out of the way first: of course you need to buy this fucking book, are you kidding? Of course you buy it. It’s flawed and it’s got issues and those things don’t, in the end, matter anywhere near enough to prohibit purchase. Make haste to some clickable venue and add that shit to yr cart now.
So, the book: It’s actually mostly a wonder, is mostly just a transcript of Wallace’s voice, funny and self-involved and -examining and inbent and him, just so totally him. This is also the most happy I’ve ever read his speaking voice—he comes out several times and admits pride in Jest, at the accomplishment of it (not that it’s a massive book, but that he’d dumped himself into something and had worked as hard as he possibly could), he owns a love of writing and faith in the bother of the hard work of fiction at all. He sounds great in this book, largely: he sounds anxious about what the result of the hype surround Jest might mean, but he sounds great.
And, of course, by ‘great’ I mean he sounds Wallace-ian great: totally self-aware, clever and quick, both grateful and anxious at what he’s just gone through (think for a second of what it was he’d actually gone through. Toward the book’s end, Lipsky and Wallace work through Wallace’s chronology, and it’s harrowing: from McLean’s to Jest in less than a decade. Consider how you’d be doing. Plus it’s not just the writing he’d gotten through, it was the grind of the hype, the packed readings, the interviews, all of it. I’ve never had a book published, but imagine putting out a 1000+ page monster and having folks ask you the same questions over and over, and you have to sit there, knowing they haven’t even read the fucker).
Why’s the book frustrating, even mildly? Maybe I’ll be all alone in this, but this book wobbles, for me, because Lipsky seems like an absolute dick. He really does. And his dickishness has everything to do with how he seems to doubt Wallace. Let me be real clear: I never met Wallace, so maybe in person he really did come across as someone who was constantly and overtly trying to please/appease whoever he spoke with, but Lipsky, just in his questions, in the shape their conversation took, betrays a nagging doubt with Wallace’s authenticity (which, in fairness to Lipsky, would’ve been close to impossible not to sniff like mad and wag the conversation’s tail at: Wallace allows how the whole thing of writing a book and enjoying the success vs. being suspicious of the success is madness inducing, he does this over and over. Page 256: “Intensely good for thirty seconds, and then you’re hungry for more. And so that, clearly, I mean if you’re not stupid, you figure out that the real problem is the discontented self. That all this stuff that you think will work for a second, but then all it does is set up a hunger for more and better.” Anyone who’s read enough Wallace knows this was the big slippery trap for him, always.).
The other big way this is manifest in the book, and the way that it’s much more frustrating to deal with, is Lipsky’s continual little bracketed insertions thorughout the text, stuff he (presumably) wrote years after the actual interview (meaning=2010), and these bracketed insertions are Lipsky again doubting Wallace, Lipsky trying to get a meta-read on the whole of the interview. These moments of bracketed insertions aren’t everywhere, but they’re present enough, and they end up making Lipsky seem both 1) like someone who, through noting how Wallace is clearly trying to shape the scope of the conversation, somehow therefore doubts the authenticity of Wallace’s answers (but anyone with even two fucking synapses firing would have to be anxious and suspicious of how an interview in Rolling Stone would appear; Jest deals with this shit so directly it’s sort of shocking that Lipsky would have such a response to it), and, maybe worse, 2) like someone who thinks his readers need his help. Which, I don’t know, maybe, but the little insertions seem thin and weak and dumb, like chances for Lipsky to insert himself into the text, to put his own little decodings of certain situations inside the whole thing.
It’s a bizarre thing, honestly. I loved the book—I’ll love anything with Wallace—but Lipsky suffers a bit in this book. Again: I’m sure he’s a nice guy, but it’s hard to read at times. He clearly digs the hell out of Wallace—the preface and afterward, both at the book’s front, show him to be a decent and engaged guy and someone who seems to’ve wanted to present Wallace as clearly as possible. Unfortunately, he gets in his own way at times. The crucial bit of this comes at p. 216, when Lipsky, compression whatever he must’ve said, writes “There’s still something basically fakeabout your approach here. To some degree. Which is this: that I think you still feel you’re smarter than other people. And you’re acting like someone—you’re acting like someone who’s about thirty-one or thirty-two, who’s playing in the kid’s softball game, and is trying to hold back his power hitting, to check his swing at the plate, more or less... you make a point of holding back—there’s a point, there’s something obvious about you somehow in a gentle way holding back what you’re aware of as your intellegince to be with people who are somehow younger or…” Wallace gets snappish— “Boy, that would make me a real asshole, wouldn’t it?”—and then he digs further into it, in a line that’s just harrowing now to read: “The parts of me that used to think I was different or smarter or whatever, almost made me die.”
I don’t know the words to use for how Lipsky seems in this exchange, but it comes close to something like ungenerous, which is hard. Again: it’s not everywhere, doesn’t show up on every page, but it comes up enough to be of note. What’s gallows-funny about this thing Lipsky does is that it shows starkly + clearly why Wallace’d be so fucking cautious to talk to anyone in publicity at all to begin with: if what he says gets fundamentally doubted, why even bother? I’m glad Lipsky got this, and I’m thrilled the book exists, and I suppose the best thing is that, by the end, you feel even more tender toward Wallace than you already may have.
(a note: I hadn’t seen this interview with Lipsky, and he levels the same criticisms against himself as I have, so maybe he’s not a dick at all, and was just young and not too kind. Regardless.)» - Weston Cutter

«When David Lipsky meets David Foster Wallace, it's 1996, Infinite Jest has just been released, and Wallace is the most famous literary writer in America. The author is also using a Barney the Purple Dinosaur towel as a bedroom curtain in his Illinois home. On the wall is a poster of Alanis Morissette. "If by some paradox," he tells Lipsky, a novelist who's there to profile him for Rolling Stone, "this whole fuss could get me some kind of even just like a five-minute cup of tea with her, that would be more than reward enough." Later, Wallace will confess to being drawn to "squeaky orgasmic quality" in Morissette's voice, part of a catalogue of musical idiosyncrasies that also turns out to include Huey Lewis, INXS, Nirvana, and Enya. The latter two, we learn, provided the soundtrack while the author worked on Jest.
Lipsky's Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip With David Foster Wallace, "a biography in five days" harvested from the tapes of a never-published article, is full of these kind of everyman details about a writer who often seemed larger than life. Wallace chews tobacco. The women's magazine Cosmopolitan, he tells Lipsky, is "fundamentally soothing to the nervous system." Wallace likes to make a distinction between what he calls "good self-consciousness" and " toxic, paralyzing, raped-by-psychic-Bedouins self-consciousness." At various moments during their time together, Lipsky seems to bring on the latter but—as a fellow burgeoning writer and a guy about Wallace's age—just as often helps assuage it. "I'm thirty years old," writes Lipsky, setting the scene: "he's thirty-four. We both have long hair." Rolling Stone sent the right guy: he gets Wallace to talk, often late into the night.
Becoming Yourself is the first of two heavily anticipated Wallace biographies to hit shelves (the other, by the New Yorker's D. T. Max, is due next year) in the wake of Wallace's 2008 suicide. In his
decision to focus on the man, rather than his complicated work, Lipsky
is following, to some degree, the pattern established by Little, Brown, which last year published Wallace's 2005 Kenyon College commencement address as a kind of gnomic—e.g., one lonely, zen-like sentence per page—self-help title. In life, Wallace, one of the most difficult American authors of last half century, struggled desperately to be understood—to feel "unlonely." In death, a new version of Wallace is emerging: an unfailingly polite Midwesterner with what Lipsky calls "a caffeine social gift," predisposed to the type of folksy wisdom inevitably destined for a high school yearbook. It's an odd fit for a guy who, while he was alive, shared far more writing DNA with Thomas Pynchon than he did with Deepak Chopra.
But the two Wallaces are not mutually exclusive. As Lipsky writes, the author's singular achievement, especially in his non-fiction, was capturing "everybody's brain voice"; Wallace's writing sounds the way we think, or at least the way we like to think we think. The goal of fiction, Wallace tells Lipsky, involves "leapin' over that wall of self, and portraying inner experience." Part of becoming a better person has to do with learning how "to treat ourselves the way we would treat a really good, precious friend." Throughout the book, astonishingly profound things are said in airport parking lots and rental-car cockpits. We may never have a better record of what it sounded like to hear Wallace talk. And talk. And talk.
But there is an absence in Becoming Yourself—even as Wallace emerges as a human being, his fiction, and the impossibly virtuosic, pyrotechnic stuff he did on the page, stay dispiritingly on the shelf. We are left with the vicissitudes of a long, 14-year-old interview, which is charming when they go to the Mall of America and discuss John Woo's Broken Arrow, and less so when Wallace gets halfway through explaining the mechanics of a story like "Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way," only to be gently lead by a veteran magazine writer down another, more Jann Wenner–friendly path. That's too bad. Because for a guy like David Foster Wallace, the only meaningful reality was "being in a room with a piece of paper." We care most about Wallace because of what he wrote. "That's what's real," he tells Lipsky. "The rest of this is just conversation around it."» - Zach Baron

«Losing my colleague David Wallace was difficult to accept. For months after his death, I'd see him out of the corner of my eye, sitting at the coffee place, standing in line at the movie theater, despite knowing that he couldn't, wouldn't ever be there. The loss I felt was partially personal, the sudden absence of someone I'd worked closely with and cared about a great deal, and partially professional; I've written about and taught his work for some years, and despite my knowledge that The Pale King is forthcoming, the silence where David's voice used to be remains painful.
All of which goes to explain part of the uncanniness in reading David Lipsky's Although of Course You End up Becoming Yourself. After the prefatory postlogue, in which Lipsky explains how he came to take this road trip with David, why the profile he was working on never came to be, and how David's death led him to return to the transcripts of their time together, he more or less dials himself out of the text, allowing David's voice to take center stage.
But - and there's no way to say this other than straight out -- the voice here is not that of the David I knew. Early on in the interview, of course, the difference is that he knows he's on stage; in moments like his banter about getting laid during the book tour, what we get is David performing, rather than David talking. David with all his defenses up, David doing a certain kind of PR dance. But even later in his time with Lipsky, once the performative aspect subsides, the voice on the page is still that of a different person from the one I knew.
I met David when he was 40 and had lived with his fame and its fallout for several years, and so had internalized his self-protective mechanisms. The David who is on the road six years earlier is still audibly grappling with the self-consciousness that this fame produced in him, uncertain of what it will mean for his work, whether the work will ever be able to live up to the expectations that Infinite Jest would create. "It's a very fine line," he tells Lipsky. "I don't mind appearing in Rolling Stone, but I don't want to appear in Rolling Stone as somebody who wants to be in Rolling Stone." That line, at 34, was not just fine but potentially a tripwire.
Perhaps most heartbreaking in reading these transcripts are the moments at which we now know him to be holding back the truth, a truth that couldn't then be part of his public persona. Lipsky interjects, late in the text:
[Wouldn't it be great to fall in through this transcript, back to that house, and tell him to live differently, explain to him how it was all going to go? It's suddenly odd that this isn't possible.]
Not "odd," I'd say, but devastating, recognizing with hindsight that, for instance, the antidepressants to which he could not admit in 1996 were one of the things that were keeping him alive, that their removal eleven years later would prove to be the beginning of the end.
One might wish for more of David thinking about writing here, and less of David thinking about his success, but then, that wasn't what Rolling Stone would have been seeking, and so those weren't the questions that Lipsky asked. In the end, what's remarkable about Although of Course You End up Becoming Yourself is the degree to which it makes clear how little I knew -- how little any of us could know -- about the self that he became, apart from the astonishing writer with whom I had the privilege of working: how much, as if this weren't already clear, of the writer's self must of necessity remain hidden in places to which no one else, not even the best of interviewers, can have access.» - Kathleen Fitzpatrick

“Suicide is such a powerful end, it reaches back and scrambles the beginning,” David Lipsky writes in an introductory note to Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, the 310-page transcript of his 1996 interview with David Foster Wallace. That’s well-put, but it won’t prepare you for the experience of reading the conversation that follows, which took place over five days at the end of Wallace’s Infinite Jest reading tour, and is just now being published. The specter of Wallace’s 2008 suicide haunts this time-capsule dialogue, and I imagine that some of the author’s fans will approach the book, consciously or not, with their guards up. I found myself annoyed for the first 100 pages—bothered by Lipsky’s literary scorekeeping, and by Wallace’s neurotic approach to media attention (Lipsky works for Rolling Stone) and fear that he’ll become the kind of person who appears on game shows (huh?). But these turned out to be small complaints, hardly enough resistance to stop this book’s soul-crushing sadness, which soon enough came rumbling through.
It’s scary to peer into the mind of a man who later hanged himself, especially when much of what he wrote seemed to take life so seriously. But one thing that the book makes clear is that Wallace’s vigor and awe-inspiring writing was, in some ways, part of a deeply intricate personal effort to beat death. As he warms up, Wallace talks about an earlier suicide attempt and his stay at a halfway house. Throughout, he reveals how hard he’s worked—on his writing, sure, but also on the way he thinks. For him, the avoidance of depression became an art form.
The book has some elements of good fiction: blind spots, character development and a powerful narrative arc. By the end, no amount of sadness can stand in the way of this author’s personality, humor and awe-inspiring linguistic command. His commentary reveals how much he lived the themes of his writing; all of his ideas about addiction, entertainment and loneliness were bouncing around in his head relentlessly. Most of all, this book captures Wallace’s mental energy, what his ex-girlfriend Mary Karr calls “wattage,” which remains undimmed.» - Michael Miller

«In 1996 the United States was feverish over a book. Bandana-clad David Foster Wallace, 34, published a dense, 1,079-page novel called Infinite Jest – about tennis, terrorists, addicts. The shy English professor from Bloomington, Ill., achieved instant rock-star fame. Magazines demanded interviews; he granted some, but only one interviewer, David Lipsky of Rolling Stone, got to hang out with the rock star of novelists, at his home.
It's interesting that this interview ever happened. Wallace probably allowed it because Lipsky was even younger, only 30, and was himself a novelist, having published The Art Fair to New York City acclaim that year. The two novelists met in Bloomington in 1996, then flew, drove, ate, smoked – “brothers of the lung,” for Wallace – and talked during the latter days of the book tour in support of Infinite Jest. However, Rolling Stone ultimately scratched the profile.
Then, in 2008, Wallace, 46, committed suicide by hanging. The public appetite for anything about Wallace meant that Lipsky's notes from that five-day trip in 1996 metamorphosed into a Rolling Stone article entitled The Lost Years and Last Days of David Foster Wallace. And now a book.
Lipsky's interview-tome is a transcript of the novelists' conversations. Conversations about TV (their enemy of the day), movies, music, the Internet (in passing, although Wallace has some fine commentary on it), writers (Wallace calls Updike a “nasty person” and “mentally ill”) and fame. Lipsky craves fame, but Wallace is suspicious of it because, while he knows he “wrote a pretty good book,” he's dubious about all the fuss, considering that Infinite Jest takes, in his words, “at least two months to read well” and that nobody had even read it yet.
The book is made up of italicized questions from Lipsky and then regular text for Wallace. But Lipsky interpolates commentary with editor's brackets – “[Interesting and very sad: setting the novel the year after his death]” – into Wallace's segments, which is irritating. Lipsky further confuses by commenting with parentheses – e.g., “(Testy)” – so that the reader pauses to clarify if it's a Wallacean aside, or more Lipsky.
While the book is interesting and yields neat stuff that makes you appreciate Wallace's humanity – he surprisingly asks Lipsky what “seigneurial” means – the problem is that the interview hasn't been silently corrected: It's full of gaffes. I know it's Wallace unplugged, but it's vexing to read pages of “I mean I know, you know, I mean I . . .” or “and uh, so, so no.”
Lipsky furthermore fails to follow up on questions that Wallace gets distracted from – like his definition of the Novel and the names of two senior novelists who were Wallace's pen pals. DFW later confuses Blythe Danner with her daughter, Gwyneth Paltrow, in discussing the film Seven, and Lipsky either doesn't notice or doesn’t bother to correct it.
To get a radiant interview, you need an interviewer to be subordinate to the subject. Not Lipsky. He swats one of Wallace's dogs on the nose – in Wallace's home! And he's full of himself, when all you want is for the book to be full of David Foster Wallace. Here's Lipsky in the Afterword: “In a few years, I'd get my taste of things I'd wanted – TV, contracts, bestseller list.” Bravo, my good man, but more Wallace please. After 14 years and with Lipsky having the luxury of redacting his commentary from today's vantage point, the interview feels both young and dated.
Still, it's nice to have Wallace's brainvoice in your head, and Lipsky does turn up some finds. That Wallace loved velvety cotton and consequently appropriated his sister's softer blouses; that he felt inferior to novelist William T. Vollmann; that he was a towel boy at a private club and a security guard for Lotus Software Corp. (after two books and O. Henry and Whiting awards!). Also, that he never heard of Kurt Cobain until after Cobain's suicide, drank two six-packs of pop a day, loved Enya's music and burned for Alanis Morissette.
While you might expect cosmic connections of the Wallace = suicide variety, there aren't any, although Lipsky makes a melodramatic comment of the if-only-I-could-have-warned-him-then variety. The only moving thing is the heartfelt greeting Wallace gives his dogs upon his return home – “I'm never leaving you again … I swear, I swear” – while knowing that he did leave them for good in September, 2008.
When Wallace riffs on aesthetics, the book is interesting, but not brilliant. But it does serve the valuable function of portraying Wallace as he was: human and tormented. Ultimately, the most memorable item comes from Wallace's good friend and fellow novelist, Jonathan Franzen, who remarked that Wallace's death felt like a sci-fi movie's stock scene where a character is sucked out the air-lock into oblivion, to which Franzen bitterly added, “Does it look now like David had all the answers?”
No, of course not, because he was just becoming himself.» - Tim Jacobs

«David Foster Wallace dispenses exactly three pieces of writing advice in "Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself," David Lipsky's transcript of the five days he spent with the author on his 1996 "Infinite Jest" book tour. The last of these is as follows: "The key to writing is learning to differentiate private interest from public entertainment."
That's good advice, and in this book, Lipsky has ignored it at his peril.
On the face of it, "Although of Course" has the makings of fine public entertainment: a media-shy, immensely talented novelist suddenly forced to confront his fears when his Bible-sized masterpiece catapults him to the heights of success; the glossy magazine reporter to whom he's speaking out of obligation to his publisher; the time they spend together, driving, eating at roadside diners, building trust and having expansive conversations. The problem is that in presenting all this as little more than a lightly edited transcript of his and Wallace's tape-recorded conversations, Lipsky essentially cedes his right to make it into a coherent narrative. The result is a book frequently compelling for its bracing candor and idiosyncratic quirks that fails to live up to its promise.
To be sure, Wallace fans will devour the quips and behind-the-scenes stories found throughout the book. It's a rare look at the reclusive author in all his mundanity: berating his dogs for defecating on the rug, telling waiters that he and Lipsky aren't on a date (because he fears homophobic Midwesterners) and repeatedly spilling his can full of tobacco spittle. Wallace's folksy-but-erudite run-on sentences will be familiar to anyone who's read him, and they lend his presence a delightful immediacy and authenticity. He comes across as an Everyman genius, rhapsodizing McDonald's fries while casually dropping epigrams ("The main job of entertainment is to separate you from your cash.") and lobbing uncensored insults at the likes of Michiko Kakutani and John Updike. It's almost disturbing to hear someone with a mind of Wallace's caliber repeatedly tell Lipsky, in all sincerity, that he really isn't that smart, "but I work really hard."
"Although of Course" offers much more than just the quotidian charm of a famous man's private life. Lipsky had the good fortune to win Wallace's trust when, suddenly famous, he was forced to confront deep misgivings about commercial success and the specter of depression and suicide that had long lingered over him. Lipsky proves an adept interlocutor, and at their best these conversations give Wallace the chance to think out loud and personalize his great themes: addiction and celebrity and the isolation both could bring.
There's a beautiful 50-page stretch when, exhausted from days of travel, Lipsky and Wallace decompress with an all-nighter in the author's apartment. Without warning, Wallace launches into the story of his career to that point, talking to the recorder like it's a therapist. We hear it all, from publishing his 500-page first novel while still a student to watching his second book tank and ending up on suicide watch, after which he had to take humiliating jobs to make ends meet before finally getting just enough of a cash advance to finish "Infinite Jest." The story reaches a climax when Wallace says: "I have this thing about takin' money before it was done. I felt like it was sort of, it was jumping off the bridge. Because once I'd taken money for this thing, I knew I had to finish it.
"And, um, it was, I think after going into McLean's in '89, it was the bravest thing I'd ever done. Because every cell in my body didn't want me to do it. But I also was just -- I knew I was going to finish the thing. I mean, the thing was alive for me by then."
It's a scintillating moment, with Wallace revealing just how close "Infinite Jest" came to never having been written. But rarely does anything else in the book reach this level of narrative urgency. Rather, "Although of Course" is, essentially, a very, very long conversation, one that was never meant to be published in such a form. Lipsky tries to fix this with occasional post hoc interjections, but they're insufficient and obtrusive.
Compared with his 2008 Rolling Stone piece on Wallace -- a perceptive deconstruction of the author's suicide in which Lipsky synthesizes quotes from these tapes, original research and interviews with Wallace's family and friends -- "Although of Course" feels half-baked. Though these interviews will be manna to fans and biographers (and the latter group, especially, can be glad that Lipsky held onto these tapes), there's not enough here on which to hang a book.
Somewhere in these five days lies a tragic portrait of an author who reached the pinnacle of success, only to find that it was his undoing. "Although of Course" offers a glimpse, but the full story still remains to be told.» - Scott Esposito

«In 1996, Rolling Stone sent David Lipsky to accompany David Foster Wallace on the last leg of the book tour for Infinite Jest. The piece never came out. Instead, many years later, David Lipsky wrote a book about those five days. During the time they spent together, Lipsky couldn’t have known that Wallace was largely concealing a heart-attack-serious history of depression, drug abuse, hospitalization and ECT; they couldn’t discuss Wallace’s real involvement with 12-step programs (see Tradition, Eleventh) or the medication he was taking the whole time they were together; couldn’t address the real fragility of his recovery. Wallace took his own life twelve years after the events described. These lacunae, filled in by the modern reader, provide a dizzying, scary undertow to the book, tingeing the whole with dread, the if-they’d-only-known feeling of stories like “Jean de Florette.”
A sound drubbing should be administered to anyone who attempts to compare the film My Dinner with Andre to this book, as many careless readers doubtless will. It’s not about one wild, brilliant, look-at-me performer and one bemused, scholarly audience-member. It’s a road picture, a love story, a contest: two talented, brilliant young men with literary ambitions, and their struggle to understand one another.
I can’t tell you how much fun this book is; amazingly fun, even for a Wallace fan who is still devastated by his death. You wish yourself into the back seat as you read, come up with your own contributions and quarrels. The form of the narrative, much of which is a straight transcription of the interview tapes, together with the wry commentary of the now-mature and very gifted Lipsky, is original, and intoxicatingly intimate.
They were so much alike, these two, right at the threshold of what they’d spent long years hoping would be distinguished careers. Long-haired, smoking, keen on girls, books, TV and movies. Writers both. One of them had just hit the cultural jackpot. You can imagine the tensions here, and Lipsky doesn’t shrink from addressing them. There is professional jealousy vs. professional caginess, wariness. The desire to be liked; the desire to be a “success” as a writer, when one had so clearly “made it” and the other, not quite yet; there was a lot for them to overcome in order to reach one another.
DL: How’d it feel, though: “As if the book is a National Book Award winner already”?
DW: I applauded his taste and discernment. How’s that for a response? What do you want me to say? How would you feel? I can’t describe it; it’s indescribable. You speculate and I’ll describe.
[Slightly mean/clever smile]
DL: I’d feel I’d known all along it was OK, and here was someone actually saying what I’d hoped to hear said.
The younger Lipsky felt a little bit outgunned sometimes by the success and the teeming intellect of Wallace, though he gives as good as he gets; most of all, Lipsky has in spades the one thing that Wallace always valued most, that elusive thing he used to call “authenticity.” Both the young Lipsky and the older, wiser one who put the book together have it. He is never afraid to say just what’s on his mind, even when he knows it’s going to cost. I’m going out on a limb here, but I suspect that what was also going on was that Lipsky (stable, elegant, and confident as he appeared) never knew, maybe still doesn’t know, that Wallace must have been as jealous of him as he was of Wallace. As irritated at him for being smart, as annoyed at him for being handsome.
So it’s very satisfying, that way, in terms of offering many, many interesting avenues of conjecture.
And when they finally are at ease together, after a whole lot of edginess and caginess of the type that will be very familiar to intelligent, ambitious young people everywhere, when they forget about the risk and come out from behind their respective barricades, it’s exhilarating. There’s a glorious discussion of television, including the respective parental curbs put on the boys’ TV time, growing up. Wallace was only allowed two hours per day on weekdays; Lipsky says, “I preferred my dad’s house over Mom, one reason, because no restrictions on TV at all.” Boy it is good, that part. The book just takes flight in this developing pleasure of mutual understanding and trust. It brings Wallace down to a human scale, in a penetrating and evocative way. Not like bringing down a Goliath, though; what you have is just the two Davids.
If anyone says that David Lipsky’s personality obtrudes too much into this book, I can only say that such a person must not have known Wallace or his work too well. Well, no. I can also say that I am willing to come over and punch such a person in the nose. Wallace was the opposite of a monologist. I saw this at his readings, over and over, an inexorable demand for dialogue. (This, incidentally, is the main reason why Infinite Jest is so “difficult”; the author needs you to work, to come his way.*) Invariably, instantly, Wallace would start asking any interlocutor the questions. Some might have seen this as a way to regain control of the wheel, but I thought it more like a way of getting his balance, because he obviously loved conversation but he was very shy, too, didn’t care for curvetting before the public. Didn’t see himself in any way as a dispenser of wisdom. So he draws Lipsky out, bit by bit, and, well. I had a massive crush on both of them by the end, and I’m sure I won’t be alone in that.
(This book will make the most phenomenal movie, by the way, Hollywood!)
There is quite a lot more here to unpack but please, we can do that after you’ve read the book. So just go, take a sleeping bag, camp out at the bookstore. I’ll be here when you get back.
*Because it articulates Wallace’s position vis-à-vis his work so well, Lipsky has provided with this book a really splendid introduction for any reader who is thinking of tackling Infinite Jest. It will make IJ incalculably easier to understand, more so than any other commentary or analysis I’ve yet seen.» - Maria Bustillos

«In the wake of Infinite Jest’s publication in 1996, author David Foster Wallace was such a literary rock star that Jann Wenner, founder of Rolling Stone, assigned a journalist to write a profile of him for the magazine—an honor normally reserved for actual rock stars. The journalist was one David Lipsky, a young, ambitious writer who had authored some fiction himself: most notably, at that point, the short story collection Three Thousand Dollars. He caught up with Wallace just as the writer was about to venture on the last leg of the Infinite Jest book tour.
Together, they went from the relative tranquility of Illinois State University—where Wallace taught creative writing—to Saint Paul, Minnesota and back. Along they way they navigated the usual array of airport inconveniences and scheduling difficulties; rode freeways late into the night; ate piles of junk food; dealt with other members of the press; went to readings; caught up with some of Wallace’s college friends; and, upon returning, walked Wallace’s dogs. Lipsky kept his tape recorder running the whole time, switching it off only when his interview subject requested it or he had to change the tape.
“I never, thank God, had to write the piece,” Lipsky writes in the afterword to Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself. “I tried to write it, and kept imagining David reading it, and seeing through it, through me, and spotting some questionable stuff in the x-ray.” Lucky for us, he at least held onto the interview transcripts; these make up the body of Although Of Course.
Before I go any further, I should probably let you know whom this book is for: primarily, hardcore Jest-heads (as if there is any other kind). If you don’t like or haven’t read any Wallace, than obviously this book has very little to offer you. Fans of his non-fiction might be able to glean something of value from it, but they won’t get the full experience. To the extent that a conversation as fragmented and wide-ranging as the one recorded in this book can be said to be about anything specific, it is about the place from which Infinite Jest came.
It takes a little while for Lipsky to grasp this, mostly because he walks into the interview already coveting Wallace’s success. This causes the early portions of the book to sort of drag as Lipsky keeps bringing the focus back to fame and how it feels. But in a way, it also fits the subject at hand perfectly; Wallace sums up Infinite Jest as being about “how seductive image is,” which makes Lipsky’s early image fixation strangely resonant.
This fixation leaves Wallace on guard and clearly suspicious of Lipsky’s intentions. Early on in the book he keeps trying to give the reporter what he thinks he wants to hear, talking about how he “would have liked to get laid on the tour” with strained nonchalance and complimenting Lipsky’s intelligence. Because this is a Rolling Stone piece, and Rolling Stone is—in Wallace’s words—“jaunty,” he tries a little too hard for jauntiness.
But once Lipsky decides that he can “enjoy [Wallace] without trying to match him,” both Wallace and the book open up. If there is an emotional arc to be found here, it is how these two men eventually reach an understanding, and even bond, in classic guys-on-a-road-trip fashion. At one point, Wallace says, “If you—like, this would have been over a day ago if you hadn’t been somebody who writes novels.” They grow closer together over this shared experience, and also other things—television, movies, women.
Still, Wallace remains uncomfortable discussing his newfound fame. When Lipsky asks him what it felt like to be praised by Walter Kirn, he snaps back: “I applaud his taste and discernment. How’s that for a response? What do you want me to say?” Even late into the book, he never expresses anything approaching unqualified, unambiguous satisfaction with the attention. The closest he gets is comparing it to heroin.
He is equally reluctant to acknowledge his own talent. He repeatedly insists that he’s just a “regular guy,” if perhaps a brighter-than-average one. Lipsky thinks this a posture, but Wallace repeatedly insists that it is not. “It’s not just ‘aw-shucks, I’m just in from the country, I’m not really a writer, I’m just a regular guy,’” he says. “I’m not trying to lay some kind of shit.”
Lipsky doesn’t buy it, and his skepticism isn’t unwarranted; over the course of the book, it becomes clear that Wallace both is and isn’t laying shit. At one point, he says that there is “a certain blend of absolute naked sincerity and manipulation,” to the writing process, and this turns out to be a pretty good description of what is really going on in the “aw-shucks” routine. But he isn’t manipulating Lipsky; he’s manipulating himself. He wants to “cultivate normality,” but as Lipsky points out—not to him, but in an aside to the reader—that isn’t something that can be actively cultivated. It just is. Cultivation, then, cannot be the right word; it’s more like Wallace is trying to bury something.
We begin to see why when he talks about his depression. Reflecting on the worst of it—when he dropped out of Harvard grad school to spend eight days on suicide watch—Wallace describes it as “a midlife crisis at like twenty-seven.” This midlife crisis came after he had already found some prestige in literary circles with the publication of his first novel, Broom of the System. More importantly, it came after the benefits of that prestige had largely faded. This was the dreadful moment that Wallace writes about so often, in so many different forms: he was seduced by the praise to the point where he felt like he couldn’t live without it. And then it was gone.
“Not going back there is more important to me than anything,” says Wallace. And so he keeps the praise at arm’s length this time around, reminding himself over and over not to buy the hype. By the time Lipsky catches up with him, he is like a reformed alcoholic surrounded by people offering him a sip. The urge to give in must be overwhelming, for much the same reason Wallace would indulge in anything to excess. Alcohol, he calls an “anesthetic.” Television—“my primary addiction in my entire life,” he says—provided “the illusions of relationships with people.” All of these things provide temporary relief to the crushing, scary loneliness of living, and Wallace—who had a killer sweet tooth and a certain affection for trashy action flicks—never suggests that this is, in of itself, a bad thing. “But,” he says, “if that’s the basic/main staple of your diet, you’re gonna die. In a meaningful way, you’re going to die.”
The search for a different main staple is the driving force behind much of Wallace’s writing. In books, it seems like he found a sliver of what he was looking for: he found what he calls “this sense of a conversation around loneliness.” Fiction is where loneliness can be confronted—where the author’s “brain voice for a while becomes your brain voice”—but also where writers like Wallace can try to express deeper, immutable values for people to hold onto and find solace in. The quest to do so—and more importantly, the deeply felt yearning behind it—is a large part of what makes Wallace’s writing so human.
In September 2008, Wallace killed himself at the age of forty-six. But while the afterword to Although Of Course is appropriately elegiac, the body of the book is anything but funereal. Indeed, one of the most striking things about the interview is how funny and ingratiating Wallace seemed to be in person. For example: When the check-in girl at a motel says that he has a reservation for a room with twins, he replies, “Yes, Anita and Consuela.” The book is sprinkled with laugh-out-loud one-liners like this, and it is clear—both from the afterword and the interview itself—that Lipsky could not help but be completely charmed.
Lipsky writes that Wallace’s writing persona “was the best friend you’d ever have,” and the same thing is true of his words transcribed; perhaps because, as Lipsky notes elsewhere, “he was such a natural writer he could talk in prose.”
Although Of Course is, like anything Wallace touched, packed to the brim with content and ideas; the strongest of these is the sheer force of his personality. It is a fine memorial to a man who, while he lived, possessed immense talent, explosive genius, and a heart that dwarfed both.» - Ned Resnikoff


Post a Comment