Category: David Foster Wallace

ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE directed by Jim Jarmusch (UK / Germany, 2013)

The future's so dark you have to wear shades.

The future’s so dark you have to wear shades.

Adam and Eve (Tom Hiddleson & Tilda Swinton) must be the coolest vampires ever to haunt the big screen.

They look so perfect together – an Emo Goth and an ice maiden, black on white.

A still of them lying naked together is so faultless it looks suspiciously like it’s been photo-shopped but who cares?

As an ageless undead couple they are  resigned to living by night; wearing shades to protect their eyes from the glare of moonlight. Continue reading


The Crying Of Lot 49′ by Thomas Pynchon (first published in 1967)

This is not a review because, having struggled with this novel, I can’t think of anything meaningful to say that hasn’t already been said elsewhere on the net. It has the feel of a novel written while under the influence of LSD and probably makes more sense if the reader is tripping too.

Here are two quotes from pg 66 of the Picador paperback edition I read :

“Oedipa wondered whether, at the end of this (if it were supposed to end) she too might not be left with only compiled memories of clues, announcements. intimations, but never the central truth itself, which must somehow each time be too bright for her memory to hold; which must always blaze out, destroying its own message irreversibly; leaving an overexposed blank when the ordinary world came back”.  

“I’m not sure I understand, Oedipa said”. Continue reading

SIGNIFYING RAPPERS by David Foster Wallace & Mark Costello

(Back Bay Books, 2013 – originally published 1990).

“Can blue men sing the whites, or are they hypocrites?” was the surreal and satirical question posed by the Bonzo Dog Band in 1968. In Signifying Rappers, David Foster Wallace (DFW) and Mark Costello are more in earnest when they ask themselves “What business do two white yuppies have trying to do a sampler on rap?”

In both instances, the question could be reframed as ‘What do privileged white people know about the music of disenfranchised blacks?’

Section one of the DFW & Costello’s book is called ‘Entitlement’ and, in it, they seek to convince the readers that they are qualified to analyse rap music despite being of the ‘wrong’ class and color. We learn of their frustration with Punk and other supposedly anti-establishment music which has been appropriated by the mainstream as the acceptable (i.e. unthreatening) face of rebellion. Continue reading

LOST IN THE FUNHOUSE a short story by John Barth (1968)

I read this story to plug a gap in my literary knowledge and as background research as part of my re-reading of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. The style and experimentation certainly helps put Wallace’s magnum opus into context.

When you read of Barth’s Ambrose it hard not to think of DFW’s “communicatively challenged” Hal Incandenza : “Ambrose was at that awkward age. his voice came out all high-pitched as a child’s if he let himself get carried away: to be on the safe side, therefore, he moved and spoke with deliberate calm and adult gravity”. 

Above all it is the self referential, ‘metafiction’ of Barth’s story that is most striking and entertaining.  Wallace didn’t use this postmodern device so much in IJ but you find the influence in his shorter fiction, notably the closing story in his Girl With Curious Hair collection called Westward The Course Of Empire Takes Its Way. Continue reading

With some relief, I have finally come to end of another term of teaching English as a foreign language at Bologna University.

How to end courses on a positive note is always an issue for me. I dislike scheduling an end of course test for the final lesson, preferring to get this out of the way beforehand.

In this way, I can set aside the last class to include a kind of ‘where can you go from here’ pep talk.

My model for this kind of address is David Foster Wallace’s amazing ‘this is water’ talk at South Kenyon college. Brilliant as this speech was, there’s also something reassuring about the fact that the students who heard his talk were not immediately in awe of Wallace’s brilliance.

I am happy if my more humble speech avoids sounding too pompous or obvious.

On the whole, I probably need to include more humour. For better or worse, here’s what I said [my bracketed comments were added afterwards]:

“Nowadays, it’s common to hear people talking about life-long learning.

[I ask who has heard of lifelong learning – nobody has!]

One time, there was the mistaken idea that when you finished school or university, your official period of learning was finished – your next goal was directed solely to working and earning a living.

Learning is not a finite thing.   In one sense it never ends.

[The students look as though they are thinking: ‘Where is all this leading? / Does he think we’re dumb?]

People who remain curious about the world are, in my view, those who are most alive.

Learning a language is a very particular case.

[The students look as though they are thinking: ‘He DOES think we’re dumb’]

Continue reading


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