The Two Daves: David Foster Wallace on David Lynch

“For me, the number of film directors who get national distribution in this country who are truly interesting as artists as very, very small and Lynch was one of them for me,” said David Foster Wallace in a March 1997 interview with Charlie Rose. “Blue Velvet came at a time for me when I really needed to see it. It helped me a lot in my own work.”

The interview came just after writing, what I’ve personally always held as one of my favorite pieces of observational film writing—David Lynch Keeps His Head for Premiere —DFW and Rose continue to unpack just what made Lynch such a fascinating subject and the true meaning of “Lynchian.” The Premiere essay takes a look at DFW’s time spent on the set of the haunting and heartbreaking nightmare drama Lost Highway—not interviewing Lynch but rather capturing the smaller moments like seeing Lynch pee on a tree, or what the myriad crew members thought of what they were shooting.

The first time I lay actual eyes on the real David Lynch on the set of his movie, he’s peeing on a tree. This is on 8 January in L.A.’s Griffith Park, where some of Lost Highway’s exteriors and driving scenes are being shot. He is standing in the bristly underbrush off the dirt road between the base camp’s trailers and the set, peeing on a stunted pine. Mr. David Lynch, a prodigious coffee drinker, apparently pees hard and often, and neither he nor the production can afford the time it’d take to run down the base camp’s long line of trailers to the trailer where the bathrooms are every time he needs to pee. So my first (and generally representative) sight of Lynch is from the back, and (understandably) from a distance. Lost Highway’s cast and crew pretty much ignore Lynch’s urinating in public, (though I never did see anybody else relieving themselves on the set again, Lynch really was exponentially busier than everybody else.) and they ignore it in a relaxed rather than a tense or uncomfortable way, sort of the way you’d ignore a child’s alfresco peeing.

The essay in itself evokes its own Lynchian spirit—and in the true absurd essence of the term,  not all the saccharin pies and kitsch sartorial choices that so many have boiled Lynch’s work down to. Check out the interview below starting around the five-minute mark and read DFW’s full essay HERE.

Buying This ‘Infinite Jest’ Poster Should Prove You Read ‘Infinite Jest’

For most people, simply having a copy of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest—once a cult doorstop of a novel, now a point of honor/contention among readers—on the bookshelf or coffee table is enough to impress. I’ve got two worn copies, just to be on the safe side. That way, when someone asks if I’ve actually read it, trying to get one over on me, I can say: “Yeah, but forever ago. Why, did you just finish?”

Seriously, though, I feel at this juncture that I’ve exhausted the set of strained academic conversations I could possibly have about Infinite Jest at a party where I’d rather be talking to someone attractive (the people who bring up Infinite Jest at parties, as a rule, are not). Which is why if I walked into a room and saw someone had tacked up this widely Internet-praised map of character relations, I’d turn tail and run screaming into the night.

Not least because the owner would have to explain to you in great detail what the solid lines meant versus the dotted, and why the Wraith doesn’t appear—the artist makes the appalling claim that the Wraith doesn’t speak and “is lame." No, sir, you are lame, and look, I’ve already gotten in an argument about Infinite Jest I never wanted to have. Oh fine, buy this poster if you really must. Just know that it’ll look something like decorating your wall with CliffNotes.

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Bret Easton Ellis Launches Twitter Feud With Dead Rival

One assumes Bret Easton Ellis always hated David Foster Wallace, but now he’s ranting publicly about it. Jealous of all that posthumous hagiography, Bret? The spirit of the Brat Pack lives on!

Bret was apparently reading D.T. Max’s new account of Wallace’s life, Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story, a book whose shocking twists we revealed last week. As much as the “solemnity” of this literary mythmaking may have revolted him, it’s relevant to this discussion that Wallace wrote against the TV-saturated ’80s fiction scene, of which he considered Ellis an essential part, in the essay “E Unibus Pluram.” He had further harsh words for his Gen-X contemporary in a 1993 interview with Larry McCaffery:

Look, if the contemporary condition is hopelessly shitty, insipid, materialistic, emotionally retarded, sadomasochistic, and stupid, then I (or any writer) can get away with slapping together stories with characters who are stupid, vapid, emotionally retarded, which is easy, because these sorts of characters require no development … If readers simply believe the world is stupid and shallow and mean, then Ellis can write a mean shallow stupid novel that becomes a mordant deadpan commentary on the badness of everything.

The serialized outburst, in which Ellis called the deceased writer “tedious,” “conservative” and “a fraud,” among other pleasant things, came around 2:00 a.m. Pacific Standard Time. Anyone who follows this Twitter account knows its author is prone to staying up late on Ambien and admitting whatever thought crosses his mind into the ether, so let’s chalk this up to that—even if he’s not entirely wrong.

Consider The Book Trailer (For The David Foster Wallace Biography)

"Book trailers" are a thing that publishers make you do now and the new biography of David Foster Wallace is no exception.

DFW, for the uncultured swine, is the author of Infinite Jest, The Pale King, and various other books enjoyed by the most irritating students in MFA programs. This Penguin trailer for Every Love Story Is A Ghost Story introduces us to D.T. Max, a New Yorker writer who was asked by editor-in-chief David Remnick to write a piece after Wallace’s 2008 suicide. After 10,000 words, Max still had more to say about the quixotic novelist/essayist’s life and work.

The trailer is heavy on "white dudes with glasses who read intellectual novels" types, but this is DFW we’re talking about. Admittedly, Every Love Story Is A Ghost Story seems like it will be an inspiring look at his mark in literature, rather than a darker one. Given the depression and insecurity Wallaces suffered in his living years, it’s comforting that his legacy is to have enraptured everyone he knew with his humanity and talent:


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Shocking Twists In New David Foster Wallace Biography

You think that just because you skimmed Dave Eggers’s introduction to the tenth-anniversary version of Infinite Jest, you know everything about DFW? Think again. D.T. Max’s new biography of Wallace, Every Love Story is a Ghost Story, hits shelves this week and promises to forever redefine how we remember the beloved author. Here’s a few of the book’s revelations.

David Foster Wallace apparently:

—Never considered the crab.

—Meant his “This Is Water” commencement speech to be sarcastic.

—Once took a shit inside Jonathan Franzen’s favorite duvet cover as a prank.

—Was forced by Little, Brown to publish his experimental short stories as “essays.”

—Shot a creative writing student at Pomona just to watch him die.

—Is alive and well, playing tennis under the alias “Roger Federer.”

—Did that supposedly fun thing … again.

—Has a massive chest tattoo of John Barth’s face.

—Finished writing The Pale King but couldn’t fit the entire manuscript in an envelope and didn’t feel like driving to the post office.

—Under his trademark bandana, wore a yarmulke.

Who would’ve guessed it? Time to update Wikipedia!

The Literary World’s Fascination With James Deen

If the internet itself hadn’t done the job already, last winter’s issue of GOOD magazine surely put porn star James Deen on the radar of every tote bag-laden liberal arts major this side (the south side, that is) of 14th Street. And while the profile gave fascinating light to the porn star’s cult following among teenage girls, it’s safe to say that between Wells Tower’s piece in this month’s GQ and the casting of Deen in Bret Easton Ellis’s new film The Canyons, the Jewish “boy next door” might have another prominent fan base: literary white males.

That’s not to say he is, or passes himself off as, particularly bright (Deen, on his ABC Nightline profile: “They could have made me look bad, between all my ramblings and the dumb shit that I say, and they didn’t.”). This affinity is mainly a cosmetic thing. The scrawny five-foot-eight fellow, who looks “like a guy a chick might actually meet in a bar,” is the closest proxy your average white boy has ever had in the porn world. And even if Deen himself never boasted any intellectual prowess, his real-life background sort of lines up: born Bryan Sevilla (he’s still Bryan Sevilla) in Pasadena, CA, both his parents worked at NASA. He claims to have pretty rationally decided, in kindergarten, that he wanted to do porn. Save for a brief stint with drug addiction, he slid into his profession the way any young “self-starter” might wind up in theirs. And again, just look at him. Better yet, Photoshop him into a picture with the editors of n+1—you wouldn’t think anything of it.

Wells Tower thus offers the perfect setup for this most recent profile: if you—reader, tweedy white male, evangelist for Everything Ravaged—could swap places with James Deen, would you?

That’s not to say Tower totally invented the premise. In many ways, it’s the bait used in Paul Thomas Anderson’s masterpiece Boogie Nights, where the young Mark Wallberg, like Deen, is a handsome but unassuming Valley boy that just happens to pack an oversized member (okay, and freakishly strong abdominals). In a brilliant interview from 1998 on Hollywood Conversations, Anderson gave a thoughtful polemic against contemporary porn producers for denying the genre its place in the canon of mainstream cinematic art. Instead, he argued, they’ve churned out trash that’s distastefully removed from reality. “If you’re looking at it in a pure, hormonal boy way,” he said, “my hormones go to, ‘oh, she’s pretty.’ And no, she doesn’t have huge, enormous fake tits. Because it’s like watching science fiction—it’s a sci-fi movie at that point.” As opposed to, say, something from a John Updike story. “And the guys are not appealing in porno today,” he continued. “Looking at these people who are chiseled to perfection, there’s nothing to relate to.” Enter James Deen.

The other antecedent, you’d have to figure, is David Foster Wallace’s 1998 essay “Neither Adult Nor Entertainment” about the AVN awards, which also flirts with the question of, “Is this as fun as it looks?” (The answer is no). First off, they both lather on an SAT Verbal’s worth of euphemisms. Wallace: “Breasts are uniformly zeppelinesque and in various perilous stages of semiconfinement.” Tower: “Miss Jaymes is a ten-year vet whose huge blister-pack protrusions are somewhat at odds with her springbok svelteness.” For the lexically stimulated, that’s as masturbatory as it gets.

Moreover, it’s the tone of innocent-bookish-fellow-sent-to-“report”-on-porn that carries over from Wallace to Tower. At one point, in the middle of describing a “human centipede” scene between Deen, Proxy Paige, and Isis Love, Tower interjects, “Um, hey. You out there, do you seriously want me to keep describing this stuff? Really? Because it gets a lot worse from here.” It’s pretty considerate of him to throw that in there, much in the same way someone at your ice cream parlor asks if you’d like a mini spoon taste of the chocolate fudge brownie just so you can appear skeptical and discerning while everyone involved knows full well that you’d already planned to order four scoops of the stuff.

But the kicker is, if a quart of ice cream leaves you feeling queasy, what’s supposed to happen when you’ve watched this guy “in flagrant contravention of the USDA’s Safe Food Handling Fact Sheet, [plunge] his unwashed tuber straightaway into Proxy’s mouth”? What Tower lands on is what anyone lured in the by the idea of this boyish little ladykiller has to realize: what Deen does couldn’t be further removed from the reality of his persona’s true-life analogue. And nobody could be less equipped for that kind of emotionally detached sexual carnage than a young male who likes literature. Emotional sensitivity is our bread and butter, and whatever one’s “boy hormones” would have them believe, Deen’s lifestyle is not one to envy.

James Deen, sorry to say, is not the “boy next door.” He’s not a regular guy a chick might meet at a bar. He’s a star. He’s a big, bright, shining star. That’s right.

The Commencement: Advice for Graduates from Pop Culture Guest Speakers

“And make no mistake about it, you are dumb. You’re a group of incredibly well-educated dumb people.”

This isn’t exactly the sort of fluffy, “Reach for the stars!” sort of message one expects to hear at their college graduation. But then again, these aren’t exactly times that call for fluff. And anyway, how totally disappointing and bummer-inducing would it be to hear a totally cliché commencement speech from Aaron Sorkin?  The writer behind The West Wing and The Social Network addressed the 2012 graduating class at Syracuse University over the weekend, delivering some very serious, eloquent, and at times, heartwarming real talk.

Watch Sorkin’s speech below, and check out some other inspiring words of wisdom for the Class of 2012 from other pop culture and literary icons through the years.

John Legend (University of Pennsylvania, Kean University)
This year, the R&B musician, songwriter and actor received an honorary degree from Howard University. But he’s also given two commencement speeches: first in 2009 at the University of Pennsylvania, where he waxed philosophical on leading a soulful life and the “politics of empathy,” and then again in 2011 at Kean University.

Amy Poehler (Harvard University)
Leslie Knope herself spoke at last year’s Class Day at Harvard. Amid all the jokes and one-liners, Poehler left graduates with a message about the importance of collaboration and humility in succeeding in the “real world.”

David Foster Wallace (Kenyon College)
As one might expect from the late, great infinite jester, Foster Wallace’s 2005 speech to Kenyon graduates includes a crazy parable at the beginning, is self-reflexive and self-aware of the liberal arts education, perhaps a bit too long and above all, beautifully written.

Ellen DeGeneres (Tulane University)
The television, film and comedy icon had the unique and extremely stressful task of addressing the Tulane Class of 2009, the class that would have entered the university the semester following Hurricane Katrina. Naturally, she tackles it with humor, grace and important truths. This speech also produced this heavily Facebook-status-quoted soundbite: “When I was your age, I was dating men. So what I’m saying is, when you’re older, most of you will be gay.”

Steve Jobs (Stanford University)
Stay hungry. Stay foolish. Always.

Lil B (New York University)
Not a commencement speech, but The BasedGod still has plenty of inspiring words for the Class of 2012. The Power of Yes is applicable on more days than just grad day.

And, just because…

Chris Rock – "No Sex In The Champagne Room"
Not from this year, but Chris Rock’s wise words for the GED Class of 1999 are still relevant today. Congratulations, graduates!

A Few More Great Literary ‘Simpsons’ Moments

Last night, in honor of The Simpsons airing an episode this week paying homage to David Foster Wallace’s beloved essay, A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, we highlighted some other great literary moments from the show, from a Hamlet retelling to cameos from J.K. Rowling and former poet laureate Robert Pinsky. Of course, after posting the thing, we realized that in our brevity, we forgot a few true gems. Here are a few more moments worth mentioning from those times when Homer met, well, Homer:   

“Bart Vs. Thanksgiving”

In “Bart Vs. Thanksgiving,” Bart learns the true meaning of the holiday after terrorizing Lisa and destroying her centerpiece. Lisa strikes back the only way she knows how, with an angsty homage to Allen Ginsberg’s beat opus “Howl” titled “Howl of the Unappreciated.” “I saw the best meals of my generation destroyed by my brother,” Lisa laments. “My soul carved into slices by spiky-haired demons.”

“Das Bus”

The show did an entire Lord of the Flies episode, in which the children of Springfield Elementary are marooned on a desert island after a bus trip gone wrong. “Most of the references to the book are pretty direct, just stopping short of shoving Milhouse off a cliff: “the monster” is a wild boar the kids eventually eat, and the chant used to go after Bart and Milhouse — “Kill the dorks! Bash their butts! Kick their shins!” — echoes the “Kill the pig!” chant from Golding’s novel.

“Moe ‘N’a Lisa”

Lisa Simpson, the cartoon role model for budding feminists, bookworms and frustrated nerds all over the world, is perhaps one of television’s best-read characters of all time, a point driven home with the wonderful blog, Lisa Simpson Book Club, which highlight’s Lisa’s reads from The Brothers Karamazov to Ethan Frome to the Atlantic For Kids, Junior Skeptic and Non-Threatening Boys magazines. Lisa rubs elbows with contemporary literary giants, including Michael Chabon, Jonathan Franzen and Gore Vidal, when she helps Moe become an accomplished poet in a 2006 episode. (It’s a catty exchange between Chabon and Franzen that steals the show: “That’s it, Franzen! I think your nose needs some ‘corrections’!”)

“The War of the Simpsons”

One of the earliest episodes of the show centers on Homer trying to catch a legendary catfish named General Sherman, with his relationship to the fish and the thrill of the chase echoing Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea.” Except, I don’t think Hemingway ever had Santiago sing “We Are The Champions.”

A Supposedly Brief Chronology of “The Simpsons” Literary References

In its multi-decade, 500+-episode run, The Simpsons has sported all sorts of popular culture references, from the Immortal Bard (a Hamlet parody still shown in high schools all across America by English teachers who want to get hip with the young people) to Spider-Pig (does whatever a spider-pig does).

Last night, The Simpsons aired a surprising homage to David Foster Wallace, titled “A Totally Fun Thing That Bart Will Never Do Again,” which borrows its title — and plot — from DFW’s A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again. The episode, in which Bart assumes the role of Wallace on his disdain-inducing luxury cruise, also includes musical snippets from Hot Chip (“Boy From School”) and Animal Collective (“Winter’s Love”).

With a television run as long as the one Matt Groening’s iconic series has had, there have been a whole lot of other surprising, notable and overall funny salutes to important literary tomes, from Hemingway to Stephen King to the Bible. Here’s a look back at just a few of the other key Simpsons moments that went by the book.

Edgar Allen Poe has been a rather popular source of inspiration, particularly with the Treehouse of Horror Halloween episodes. One of the first Halloween shorts was a direct take on "The Fall of the House of Usher;" in “Lisa’s Rival,” she replaces perfect Allison Taylor’s diorama of "The Tell-Tale Heart" with an actual beef heart, with the real diorama torturing her from the floorboards. But this early Treehouse of Horror installment, a retelling of “The Raven” featuring Marge as Lenore and Bart as the titular bird, is the best of these.

Lisa meets a group of college students in her gymnastics class and pretends to be one of them in order to belong to a group of her intellectual equals. One of her new friends is re-reading Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow (one of a few Pynchon references that have appeared on the show), but more importantly, the episode includes one of The Simpsons’ best lit. moments. Lisa attends a reading from former Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky (as himself), who gets some support from a group of frat dudes with “BASHO” painted on their stomachs. It did make us wonder about the possibility of a world where poetry slams sported SEC football-caliber tailgates.

Harry Potter has had a few nods as well, including a pretty-okay Treehouse of Horror installment. But it was Lisa’s encounter with the real J.K. Rowling that included the words all fans wanted to hear. When she asks the author what happens to Harry at the end of the series, she responds, “He grows up and marries you. Is that what you want to hear?”

And finally, the Hamlet episode, inspiring curricula since its airing. Although it’s certainly difficult to condense a five-act play into a digestible TV mini-sode, The Simpsons did it as only they could. The episode is notable for its expert use of Ralph Wiggum (“I’m gonna go kill Hamlet! Here’s my mad face.”), “Rosencarl and Guildenlenny,” Lisa’s brief cameo as Ophelia and Bart’s one-sentence review of the play, which sums up the feelings of so many: “How could a play with so much violence in it be so boring?”