Hello. I am happy to announce that the latest issue of the Quarterly Conversation has been published and it contains a gigantic symposium/where-are-we-now collection of essays on David Foster Wallace. And I’m happy to be included.
My essay is about Consider the Lobster, Wallace’s second collection of essays. I talk about how Wallace’s nonfiction is, in general, just plain great, but also how his nonfiction fits within the current ecology of literary writing that is not fiction or poetry, i.e., creative nonfiction, literary journalism, literary fiction, the Essay, New Journalism, Lyric Essay, or whatever handy or not-so-handy moniker you prefer. I also talk a bit about everyone’s favorite manifesto from last year, David Shields’s Reality Hunger.
I don’t remember if I mentioned this in the essay but it feels worth being redundant: we seriously need two types of Wallace books to be published. And by Wallace books I mean posthumous collections of his work. First, we need a book of his uncollected nonfiction. There are a couple of late, great pieces: the Federer piece, the graduation speech. (Yes, I realize they published that last one, but I’m talking about publishing it in a version for actual grown-ups, rather than the annoying, cloying, exploitive, one-sentence-per-page edition that’s out now.) But there are also lots of early book reviews that are languishing in forgotten back issues of various journals. I had a phase during graduate school when I would obsessively locate these essays either within the bound back issues or through Interlibrary Loan (ILL!), typically during the times when I should have been collecting scholarship for my academic papers. There is one out there about fiction and the “conspicuously young” that’s a wonderful explication of the difficulties of graduate creative writing programs and how they affect teachers, students, and the publishing industry in general. It actually adds nutritional meat to the whole MFA Good/Bad debate. Anyway, before I go hunting through my files to start quoting from the thing, my main point is: there’s a good-sized book there and an audience who would appreciate it and buy it.
Second, we need a Portable Wallace, a la the Portable Faulkner. I realize that Wallace’s reputation is not foundering; he needs no Malcolm Cowley to call attention to his greatness or to marshall the forces of culture to keep him in print. I say this instead as someone who has taught college. The problem is Wallace is hard to teach–not in terms of explication/analysis (though, I mean, that too), but in terms of just having a usable edition of his work. Because his greatest piece of fiction is Infinite Jest, and because the most conveniently teachable pieces of his short fiction and nonfiction are scattered between various editions, it would be awfully nice to have a 500-paged paperback with a handful of essays and a good chunk of his fiction. That way you could show what Wallace was up to in various genres without having to dedicate an entire semester to it simply because of the books that one would have to buy.
Before I get too full of myself and start rattling off all the other books I think we need published (a collection of Cynthia Ozick’s essays on Henry James? an updated edition of Peter Taylor’s Collected Stories?), let me also mention all the other great DFW-related essays in the issue: my main man Scott Esposito on Infinite Jest; Edie Meidav on A Supposedly Fun Thing; CJ Evans on Brief Interviews; Lance Olsen on Oblivion; John Lingan on The Pale King; and Andrew Altschul on “The Suffering Channel,” among other things. I’m happy to be a part of this symposium, especially since after the initial publicity wave for The Pale King crested and dissolved, Wallace-related criticism seemed to dry up. Also, finally finally, there is still the regular round of reviews and interviews in the issue.