David Foster Wallace and “The Long Thing”

David Foster Wallace and the Long Thing

David Foster Wallace and “The Long Thing”: New Essays on the Novels, edited by Marshall Boswell, to which I have contributed an essay, “‘Then Out of the Rubble’: David Foster Wallace’s Early Fiction,” is set to appear 31 July 2014. This volume collects revised versions of essays from two special issues of Studies in the Novel from 2012 (44.3 and 44.4). I am delighted to be included in this excellent collection. See the blurbs at Bloomsbury’s site and read the first review from Publisher’s Weekly. It is reasonably priced right now, and Amazon has it listed in stock (before its release date . . .). Here is a description of the book:

Of the twelve books David Foster Wallace published both during his lifetime and posthumously, only three were novels. Nevertheless, Wallace always thought of himself primarily as a novelist. From his college years at Amherst, when he wrote his first novel as part of a creative honors thesis, to his final days, Wallace was buried in a novel project, which he often referred to as “the Long Thing.” Meanwhile, the short stories and journalistic assignments he worked on during those years he characterized as “playing hooky from a certain Larger Thing.” Wallace was also a specific kind of novelist, devoted to producing a specific kind of novel, namely the omnivorous, culture-consuming “encyclopedic” novel, as described in 1976 by Edward Mendelson in a ground-breaking essay on Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow.

David Foster Wallace and “The Long Thing” is a state-of-the art guide through Wallace’s three major works, including the generation-defining Infinite Jest. These essays provide fresh new readings of each of Wallace’s novels as well as thematic essays that trace out patterns and connections across the three works. Most importantly, the collection includes six chapters on Wallace’s unfinished novel, The Pale King, which will prove to be foundational for future scholars of this important text.


Table of Contents:

Marshall Boswell, “Preface.”


Part I: Wallace as Novelist

Adam Kelly, “David Foster Wallace and the Novel of Ideas.”

Toon Staes, “Wallace and Empathy: A Narrative Approach.”

Allard den Dulk, “Boredom, Irony, and Anxiety: Wallace and the Kierkegaardian View of the Self.”

Andrew Warren, “Modeling Community and Narrative in Infinite Jest and The Pale King.”


Part II: The Novels

Bradley J. Fest, “‘Then Out of the Rubble’: David Foster Wallace’s Early Fiction.”

Philip Sayers, “Representing the Entertainment in Infinite Jest.”

David Letzler, “Encyclopedic Novels and the Cruft of Fiction: Infinite Jest‘s Endnotes.”

Stephen J. Burn, “‘A Paradigm for the Life of Consciousness’: The Pale King.”

Conley Wouters, “‘What Am I, a Machine?’: Humans and Information in The Pale King.”

Ralph Clare, “The Politics of Boredom and the Boredom of Politics in The Pale King.”

Marshall Boswell, “Trickle-Down Citizenship: Taxes and Civic Responsibility in The Pale King.”

Slow Learning and Other Links

Environment and Disaster

George Dvorsky, “A Dramatic 260 Foot Crater Has Mysteriously Appeared in Siberia.”

giant siberian crater

National Security State

Sue Halpern, “NSA Surveillance: What the Government Can’t See.”

Tom Engelhardt, “The New American Exceptionalism: An Imperial State Unable to Impose Its Will.” (This only shares a title with Donald E. Pease‘s excellent book of the same name, The New American Exceptionalism.)

H. Bruce Franklin, “America’s Memory of the Vietnam War in the Epoch of the Forever War.”

Jeffrey Frank, “Obama’s Unwritten History.”

Xeni Jardin, “NSA Sees Your Nude Pix ‘as Fringe Benefits of Surveillance Positions,’ Says Snowden.”



David Frum, “Russia Has Become Dangerous Again: The Illusion of a Stable Europe Died Yesterday with the Murdered Passengers of MH17.”



Robert Pogue Harrison, “The Children of Silicon Valley.” The kids are not all right.

Xeni Jardin, “Swedish Man and His Prolific Bots Are Responsible for 8.5% of All Wikipedia Articles.”

Amazon Unlimited. Didn’t this used to be called the library and it was free?

David Sirota, “Comcast’s Worst Nightmare: How Tennessee Could Save America’s Internet.” Could we get the Internet through . . . public utilities like the electric company?


Literature and Culture

Stathis Gourgouris interviews Aamir Mufti in the Greek Left Review.

Jason Rubenfire, “Infinite Vocabulary: The Language of David Foster Wallace.”

Belén Fernández, “Burn Before Reading.” Jacobin slams Thomas Friedman, saying “there are few things more disordered in the world than a Thomas Friedman column.”

Robin Marie Averbeck, “Why I’m Not a Liberal.”

Eileen Jones, “No War but Ape War.”


Humanities and Higher Education

Maggie O’Neill, “The SLOW University: Work, Time, and Well-Being.” I’m glad to see that this idea of slow learning is getting some coverage. I first heard the concept from Wlad Godzich at a talk he gave at the University of Pittsburgh, who of course made the point is that it is a very old concept, indeed! And Godzich was a bit more nuanced than this article, but the idea of slow learning definitely needs to be part of the conversation.

Slavoj Žižek Plagiarizes and Other Links

Environment and Disaster

Robin McKie, “Miami, the Great World City, Is Drowning While the Powers That Be Look Away.”

Miami Beach tidal flood

More on Miami: Jeff Goodell, “Goodbye, Miami.” (And there’s definitely a joke to be made about LeBron leaving Miami here. . . .)

And when it rains, it also might pour lava from the sky: Scott Kaufman, “Parts of Yellowstone National Park Close After Massive Supervolcano Beneath It Melts Roads.”



John Oliver on income inequality.


Literature and Culture

This is getting a lot of attention. Slavoj Žižek has plagiarized a white supremacist. In “A Plea For a Return to Différance (with a Minor Pro Domo Sua),” which appeared in Critical Inquiry 32, no. 2 (Winter 2006), and then again appeared on the Lacanian Ink website, and was collected in 2006’s The Parallax View (pp. 301-303; this book, to me, is still Žižek’s best book), Žižek plagiarized, nearly verbatim, from a review essay by Stanley Horbeck originally published in American Renaissance (a white supremacist publication) in 1999. An anonymous blogger found the mistake and documented it at length. This story has been reported in a variety of ways. One writer emphasizes Žižek’s apology email, where he basically says that he only stole words, not ideas. Rebecca Schuman has weighed in at length. And NPR has a thorough article. Basically, according to the Slovenian philosopher, he got a summary/resume from a friend for what sounds like a fairly reprehensible book by Kevin B. MacDonald, The Culture of Critique: An Evolutionary Analysis of Jewish Involvement in Twentieth-Century Intellectual and Political Movements (1998). Rather than read the book (an inaction I perhaps understand), he just lifted the summary his friend gave him verbatim. This summary was supposedly written to be used by Žižek in just this way, but sadly, the friend just lifted the summary from Horbeck’s article, an article that obviously has a very different take on MacDonald than Žižek (which I think is why he emphasized that he didn’t steal the ideas . . . a quip that has been taken out of context). Obviously Žižek is at fault for: not reading the book he slams so hard, for getting someone else to read the book for him and trusting their words, and using someone else’s words (both his friend’s and Horbeck’s). His friend is also at fault. As is Critical Inquiry (and Lacanian Ink and the MIT Press) for not doing their editorial due dilligence. (And heck. let’s just throw in Horbeck and MacDonald too, as this whole thing wouldn’t have happened if people like that didn’t exist.)

But to be frank, this doesn’t really upset me all that much. Here’s the last line of the plagiarized section that wound up in The Parallax View: “The only thing to bear in mind is that this new barbarism is a strictly postmodern phenomenon, the obverse of the highly reflexive self-ironical attitude–no wonder that, reading authors like MacDonald, one often cannot decide if one is reading satire or a ‘serious’ line of argument.” The recursive postmodern irony here is thick, as is it difficult to tell whether to take even this whole thing satirically or seriously. (It should also be noted that in the note citing MacDonald’s book in The Parallax View, there is an addendum that says “All non-attributed quotes that follow are from this book,” which seems to clearly indicate Žižek did not read or have access to MacDonald’s actual book, and was quoting him from somewhere else. Perhaps if one is looking for more plagiarism, one would do well to start with such notes.) Anyway, this may just be that I’ve read too much Žižek, think he is a great cultural critic, is on the whole quite a bit more enjoyable than a lot of writers of his ilk, he makes movies (!), and has one of the finest senses of philosophical irony I have encountered, but this doesn’t really bother or upset me. It was a mistake, he has acknowledged and explained it, regrets it, et cetera.

In lighter news:

My friend Steph Ceraso, “Snap, Crackle, Pop: The Sonic Pleasures of Food.”

Side-scrolling life.

These photos are just too much.

Chris Pleasance, “Ancient Language Not Heard for 4,000 Years Is Recorded for the First Time as Linguists Work Out How English Came About Using Ancient Texts.”


Humanities and Higher Education

Not on higher ed, but still worth attention. Rachel Aviv on institutional cheating, “Wrong Answer.”

Syndi Dunn, “A Brief History of the Humanities Postdoc.”

“Borrowing Against the Future.”


LeBron James

Here’s more links on LeBron. And I swear, that will be all.

Scott Cacciola, “LeBron James’s Latest Feat: Bringing a Frenzied League to a Freeze.”

The New York Times sports page.

Nate Silver, “What Cleveland Would Look Like with LeBron James and Kevin Love.”

And Kevin B. Blackstone, “LeBron James Is a Politician Now, and We Need More Activist Athletes Like Him.” Indeed!

LeBron James Goes to the Cleveland Cavaliers

It has happened again. Even with the World Cup Final looming (specifically), a pretty hopeless present and future (generally), and the polar vortex headed for Western Pennsylvania and points Midwest again (locally!), there is nothing like a LeBron James Decision (2.0) to stall the free agency of the entire NBA, put the Internet on hold for a week, and then make it explode when he announces that he is going to take his talents (back) to Lake Erie. I am thrilled by this news.

But honestly, I would have been thrilled by the news that I get to watch James play basketball for another year no matter where he decided to go or how he announced his decision. He could have gone to Minnesota without Kevin Love and I would have watched him. I adore watching James play basketball. He has made May and June of the past many years something to look forward to. And to be hyperbolic . . . he makes me believe in things like “genius,” “talent,” “drive,” “desire,” “ambition,” “destiny,” “hope,” “belief,” “teamwork,” “empathy,” and a host of other such abstractions (that I pretty firmly do not think “exist” in any empirical way, esp. in the wake of my graduate education in English), and throatily discuss their authenticity in a host of Pittsburgh bars near and far. He has forced me to confront an essay by David Foster Wallace that I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to handle[1] (out of tennis ignorance) and think: yes, LeBron is Federer times . . . well, I don’t know yet. And neither does LeBron nor any of us. He, quite simply, hasn’t achieved his “peak” yet. I am absolutely captivated by him and look forward to being captivated for years to come. I’m gonna watch him until he hangs up his sneakers. And I cannot wait to see what he does in Cleveland.

James has been covered by the media in such excruciating, exhausting detail—evidenced by the past two weeks—that I have gotten to the point where I believe and disbelieve everything. It’s kinda glorious. There’s no rigor required. One can just give themselves over to the oceanic swath of attention his silence generates and luxuriate in the internet’s ridiculous shit. That is, until he says something and things become concrete. And then I’m just overwhelmed with my impoverished understanding of James, a figure that goes so far beyond my own puny little engagement with him as a basketball player, a celebrity, a cultural force, and an economic entity (let alone as a human being), that I’m just left kinda blabbering, wanting to read interesting essays about him by people with more authority and insight than myself.

For the most part, I tend not to allow this kind of thing to occur in my critical life and try to educate myself in the face of such extreme ignorance and bafflement so that I can speak even about stuff (i.e., texts) that is overwhelming, but I’ve just given up. He is, in Bill Simmons’s terms (see below), a “basketball genius,” and I don’t know anything at all. I know I don’t have anything really interesting to say about him. Sometime I suspect others do. Sometimes I know others do. Sometimes others have nothing whatsoever to add. His 2010 decision didn’t change that for me. People said many things. I just felt stupid. The next four seasons I happily watched James play for Pat Reilly and Eric Spoelstra. I adored watching the Miami Heat and guiltily rooting for them. I read everything I could get my hands on for and against James. But I really just kinda cheered. I wasn’t cynical. I wasn’t critical or hateful. I just enjoyed. And the best part, I kinda know that jubilant, youthful appreciation isn’t over by any means. Shucks. I grew up in the Jordan era.

I also adored watching Michael Jordan (who didn’t!?). My childhood and many who grew up in the 1980s-1990s were overdetermined by that skinny man from North Carolina. The last week I’ve been reading Roland Lazenby’s Micahel Jordan: The Life, (2014; here’s a decent review). Jordan was the greatest to play. Everyone knows this. I don’t think there will ever be better. But I think I enjoy watching James more because I am now an adult (if not “mature”) and understand what it means to watch him far more than I ever did Jordan. (He is also totally different than Jordan in a variety of ways.) MJ seemed like a force of nature. Something that just was. He overwhelmed athletics in the 1980s-1990s. He is still overwhelming athletics. Even sports he didn’t play. He was incredible. I was young, spoiled, and took him for granted. (Of course Michael Jordan exists! How could he not!?) I am trying valiantly not to take James for granted. And I can’t. His history in the NBA the last eight or nine years precludes me from doing so. He has just been so, well, special.

When I graduated from the University of Arizona, moved to Pittsburgh for graduate school, and (finally) started watching sports again, I immediately realized that, whatever nationally televised basketball I was watching, I wanted LeBron James to be playing (or the Phoenix Suns). And so I watched the Cleveland Cavaliers. Their playoffs pre-2010, though clearly disappointing, were wildly exciting, and James turned in some transcendent basketball.

When LeBron James went to Miami in 2010 I immediately and unapologetically became a “Heat fan” (as if such a thing exists), until earlier today. Self-consciously rooting for James these past few years has made me unpopular in a variety of ways and I have clearly understood why. How could I not? When I tell people that I just can’t help but root for James while he has played brilliantly for the Heat in four straight NBA Finals, most people have looked at me with at least significant disdain in their eye, and oftentimes concern, bafflement, scorn, and, on occasions hatred, ire, and detestation. (So on a day when I got my 1337 for WordPress) I really don’t care where LeBron has ended up because I am thrilled to be able to watch him continue to play basketball. Who knows how this will make me look to various people in the future. But I think that, whatever else has happened, James moving to Cleveland has now licensed many more people to watch him with such unabashed enthusiasm and appreciation as my own for the past many years, and that needing to temper that enthusiasm through tired stances of “fandom,” “irony,” or “loyalty” will be passé. He will just kind of overcome that stuff. Watch. He will. Going back to Cleveland. It’s smart.

And so, this is the whole point. The fact that he has returned to the Cleveland Cavaliers has occasioned a not unsurprising bevy of some of the smarter and well-written (single-day!) sports Internet commentary in recent memory. Here are some journalists responding to LeBron James going to play for the Cleveland Cavaliers on 11 July 2014 that I think everyone should read:

LeBron James himself being helped with an essay by Lee Jenkins announcing that he will be returning to Cleveland in “I’m Coming Home.” This has been quoted at length all day. I won’t quote it, but it really should be read. It is media-savvy in scary ways.

If you read anything else, read Bill Simmons on James in “God Loves Cleveland.”

But also Kaspian Kang, “LeBron Goes Home.”

And The New Yorker gets snarky.

But yeah. I think those four things sum it up. Read ‘em. And if Decision 2.0 isn’t your cup of tea, do not fret, we’ll be back to the regularly scheduled program soon. The world continues to be awful.


[1] Wallace’s 2006 essay on Roger Federer revolves in a Jamesian orbit. See David Foster Wallace, “Federer as Religious Experience,” New York Times (20 August 2006), http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/20/sports/playmagazine/20federer.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

July Links

(It’s been a few weeks since I’ve posted links, so some of this is already pretty dated, but heck . . it’s also been a jam-packed couple of weeks in the news.)



Nina Strochlic, “Britain’s Nuke-Proof Underground City.”

Forthcoming book: Fabienne Colignon’s Rocket States: Atomic Weaponry and the Cultural Imagination.



Lindsay Abrams, “The Ocean Is Covered in a Lot Less Plastic Than We Thought–and That’s a Bad Thing.”

James West, “What You Need to Know About the Coming Jellyfish Apocalypse.”

Brad Plumer, “Oklahoma’s Earthquake Epidemic Linked to Wastewater Disposal.”



Charles M. Blow, “The Gall of Dick Cheney.”

The gall of Blackwater.


National Security State

David Bromwich on Barack Obama, “The World’s Most Important Spectator.”

Patrick Tucker, “The Military Doesn’t Want You to Quit Facebook and Twitter.”

Conor Friedersdorf, “The Latest Snowden Leak is Devastating to NSA Defenders.” They’re just collecting massive amounts of banal stuff from innocent American citizens, and it’s basically open to search at The Washington Post. But wait, there’s more.

Barton Gellman, Julie Tate, and Ashkan Soltani, “In NSA-Intercepted Data, Those Not Targeted Far Outnumber the Foreigners Who Are.”

And more: “If You Read Boing Boing, the NSA Considers You a Target for Deep Surveillance.”

But if you try to keep your stuff private from the NSA, then almost assuredly they will start spying on you and will consider you an “extremist.”



Andrew Leonard, “The Supreme Court Just Outlawed the Future of TV.”

Vindue Goel, “Facebook Tinkers with Users’ Emotions in News Feed Experiment, Stirring Outcry.”

Maryam Monalisa Gharavi, “Canceled Message Part I and Part II.” On internet erasure and accumulation.

Teju Cole, “The Atlas of Affect.”



Paul Krugman’s review of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century in The New York Review of Books, “Why We’re in a Second Gilded Age.”(Think I might have posted this before, but now that I’ve finished Piketty’s Capital, it deserves another go-round.)

Cory Doctorow on Piketty’s Capital.

Nivedita Majumdar, “Why We’re Marxists” (also a reflection on Piketty).

Wolfgang Streeck at the New Left Review, “How Will Capitalism End?”

Nick Hanauer writes an open letter to his fellow richest .01%: “Unless our policies change dramatically, the middle class will disappear, and we will be back to late 18th-century France. Before the revolution. And so I have a message for my fellow filthy rich, for all of us who live in our gated bubble worlds: Wake up, people. It won’t last. If we don’t do something to fix the glaring inequities in this economy, the pitchforks are going to come for us.” (Perhaps improving employment practices at Amazon would be a good place to start. . . .)



Natalie Wolchover, “Have We Been Interpreting Quantum Mechanics Wrong the Whole Time?”


Literature and Culture

An interview with J. Hoberman, maker of White House Butler Down (2014).

J. Hoberman reviews Snowpiercer (2014), “Revolt on the Polar Express.”

Peter Frase also discusses Snowpiercer (which I am going to see soon!).

Google’s weird selfies.

Google Selfies

Aaron Kunin, “An Essay on Tickling” at Triple Canopy.

China Miéville’s “Polynia.”

Critical Inquiry has launched The CI Review.

Daniel Wallis on Colorado.

Lebron James will announce Decision 2.0 at a special session of the United Nations General Assembly. (I hope it’s Phoenix. Please be Phoenix.) “To help him with his decision, the N.B.A. star has assembled an esteemed circle of advisers, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and the scientist Stephen Hawking, all of whom are expected to be in attendance for the United Nations announcement.”

And my friend’s band Alter Der Ruine just released their new album, I Will Remember It All Differently.


Humanities and Higher Education

Kevin Carey, “Americans Think We Have the Best Colleges. We Don’t.”

Fredrik deBoer responds, emphasizing that US higher ed has perpetually been the site of crisis narratives.

Ryan Anderson, “Academia and the People Without Jobs.”

And grades get inflated at Harvard simply because TAs just can’t take the whining anymore. (Note to my students: there is little information in this article on how to effectively raise one’s grade. . . .)


World Cup

One of the best Existential Comics yet: “World Cup Philosophy: Germany vs France.”

Tim Howard is amazing, but will we remember that?

Twitter’s reaction to Germany dismantling Brazil.


And I just got my copy of David Foster Wallace and “The Long Thing” in the mail. Amazon says it is in and for sale even though it comes out July 31st. I’ll have a post on it in the next couple weeks.