Mark Sussman on DFW and D.T. Max’s Biography

A buddy of mine from back in my Arizona days, Mark Sussman, has an interview with D.T. Max on his new DFW biography and DFW as a “Burkean conservative,” and an article/review of the book as well. Check’em out. (There’s also a nice little nod to Prof. Charles Sherry in the interview, who was probably one of the most important teachers I’ve ever had, even if I did write a nonsensical disaster of a senior thesis on Nietzsche for him.)

Brett Easton Ellis . . .

. . . is making a fool of himself. Though I’ll admit D.T. Max’s Every Love Story is Ghost Story left me slightly disappointed (actually, I could probably criticize much of it, like on a sentence level, but I won’t), it is still a welcome addition to our understanding of DFW’s life and work, and it surely doesn’t make me want to submit this kind of  twitter fiasco Ellis is involved in: “Reading D.T. Max’s bio I continue to find David Foster Wallace the most tedious, overrated, tortured, pretentious writer of my generation…” It is precisely this kind of vitriolic internet rambling, of the upset nerd commenting on well, whatever, that is beginning to define the critical atmosphere of today. If Matthew Arnold was around today, and answered the question of what the function of internet criticism is at the present time, I don’t think things like Culture and Anarchy (1869), or much of anything else, would have been written; he would’ve been too despondent. Further, to me the atmosphere of constant, instant, widespread, poorly-thought-out, and loud criticism from hardly qualified and anonymous people with nothing better to do that dominates “comments”-discourse today, this culture of easy and quick dismissal (of anything), practically requires of us the most generous, considered criticism we can muster. Ellis’s words don’t make me want to read his significant oeuvre any less generously (though I do think DFW has a point in “Fictional Futures and the Conspicuously Young,” a salvo he launched against Ellis in 1987, so yes, he got the first shots in quite a while ago). In fact, for those of us who are seriously in the business of criticism, this kind of thing only re-emphasizes the need for us to be as generous, thoughtful, and, well, kind as we can. It is much easier to say what is “bad” about a work of art–really, any art, how easy is it to call, say, Jackson Pollock’s paintings bad b/c my “five year old could have painted that”–and it is esp. easy to say what is “bad” about a dead artist. It is much more difficult to figure out what is worthwhile in a work, particularly something that does not immediately strike one as worthy of one’s attention. And even more difficult is actually trying to figure out what kind of aesthetic work something is trying to do, what the poem, novel, painting is trying to say, what meaning it is constructing, etc. I have to imagine Ellis’s own work would benefit from seriously considering DFW and, if he were still around, vice versa. But, for now, being loud and mean surely gets oneself a minute of attention, “but a minute was all it was. After nature had drawn just a few more breaths the planet froze and the clever animals had to die.”[1]

[1] Friedrich Nietzsche, “On Truth and Lying in a Non-Moral Sense,” in The Birth of Tragedy and Other Writings, Trans. & ed. Ronald Speirs. Ed. Raymond Geuss (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 141.