Featured Reader: July 3, 2015
Evan Kindley is a senior editor at the Los Angeles Review of Books.
As we nervously await the release of The End of the Tour
, a David Foster Wallace biopic of sorts starring Jason Segel, there's fortifying reading to be found in Christian Lorentzen's essay
in New York
magazine on Wallace's "canonization."
Lorentzen, a long-time Wallace admirer, worries that the late writer "has been reduced to a wisdom-dispensing sage on the one hand and shorthand for the Writer As Tortured Soul on the other." "Among the more dispiriting aspects of the Wallace canonization," Lorentzen observes, "is how much it has been built out of his suffering — the way the cult has revived, for precisely the post-therapy, post-Romantic, self-help-soaked culture Wallace described and intermittently deplored, the Romantic picture of the depressive as a kind of keen-eyed saint."
An urgent plea to remember that Wallace was, in life and art, "kind of an asshole" is the most provocative thing here, but it's not an empty provocation: From teaching Wallace's nonfiction, I can confirm that students respond to his cruelty and contempt as much as they do his wisdom and benevolence. Any real reckoning with his importance and influence will have to admit the appeal of Wallace's sadistic side, and Lorentzen has got the ball rolling.