The accidental journalist 

David Foster Wallace discusses crossing from fiction to reality

click to enlarge David Foster Wallace, in a very Stephen King sort of - setting.
  • David Foster Wallace, in a very Stephen King sort of setting.

The best disguises are often those worn in plain view, and David Foster Wallace seems to understand this notion.

Roughly once a year, America's most intimidating young fiction writer picks up a pencil and goes undercover to snag the unpretty and the fake. All the while, he reminds his readers that other people always are attempting to tailor a lot of what we read and watch.

He attacks this truth like a Doberman in his rabidly intelligent new collection of essays, Consider the Lobster. The Independent recently caught up with Wallace in New York, where he discussed why he has been drawn to this moonlighting gig.

Indy: What was your first journalism assignment?

David Foster Wallace: In the early '90s, Colin Harrison at Harper's had me do a couple of pieces. The first one was the state fair. I really kept saying to the Harper's people, "You understand I'm not a journalist," and they'd say, "Ooh-hoo, good, that's what we don't want that." Implicit in their saying we don't want "that,' it was clear to me there was a whole lot of stuff about journalism that I just didn't even know, including why somebody might be weary about conventional journalism.

Indy: It seems like this book and your last collection of stories, Oblivion, are sister books.

DFW: Well, maybe. But for me, the thing that I like is that the nonfiction and fiction are completely different. These nonfiction pieces feel to me like the very hardest thing that I do, only because reality is infinite. ... In fiction, you are in your head, so you are building the reality you are talking about.

Indy: Did you take a blizzard of notes for this book? There are so many acutely visualized scenes that I think, "How in the heck did he get all this in there?"

DFW: I think for me, it's a little bit embarrassing. The first couple ones that I did with Colin the first one, I didn't even know to take a notebook. ... I wasn't experiencing the fair; I was kind of locking it down in memory. There is no way to take notes like that. ... I have to do this right after it's done, or I can't. It's like eating a whole lot and going to the vomitorium.

Indy: And yet, fiction is still primary for you?

DFW: Well, it's what's interesting about us. If fiction has any value, it's that it lets us in. ... I know nothing about what it's like to be you. As far as I can tell, whether it is avant-garde or realistic, the basic engine of narrative art is how it punctures those membranes a little.

Indy: I feel like in reading this book, I've learned more about you as a person rather than as a persona than in any other book I've read by you.

DFW: The whole memoir thing, I just don't know anything about it. Marketing writers as people is like a low-budget reality TV, or celebreality. [Writers] are regular civilians; they are not beautiful people. If they have any personal background, they were exceptionally deprived, or they were just exceptionally nerdy. Much of their daily life consists of sitting alone, reading and writing. The amount of distortion that's required to make those lives interesting it seems silly to me.


David Foster Wallace reading

Palmer Hall, Gates Common Room, Colorado College campus, 1025 N. Cascade Ave.

Thursday, April 6, 7 p.m.

Free; call 389-6607

for more info.


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