Bret Easton Ellis Disses David Foster Wallace

At a in a reading in Hackney, England, two days ago, Bret Easton Ellis dissed the late great David Foster Wallace:

Question: David Foster Wallace – as an American writer, what is your opinion now that he has died?

Answer: Is it too soon? It’s too soon right? Well I don’t rate him. The journalism is pedestrian, the stories scattered and full of that Mid-Western faux-sentimentality and Infinite Jest is unreadable. His life story and his battle with depression however is really quite touching . . .

Via HTMLGIANT, via The Howling Fantods. The discussion at HTMLGIANT’s comment section is pretty great right now (see our own comment thread below for comments detailing HTMLGIANT readers who claim that BEE’s quote is misrepresented/mistranscribed), with a few commentators bringing up an interview in which DFW said the following about BEE:

I think it’s a kind of black cynicism about today’s world that Ellis and certain others depend on for their readership. Look, if the contemporary condition is hopelessly shitty, insipid, materialistic, emotionally retarded, sadomasochistic, and stupid, then I (or any writer) can get away with slapping together stories with characters who are stupid, vapid, emotionally retarded, which is easy, because these sorts of characters require no development. With descriptions that are simply lists of brand-name consumer products. Where stupid people say insipid stuff to each other. If what’s always distinguished bad writing—flat characters, a narrative world that’s cliched and not recognizably human, etc.—is also a description of today’s world, then bad writing becomes an ingenious mimesis of a bad world. If readers simply believe the world is stupid and shallow and mean, then Ellis can write a mean shallow stupid novel that becomes a mordant deadpan commentary on the badness of everything. Look man, we’d probably most of us agree that these are dark times, and stupid ones, but do we need fiction that does nothing but dramatize how dark and stupid everything is? In dark times, the definition of good art would seem to be art that locates and applies CPR to those elements of what’s human and magical that still live and glow despite the times’ darkness. Really good fiction could have as dark a worldview as it wished, but it’d find a way both to depict this world and to illuminate the possibilities for being alive and human in it. You can defend “Psycho” as being a sort of performative digest of late-eighties social problems, but it’s no more than that.

7 thoughts on “Bret Easton Ellis Disses David Foster Wallace”

  1. In HTMLGIANT’s comments thread, commenter Tom K offers the following —

    “my friend was at this q and a so i asked him about it. He says the above transcription of BEE’s comments isn’t accurate, that Bret Easton Ellis said that he personally hadn’t been able to finish infinite jest. My friend also said that, from his perspective, Bret Easton Ellis wasn’t dissing DFW as much as saying that it just wasn’t the kind of work he was interested in.”

    (here’s a link to Tom K’s blog: )

    Will try to find out more about the accuracy of the BEE quote.


    1. Another commenter on HTMLGIANT, Emma C, writes:

      ” BEE was a lot more considered when giving his opinion than the transcription makes out. (I’ve actually recorded it) He emphasises DFW’s story over the terms ‘pedestrian’ ‘unreadable’ and (faux) ‘midwestern-earnestness’ (not ’sentimentality?’ But other than that the transcript is pretty true to form.

      I addition to this, i’d say that his answers concerning his particular brand of misogyny are far more worthy of discussion than a few (hardly original) criticisms of DFW.”


    1. Thanks for the link–good essay. I’ve actually avoided most of the coverage of Lipsky’s book because I haven’t read it yet (the publisher ignored my review copy request). I’ll find it used one day.


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