Why I’m Not Particularly Interested in Reading a DFW Biography

(Think about it — the personal lives of most people who spend 14 hours a day sitting there alone, reading and writing, are not going to be thrill rides to hear about.)

–David Foster Wallace on literary biography in general and Edwin Williamson’s Borges: A Life in particular; from “Borges on the Couch,” a 2004 NYT piece republished this month in the David Foster Wallace collection Both Flesh and Not.

9 thoughts on “Why I’m Not Particularly Interested in Reading a DFW Biography”

  1. The Max bio is exactly what I expected from a member of the New York cognescenti: cooly reverential, and eager to take subtly take down and demystify someone who wanted almost nothing to do with them. It is Max’s opinion that IJ is DFW’s culmination as a writer, and that he never came close to approximating its genius. I don’t agree with that. I think Oblivion is wonderful, and I am of the opinion that The Pale King is a masterpiece. To me, The Pale King is IJ written by a more mature intelligence, but I seem to be in the minority on this. I have read The Pale King three times since it was published. I have read IJ once.


    1. I have not read The Pale King, but can an unfinished book really be considered a masterpiece? Is it a masterpiece because, as it stands, it’s really better than anything else he’s done…or are you basing things on a projection of what the book would have been if he finished it? Regardless, I do think a bio demystifying DFW is necessary. I love his work, he’s one of my favorite authors. But I think the cult surrounding him, especially after his death is a little distracting and needs to be deflated a little. It’s similar to the cult around Jim Morrison, Hendrix, Cobain, etc, where the work gets transcended by the image of the artist, and is therefore not necessarily judged fairly (Cobain was listed in RS a few years ago as one of the best Guitarists in history, for example. Would they be making that claim if he were still alive?). I don’t know, I’m probably being incoherent.


  2. “I don’t have anything against autobiographies, so long as the writer has a penis that’s twelve inches long when erect. So long as the writer is a woman who was once a whore and is moderately wealthy in her old age.”


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