“I’ve got my weird neuroses” — David Foster Wallace on William Vollmann and Bret Easton Ellis

I mean, I’ve got my weird neuroses. Like I’m totally—I had this huge inferiority complex where William Vollmann’s concerned. Because he and I’s first books came out at the same time. And I even once read a Madison Smartt Bell essay, where he used me, and my “slender output,” and the inferiority of it, to talk about, you know, how great Vollmann is. And so I go around, “Oh no, Vollmann’s had another one out, now he’s got like five to my one.” I go around with that stuff. But I think, I’m trying to think of any example that …

Bell himself is an outpourer.

I think just: I haven’t read a lot of the new stuff that’s come out over the last few years. Like Steve Erickson, and Tours of the Black Clock—it’s really fucking good. I thought Bret Ellis’s first book, I thought it was very, very powerful. American Psycho—I thought he was really ill-served by his agent and publisher even letting him publish it, and those are the only two things of his that I read. But that’s, I think this is another danger: you get lavishly rewarded for that first book, and it’s gonna be very difficult for him ever to do anything else. I mean there’s gonna be part of you that just wants to do that over and over and over again, so you continue to get the food pellets of praise. It’s one more way that all this stuff is toxic.

Same risk for you?

Sure. Because whatever I do, the next thing will be very different from this. And if it gets reamed, then I’ll think: “Oh no. Maybe Infinite Jest II.” In which case, somebody needs to come and just put a bullet in my head. To be merciful. David Leavitt noose quote: Reviewers will use my first book as a noose to hang my second. I think it often is. Although the nice thing about having written an essentially shitty first book is that I’m exempt from that problem. There were a lot of people who really liked Broom of the System, but unfortunately they’re all about eleven.

From David Lipsky’s book-length interview/memoir Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself; the italicized interjections are Lipsky’s.

 

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