David Foster Wallace Interview, Review of Contemporary Fiction

David Foster Wallace: I’ve found the really tricky discipline to writing is trying to play without getting overcome by insecurity or vanity or ego. Showing the reader that you’re smart or funny or talented or whatever, trying to be liked, integrity issues aside, this stuff just doesn’t have enough motivational calories in it to carry you over the long haul. You’ve got to discipline yourself to talk out of the part of you that loves the thing, loves what you’re working on. Maybe just plain loves… But sappy or no, it’s true. The last couple years have been pretty arid for me good-work-wise, but the one way I’ve progressed I think is I’ve gotten convinced that there’s something kind of timelessly vital and sacred about good writing. This thing doesn’t have that much to do with talent, even glittering talent like Leyner’s or serious talent like Daitch’s. Talent’s just an instrument. It’s like having a pen that works instead of one that doesn’t. I’m not saying I’m able to work consistently out of the premise, but it seems like the big distinction between good art and so-so art lies somewhere in the art’s heart’s purpose, the agenda of the consciousness behind the text. It’s got something to do with love. With having the discipline to talk out of the part of yourself that love can instead of the part that just wants to be loved. I know this doesn’t sound hip at all. I don’t know. But it seems like one of the things really great fiction-writers do – from Carver to Chekhov to Flannery O’Connor, or like the Tolstoy of “The Death of Ivan Ilych” or the Pynchon of “Gravity’s Rainbow” – is “give” the reader something. The reader walks away from the real art heavier than she came into it. Fuller. All the attention and engagement and work you need to get from the reader can’t be for your benefit; it’s got to be for hers. What’s poisonous about the cultural environment today is that it makes this so scary to try to carry out. Really good work probably comes out of a willingness to disclose yourself, open yourself up in spiritual and emotional ways that risk making you really feel something. To be willing to sort of die in order to move the reader, somehow. Even now I’m scared about how sappy this’ll look in print, saying this. And the effort actually to do it, not just talk about it, requires a kind of courage I don’t seem to have yet… It’s weird – it has to do with quality but not that much with sheer writing talent. It has to do with the click. I used to think the click came from, “Holy shit, have I ever just done something good.” Now it seems more like the real click’s more like, “Here’s something good, and on one side I don’t much matter, and on the other side the individual reader maybe doesn’t much matter, but the thing’s good because there’s extractable value here for both me and the reader.” Maybe it’s as simple as trying to make the writing more generous and less ego-driven.

– Interview of David Foster Wallace by Larry McCaffery, Review of Contemporary Fiction,” Summer 1993, Volume 13.2

Full Interview: http://web.archive.org/web/20071017042632/http://www.centerforbookculture.org/interviews/interview_wallace.html

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