The Pale Bro

Here is a post I wrote a few years ago and never hit “publish” on, even though no one reads this. The online literary world has finally, I think, moved on from these inane essays about David Foster Wallace, though there was a chapter in Andrea Long Chu’s much overhyped book about some comedian lady who did some performance art piece about eating Infinite Jest and I must say that neither the performance art nor Chu’s analysis gave me anything new to think about in terms of gender and the literary canon. I never got this post to reflect any kind of coherent thesis about DFW and women who write essays about not reading him, but whatever. Out of the draft pile and into the fire.

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A few months ago I read yet another hot take on the internet about how David Foster Wallace was a bro, and only bros read Infinite Jest, and bros who read Infinite Jest spend most of their waking hours harassing passing women about DFW’s genius, and therefore the most feminist thing you can do for yourself is to not read Infinite Jest, and then write an article about not reading Infinite Jest. I have to say, for most of my life, of which I have been a woman and devoted reader throughout, I had given very little time to pondering the bro-esque qualities of DFW or his many fans. I liked Broom of the System just fine. His non-fiction was mostly too hyper and tinged with meanness for me, and so I find myself in strong disagreement with the people who recommend “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again.” I loved The Pale King. I thought it was profound, even in its unfinished but expertly pieced together state. The person who most regularly recommends Infinite Jest to me is my younger sister, a singular lady whose tastes have never been beholden to any preconceived notion of cool. I’ve certainly met some men who have loved DFW, but what sticks out to me more is that I know four different men with the Trystero symbol tattoo from The Crying of Lot 49, and those are just the ones with it on their forearms, so I suspect I actually know more.

I wanted to dive into this alleged feminist backlash against Wallace a bit, after the sixth or seventh or eighth post I read on this topic. Unfortunately, I am not really in the mood for Infinite Jest. So instead I read Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself. I hated this book. Not because David Foster Wallace expressed thoughts out loud about both wanting to get laid for being a big famous writer man, and yet not wanting to be the kind of dick who wants to get laid for being a big famous writer man. That sounded fair and relatable to me. No, I hated this book because David Lipsky asked DFW the same two dumb questions for three hundred pages: What is like to be a Genius? and, What is like to be an Addict? How the fuck could anyone, even someone as hyper-articulate as David Foster Wallace, answer these questions?? This was so frustrating, though reading the book did increase my enjoyment when I watched End of the Tour, and Jesse Eisenberg and the script ganged up to create a portrayal of Lipsky as a jealous, insecure snake. What I did enjoy- the talking about 90s schlock alternative rock, thinking about the Midwest, and David Foster Wallace’s really, really wrong prophecies for the future.

He was a genius, no doubt, but he spent most the 90s thinking like many people did- that the biggest threat to our collective future was that entertainment (porn) was going to get so good, so virtually real, that people would become more and more passive. Basically, a more thinking man’s version of the Idiocracy fallacy. I think we all might wish that the future (which is now) was all Virtual Reality Sexy Times and not, like, people dying by the hundreds daily because of the opioid crisis and lack of health coverage.

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