Boston’s NPR affiliate WBUR featured an interview/conversation/reading featuring David Foster Wallace on their 25 June broadcast of The Connection. Running a bit over 45 mintues, this isn’t the typical yabble between station identification breaks; Wallace for the most part plays his trademark self-effacing public self, but he does talk at length about mass media and advertising as solely-human constructs, his maturation as a fiction writer, and the bleeding of poststructural theory into mainstream discourse. He also takes a few phone calls from listeners.
Over the weekend, the NY Times Book Review published Walter Kirn’s review of predictably overcautious half-praise.
Wallace’s own work is far from flushable — for one thing it’s just too big and broad — and much of it probably partakes of genius, at least in the chess-grandmaster, Bronx High School of Science sense. He has the vocabulary. He has the energy. He has the big ideas. He has the attitude. Yet too often he sounds like a hyperarticulate Tin Man. Maybe this is concentrated version of how we all sound lately. Data-dazed. Cybernetic. Overstimulated. Maybe this is the voice of the true now. Or maybe genius, like language, can’t do everything, and maybe the Wizard should give the guy a heart.
Now, I am not one of Wallace’s biggest admirers; his writing, though always provocative and interesting and hilarious, fails to entirely convince me. But, still, to criticize Wallace’s prose style! To object to the length and density of his sentences! If nothing else, Wallace is certainly a powerful and innovative stylist. He is doing something to and with the English language that deserves both notice and praise. His sentences are deeply pleasurable in their ornateness and richness of detail; and their twistings and turnings at once exacerbate and mock the hyperbolic meta-self-consciousness whose contradictions, necessities, and discomforts are Wallace’s real subject as a writer. Wallace’s prose style embodies thought and pushes at its limits; the drama of this style is the drama of postmodern irony and earnestness: a play of qualifications to the point of exhaustion, but also a manic, deeply comic energy. The reviewer clearly knows all this, but still he insists that… Wallace doesn’t have a heart! Which is sort of like criticizing Orson Welles for not being Steven Spielberg.