DFW@MLA III

I haven’t had a chance to write up the MLA panel I helped organize, “The Legacy of David Foster Wallace.” It was very well attended — especially for an 8:30 a.m. panel on the last day of the convention — and the talks were all terrific. Fortunately for me, Kathleen Fitzpatrick has written up the special session, offering much more detail than my swiss cheese memory would have been able to provide.

Here are some key tidbits (from Michael Pietsch’s talk) about Wallace’s forthcoming unfinished novel, The Pale King:

Pietsch says Wallace had been working on since 1996, and the novel went through various working titles, including “Glitterer,” “SJF” (which stood for Sir John Feelgood), and “What is Peoria For?” As we’ve heard, Wallace did extensive research for the novel in accounting, tax processes, and so forth. What I hadn’t heard before today was that various pieces we’ve seen in stand-alone form are in fact chapters of the novel, including “The Soul Is Not a Smithy” and “Incarnations of Burned Children.” Pietsch is working with more than 1000 pages of manuscript, in 150 unique chapters; the novel will be published in time for tax day in April 2011. As we know, the subject of the novel is boredom. The opening of the book instructs the reader to go back and read the small type they skipped on the copyright page, which details the battle with publishers over their determination to call it fiction, when it’s all 100% true. The narrator, David Foster Wallace, is at some point confused with another David F. Wallace by IRS computers, pointing to the degree to which our lives are filled with irrelevant complexity. The finished book is expected to be more than 400 pages, and will be explicitly subtitled “An Unfinished Novel”; the plan is to make available the drafts and phases the text went through on a website that will exist alongside the book. Pietsch is editing the book in close collaboration with Bonnie Nadell and the estate, but as we’ve heard him say before, he sees his role very clearly as attempting to order the text into a unified whole, and not making changes that the author isn’t there to argue with.

There is something deeply appropriate about Wallace’s decision to confront the question of boredom, given how much Infinite Jest is concerned with rapturous entertainment. It’s almost as if Wallace saw in the boring, the banal, and the cliché the best candidates for what used to be called grace or spiritual enlightenment.