called to attention, called out of ourselves


Before reading David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King, back in February, I had to enter into a nondisclosure agreement: I would not “advertise that [I had] a copy” or “share the galley (or any part of it)” or emit so much as a tweet in advance of its publication. It was the kind of thing more often associated with the Jay-Zs and Gagas of the world … and in the end, maybe best left to them. By March 30, when Amazon began shipping The Pale King to customers, Little, Brown’s attempt to control the book’s rollout would look downright laughable. Still, the results were the same. Practically every media organ in America was scrambling to cover Wallace. And one sort of has to wonder: at what point did an unfinished manuscript by a writer of avant-garde commitments and Rogetian prolixity and high Heideggerian seriousness (and footnotes) become a genuine pop-cultural event? The answer surely has something to do with the grim fact of Wallace’s 2008 suicide, at age 46. It’s worth noting, though, that he already commanded national name recognition and a devoted following, having cracked best-seller lists and dorm rooms alike with his mid-nineties megalith, Infinite Jest. It was a novel that not only forecast the rise of the web; it practically demanded it. MetaCrawling and AltaVista-ing its “anticonfluential” plot threads and pharmacological arcana became a rite of passage for the literary young. Well into the age of Google, beflanneled undergraduates could be seen listing slightly to port under the weight of the big book in their messenger bags. And though no follow-up novel was forthcoming, Wallace continued to produce volumes of short fiction and shaggily brilliant journalism.

more from Garth Risk Hallberg at New York Magazine here.