Tag Archives: David Foster Wallace

My Findings at the David Foster Wallace Archives–

A.K.A.: A Case Study in the Habits of a Highly Effective Thinker (who also had a profoundly tragic life, and thus shame on you if you only see it as an opportunity for self-betterment)

Photo Source: http://www.kcrw.com/etc/david-foster-wallace
The word sprachgefühl means “feeling for language,” and it’s one of a 104-entry vocabulary list DFW made for himself in 1989. We all like that clicking-into-place feeling of finding a word that will zap unnecessary, fumbling explanation. This word, however, conjured a feeling I never had before (and perhaps one that deserves its own word): to find the definition of a word and realize that you are experiencing what that word means in the moment of learning it. One of the benefits to reading Wallace: he engenders sprachgefühl.

If you are not a David Foster Wallace fan, this post can be beneficial because it can be read as a list of habits of effective thinkers. The genius label is quickly calcifying on Wallace. As a teacher, I know the term geniusis deceptive and detrimental. The second someone calls you a genius is the second you fear risks because you want to do everything you can to preserve the title. We think of “genius” as some defining characteristic determined at birth, when in reality, genius is the prolonged practice of hard work, discipline, willingness to fail, and sheer stubbornness.  (For more, see the work of Carol Dweck and growth/fixed mindsets):
If you are a Wallace fan, then my hope is to share some behind-the-scenes insight from looking at his papers at the University of Texas at Austin Harry Ransom Center – the kind of stuff that isn’t in the books and you can’t currently find online.
The last thing I want is to provide some hagiographic junkie his/her fix. That sounds crazy, but read a whacked-out blog post like this one. I hate thinking about the possibility that Michelle Dean neglected walking her dog in order to write that.
Instead, if you like the ideas behind a few pieces of Wallace’s stuff and would care to know more of the submerged part of the iceberg, then you may appreciate this post.
I looked at earlier drafts of “Consider the Lobster,” “This is Water,” Everything and More, a free-write section of The Pale King, the vocabulary lists, and some of his teaching materials.  Continue reading

Why Paula Deen Supports My Opera (+ DFW Update)

Update on the Wallace Papers: I have received permission from the Ransom Center to quote. Now I’m waiting on permission from the copyright holder, the contact for whom happens to be Wallace’s former agent. This process feels like waiting to hear back from a job interview, or asking a very popular person out on a date (and it’s disturbing how similar those two things are).  The situation boils down to a great deal of impatience coupled with an unnecessarily fine line between gentle reminder and harassment. One e-mail too many and you send a bad impression, yet try to “be cool about it” and you may be completely ignored. You’ve got to care, but not show it too much. Continue reading

The Most Beautiful Shade of Red Tape

I made it to the David Foster Wallace papers. When you walk into the Harry Ransom Center, they have a Gutenberg Bible, which gave me high hopes. Then they have a bunch of bronze busts of writers. One or two busts would be pretty cool. After about two dozen crania, however, I was reminded of that scene from Heart of Darkness where Marlow sees the heads on stakes outside Kurtz’s station.

I looked for it, and sure enough, they had a bust of Hemingway. My sentiments echo Michael Palin’s at the beginning of this clip:

With only lambent reference to the bad pun about the busts being a bust, let us return  to Wallace — I flipped through drafts of “Consider the Lobster,” “This is Water,” a free-write portion of The Pale King, notebooks of annotation in preparation for Everything and More, his vocabulary lists, and some teaching materials.

I took many notes, and I have many thoughts. But I have to wait for permission before I can share them with you. I filled out a Declaration of Intent in order to quote from the materials, and I have not heard back from them. I also emailed the copyright holder of the materials. Given 1) the Ransom Center is closed until January 1st and 2) my pretty good track record of screwing up their protocol, I probably won’t be hearing from them for a while.

Now my knee-jerk reaction is to construe this as inconvenient (I have the materials, I have the thoughts, this post can be made, why can’t I share it??) but it’s also an opportunity to live out one of Wallace’s reminders:  awareness. My response to this situation is entirely within  my realm of control.  Continue reading

Pilgrimage to DFW

Soon departing for airport. By this time tomorrow, I will have studied some of DFW’s papers. I look forward to sharing my findings with you.

I hope you have enjoyed the Cardio Sculpt posts. I have a few more DFW-related ideas.

Time to go — for the sake of brevity, please insert witty comment of your choosing here.

A small treat: after hours of scavenging, here are the single two best DFW links I’ve found on the internet.

1. DFW’s dictionary

2. The Catch-All Birthday Tribute.

And happy happy wedding to Ben and Amber!

Transcendence at Cardio Sculpt, Canto III: The Arrival of One-Winged Doves

I can tell it’s mid-workout because my uniform of blue athletic shorts and white cotton t-shirt feels damp. The muscles in my arms and legs are no longer tight. My movements are more fluid; the right parts burn. I’ve learned to study myself in the mirror, not looking at my face (I purposefully take my glasses off so I can’t see with that much detail), but instead looking at my body to fix any imbalances and to ensure that my form is as flawless as possible. When it looks flawless in the mirror, I try to engrain what that feels like in my memory. Continue reading

Transcendence at Cardio Sculpt, Canto II:Or, Rather, What’s the Matter with Cotton Mather?

 N.B.: This post was not intended to offend anybody, but rather give a reflection on the limits of language. If this post offends you at all, send me a message privately. Let’s talk about it. Let’s meet over coffee if we can, face to face. I hope I’m not displaying too overt a naivety regarding the internet and how people communicate over it. The fact is, I care about you.

When we first met our instructor, Kim, my wife and I had her pegged at late thirties, early forties. Turns out she’s a grandmother. She drives a Mustang convertible. Even her hair is athletic: brown ringlets that start off tightly wound and end in frizz spring off her head in all directions. This hair constantly overpowers the force of gravity.

Kim is an artist.1 Anyone can learn the components of a good workout, but she also knows how to make an hour doing those workouts pass quickly, which must be extremely difficult to do.

Every class she has a new slip of paper on which she has chosen the songs and the exercises. She’s versatile – she knows a dozen different ways to work each muscle group and works them in a different order each time. With just enough repetition to be helpful but not monotonous, she switches from muscle group to muscle group in a way that doesn’t feel like you’re dead. We always warm down and stretch to a slow song, something by Aretha Franklin.

She also has an uncanny way of knowing how many more repetitions we must have done based on where we are in a song. All she has to do is listen to the lyrics to know how many more repetitions we have. She has an engrained sense of 4/4 time.  Continue reading

Transcendence at Cardio Sculpt, Canto I: Exercising Equality

“Am I going to be the only guy there?” I asked my wife as I filled up our water bottles.

“No, honey. I signed up for Cardio Sculpt. That was by far the manliest-sounding class.”

“I prefer working out alone.”

“Baby, you’re going to be sculpted – think of the Riacci Bronzes.”


She knew my weak spot. Continue reading

The Triple Bind that Leads to Pilgrimage

December 14th, 2012 is almost guaranteed to be a good day. Two friends that I have known for a long time are getting married, and I’m invited to the ceremony. That’s an important thing and gets priority. However, its relevance to the aim of this blog is secondary, so I will focus on this other thing more, which is not to say that the wedding isn’t important.

The wedding is outside of Austin, Texas. It just so happens that the University of Texas at Austin’s Harry Ransom Center holds the papers of David Foster Wallace.

I have booked an appointment to see his materials. Continue reading