Really enjoying David Lipsky’s Although of Course You End up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace. It’s mostly a transcript of conversations between Lipsky and DFW over five days in March 1996, while Wallace was on a book tour for “Infinite Jest.” As you might expect, DFW comes across as brilliant but very human.
He made it clear during the trip that he wasn’t altogether happy with his first novel, “The Broom of the System.” He regretted arguing with his editor, Gerry Howard, about proposed changes, and apparently getting his way. At one point before “Broom” was published, DFW sent Howard a 17-page letter explaining his objections. Having edited more than a few writers myself, doing that editor-writer dance that’s different every time around, I couldn’t help but feel for Howard.
Lipsky asked Wallace if he’d re-read the letter since the book came out. To which DFW replied:
Oh, sure. It talks about how the entire book is a conversation between Wittgenstein and Derrida, and presence versus absence. I mean, Gerry [Gerry Howard, Broom's editor] didn’t want the book to end there. We have a cast of characters who are afraid their names don’t denote, word and referent are united in absence, which means Derrida… you know what? It’s a brilliant little theoretical document, unfortunately it resulted in a shitty and dissatisfying ending, right?
And in fact it was a very cynical argument, because there was a part of me–this was a year and a half after I wrote it, and I know that the ending, there was good stuff about it, but it was way too clever. It was all about the head, you know? and Gerry kept saying to me, “Kid, you’ve got no idea.” Like, “We wouldn’t even be having this conversation if you hadn’t created this woman named Lenore who seems halfway appealing and alive.” And I couldn’t hear. I just couldn’t hear it. I couldn’t hear it. I was in… Dave Land.
I had four hundred thousand pages of continental philosophy and lit theory in my head. And by God, I was going to use it to prove to him that I was smarter than he was. And so, as a result, for the rest of my life, I will walk around… You know, I will see that book occasionally at signings. And I will realize I was arrogant, and missed a chance to make that book better. And hopefully I won’t do it again.