Friday, August 26, 2011

David Foster Wallace

It was only a matter of time, I guess, before a trend emerged  critiquing the  late  David  Foster Wallace's prose style as wanting . Maud Newton takes him apart in a recent New York Times  dis-assembly,  stating that Wallace's  diffuse approach to the paragraph was  "...  mannered and limited in its own way, as manipulative in its recursive self-second-guessing as any more straightforward effort to persuade." Newton goes to lengths to connect Wallace to the decline in properly arranged prose on the internet, quite an accomplishment anyway you look at it.     Matt Kiebus in Death and Taxes comes to DFW's defense with equal force, opining that "Wallace’s slangy style somehow made cluttered passages filled with a rather pedestrian amount of “likes,” “ums,” “sort ofs,” “reallys” and “pretty muches” look beautiful. The sprinkling of such ordinary words by an extraordinary writer was extremely uncommon at the time. His style reflected his personality and humanized a man whose mind didn’t operate on our playing field. Wallace’s colloquialisms made him likeable. His talent made him revered."

Wallace's worst sin as a writer wasn't the slangy quality of his style or even the I-might-be-wrong qualifiers that dot his long paragraphs, but that his sentences lacked emphasis. Where other great writers specializing in long sentences achieve their ends with having a point they are unambiguously headed for, which is to say that they have direction and and drive, Wallace has only spread much of the time. In his shorter efforts, like his non fiction collection "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again", the approach works best ; his thinking and digressions are limited to what is actually in front of him . 

The fact that he cannot   transform something materially objective from his imagination is motivation for him, perhaps, to keep matters moving along. It works as well in his book of short fictions, "Oblivion". where is a bit more off-the-leash in his musing. But overall, you weary of his tone, his ambivalence, his diversions from a subject and realize that reading both his fiction and essays leaves the effect of trying to read a book while the pages are being flipped rapidly. Wallace has the dual characteristics of having a short attention span and being perpetually chatty.  What fans might think to be a masterful unraveling of the invisible links between unrelated subjects I find to be a rudderless drift.