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The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

A road trip through the mind of David Foster Wallace

By Zac Farber

In March 1996, Rolling Stone dispatched David Lipsky to Bloomington, Ill., to profile David Foster Wallace, whose novel “Infinite Jest” had obtained a “miasma of hype,” in Wallace’s terms, “that feeds on itself.” Lipsky joined Wallace for the final five days of the “Infinite Jest” book tour, but Rolling Stone scrapped the article until Wallace’s suicide more than a decade later, when Lipsky sifted through the tapes from their road trip to form the basis of a National Magazine Award-winning story. This April, Broadway Books will publish Lipsky’s 300-page long transcription of his time with Wallace.As a book, “Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip With David Foster Wallace” is extremely odd and occasionally mesmerizing. It may be a valuable resource for scholarly appreciation of Wallace’s work, but it is often tedious to read. Consumed, as it is, with Lipsky’s reportorial needs–to nail down facts, to elicit colorful quotations, etc.–the transcript is as much an exploration of the exigencies of magazine journalism as of the contours of Wallace’s mind.

That the transcript is printable at all is testament to Wallace’s verbal facility; his proclivity for insight and wit is nearly as sharp in his spoken words as his written. On the futility of jealousy: “There’s no keen, exquisite pleasure that corresponds with the keen, exquisite pain of envying somebody older.” On entertainment: It “lies on the addictive continuum, and we’re saved right now because it’s just not all that good.” On surrealism: “Surrealism doesn’t work. I mean, most of the word surrealism is realism, you know? It’s extra -realism, it’s something on top of realism.”

The book is also spattered with biographical gems. The Barney towel he used as a window curtain; the Alanis Morissette obsession (“She’s pretty, but she’s pretty in a sloppy, very human way.”); the odd jobs as a security guard and a towel boy at a health club; the time he walked out of an Us Magazine photo shoot; how, while writing “Infinite Jest,” he listened to Nirvana and “this woman named Enya, who’s Scottish.”

But many of these tidbits made it into Lipsky’s Rolling Stone piece, and Lipsky’s insistent questions on a narrow range of topics (the perks of fame, Wallace’s history of depression and drug use) yield redundant answers and narrative stagnancy. On at least ten occasions, Lipsky asks some form of the question “What’s it like to suddenly [wake] up to find [your]self famous?” Lipsky’s agenda is clear: he’s trying to coax Wallace into an expression of glee at his serendipitous success–a success Lipsky cops to craving. But Wallace invariably responds cautiously, mindful of the “paradoxical link” between ambitions and exposure. “The worst thing about having a lot of attention paid to you,” he says, “is that [if] bad attention hurts you, then you realize the caliber of the weapon that’s pointed at you has gone way up. Has gone from like a .22 to a .45. You know?” Lipsky, writing in bracketed annotations, tries to portray his younger self’s preoccupation as a lesson in the desires of youth. “I’m younger than him,” Lipsky writes, “and this is, I see, paramount in my mind: that he must feel an accomplishment here.” But Lipsky’s stubbornness on this point casts a pallor of tedium over the tone and content of many sections of the book.

Lipsky’s transcript makes pleasant reading for academics, the literati, and hard-core Wallace disciples, but the more casual reader may be better served by reading Lipsky’s Rolling Stone profile.

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