David Foster Wallace interview on “A Supposedly Fun Thing” on WPR (04/1997)

In this interview, David Foster Wallace discusses many of the essays in his collection, “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again.” Interviewed by Michael Feldman on Whad’ya Know on Wisconsin Public Radio, April 5, 1997.
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In this exuberantly praised book – a collection of seven pieces on subjects ranging from television to tennis, from the Illinois State Fair to the films of David Lynch, from postmodern literary theory to the supposed fun of traveling aboard a Caribbean luxury cruiseliner – David Foster Wallace brings to nonfiction the same curiosity, hilarity, and exhilarating verbal facility that has delighted readers of his fiction, including the bestselling Infinite Jest.

Like the tennis champs who fascinate him, novelist Wallace (Infinite Jest; The Broom of the System) makes what he does look effortless and yet inspired. His instinct for the colloquial puts his masters Pynchon and DeLillo to shame, and the humane sobriety that he brings to his subjects-fictional or factual-should serve as a model to anyone writing cultural comment, whether it takes the form of stories or of essays like these. Readers of Wallace’s fiction will take special interest in this collection: critics have already mined “Derivative Sport in Tornado Alley” (Wallace’s memoir of his tennis-playing days) for the biographical sources of Infinite Jest. The witty, insightful essays on David Lynch and TV are a reminder of how thoroughly Wallace has internalized the writing-and thinking-habits of Stanley Cavell, the plain-language philosopher at Harvard, Wallace’s alma mater. The reportage (on the Illinois State Fair, the Canadian Open and a Caribbean Cruise) is perhaps best described as post-gonzo: funny, slight and self-conscious without Norman Mailer’s or Hunter Thompson’s braggadocio. Only in the more academic essays, on Dostoevsky and the scholar H.L. Hix, does Wallace’s gee-whiz modesty get in the way of his arguments. Still, even these have their moments: at the end of the Dostoevsky essay, Wallace blurts out that he wants “passionately serious ideological contemporary fiction [that is] also ingenious and radiantly transcendent fiction.” From most writers, that would be hot air; from one as honest, subtle and ambitious as Wallace, it has the sound of a promise.

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