Robert has always been dubious of David Foster Wallace. He tried to read Infinite Jest when it came out about 100 years ago, but after 150 pages of reading paragraphs he did not understand, and of dreading the idea of slugging through hundreds of more pages of them, he gave up. Immediately after this, he began to think of the book and the writer as simply over his head. Lots of books and writers in that category.
After the writer died, it seemed to Robert, his name entered the public vocabulary and it began to stand for someone who smart people think of as smart. Wallace seemed to generate fame after he killed himself. Somewhere in the back of our minds, we all think that suicide is evidence of genius. Which it is not. Because of this, Robert’s estimation of the writer became worse.
Anyway, this last Christmas Robert’s father in-law gave Mira a collection of Wallace’s essays. Robert has warmed up to the writer, a little bit.
Wallace’s essay, “Deciderization 2007 – A Special Report,” is the introduction to the The Best American Essays of 2007 published annually by Houghten Mifflin. Wallace was that year’s invited “editor.” Of course, the uber “series editor” of the project since 1986 has been Robert Atwan. Wallace spills the beans in his introduction by explaining that he is really a sub-decider. That Atwan chooses the total universe of 100 top essays and then allows the invited editor to choose his/her favorites from that short-list. Wallace then says:
“I have never met Mr. Atwan, but I – probably like most fans of BAE– envision him as by now scarcely more than a vestigial support system for an eye-brain assembly, maybe like 5’8″ and 100 lbs., living full-time in some kind of high-tech medical chair that automatically gimbals around at various angles to help prevent skin ulcers, nourishment and wastes ferried by tubes, surrounded by full-spectrum lamps and stacks of magazines and journals, a special emergency beeper Velcroed to his arm in case he falls out of the chair, etc.”
Like many funny things, it is funny because it is true.