I read Infinite Jest for the first time during my freshman year at Boston University. The book had been out for less than a year. I was a film student at Boston University, as was one of the main characters of the book, at the very same university. I imagine this kind of real life circumstance synching up with the specifics of a piece of fiction has a long, storied history of heightening the enjoyment and experience for the reader (like taking in Catch-22 while serving in the Air Force or seeing Taxi Driver while holding the same occupation).
I was wholly enthralled with Infinite Jest. In an honest assessment of the situation I would say my grades probably suffered because of it. I did sincerely want to write a term paper on Hitchcock’s use of music in his films but even more so, I wanted to find out what was going to happen to Gately, Hal and Avril. It’s a large book (usually the first thing you hear about it) and it’s hard to blow through it in any manner one might describe as quick. I stayed in my dorm room and kept reading.
A few weeks into the fall semester I noted in The Phoenix (who seemed to be somehow publishing something about Wallace every single week) that the author was coming to the Boston Public Library to read from his first non-fiction collection (A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again) and reluctantly take part in a Q & A. I obtained a ticket and went to find out what the gentleman behind this amazing book actually looked and sounded like.
The manner in which Wallace came off that night was a genuine surprise: smart, down to earth, funny, self deprecating and hyper-aware of saying anything that might make him sound like an asshole. He was genuinely interested in people’s questions (including mine) and spoke with great care. In response to my badgering him about what he ended up thinking about David Lynch’s Lost Highway (which he had been on set during production of the film and subsequently wrote about for an essay in the book) he answered that it was the kind of question whose answer could come naturally if we were out getting a cup of coffee but in the setting of a Q & A would undoubtedly come across as flip and snarky, which he wanted to avoid. I had never witnessed an interview with an artist I admired speak in a way that reminded me of people I knew from my circle of friends and family.
In the following years I followed Wallace’s radio and TV interviews as closely as I did his published work. His infamous, wildly awkward Charlie Rose appearance was a watershed moment. Wallace sweated, stammered, questioned the interviewer’s motives, and made both enlightening and intensely dumb remarks. People this unsure of how they’re coming off on broadcast TV are usually not allowed on broadcast TV and this, in part, is what made the interview seem so rare and exciting.
My fandom continued on in this manner throughout the following decade. Wallace wrote (or spoke) and I routinely looked forward to seeking it out.
Then on September 12, 2008 the sad ending to Wallace’s story unfolded leaving a haunting shadow covering the bulk of his output.
While the canonization of Wallace began days after his suicide I thought about, yet again, how I had always enjoyed his interviews as much as I did his proper work. I watched the Charlie Rose interview again and was able to smile despite the awful news. I did a quick check of my iTunes and saw that I had downloaded a substantial amount of interviews over the years. Listening back to many of these proved to be, for me, a fitting celebration of the man’s work. Then it occurred to me that others might enjoy this as well.
Because many of the audio files’ original sources had vanished from the internet, were available for stream only, or originated from a video, I thought it might be helpful to collect all of these in one easy place for fans to find and download to a portable audio player. I asked around to see if anyone with web design experience would help me out with the endeavor and my friend Jordyn Bonds offered up her many talents. The site went live in 2009 and we felt terrific about our tribute to Wallace.
Much to our surprise the response from fans was fairly constant. People really seemed to love finding the site, downloading the files, and taking them on long car rides or using them to soldier through tedious work tasks (which proved to be somewhat ironic when we learned that Wallace’s final posthumous novel The Pale King would be partly about the intense boredom felt by IRS workers on a daily basis). Others located audio or video interviews we had missed or had newly emerged. We continued to add things as we discovered them. We enjoyed kind write-ups from places like Paste Magazine and Metafilter. Author Chuck Klosterman gave the site a positive endorsement on Twitter. That was fun.
In creating the David Foster Wallace Audio Project I found out that creating something purely to serve the urges of fandom, expecting nothing in return, is a substantial reward in itself. In a way, this is what fuels the internet today. Very few are being paid to create the tributes and celebrations of culture that cloak the landscape of the web. Whether these tributes be a small fleeting gestures (like an animated GIF from a TV show from the previous night posted to Tumblr) or a decade plus cataloging of every mention, development and piece of work from a certain artist (like Nick Maniatis’ incredible Howing Fantods site, for example), these are labors of love undertaken to serve and celebrate the ideas, books, songs, movies, plays and programs that make our lives seem more alive, more vibrant. Or in some cases, like these recordings (I’d argue), less alone. Or as Wallace states, commenting on his idea of the purpose of fiction, it’s one of the best ways “to combat loneliness.”
The David Foster Wallace Audio Project can be found here.
A (radically condensed and expanded) SUPPOSEDLY FUN THING I’LL NEVER DO AGAIN after David Foster Wallace directed by Daniel Fish runs FEB 22 – 24, 2013 at Studio 7 in the Paramount Center