David foster wallace updike essay

Well, we know for certain that Baker read Updike, but as to whether or not Wallace read Baker, I do not know. The point is the aesthetic outlook that each writer promotes, and how Baker, both generationally and aesthetically, provides a vector that shows certain traits of contemporary writing morphing into something else. They all stand on their own, but together they are like one of those diagrams of overlapping colored discs, whose overlap creates an additional new color.

Wallace seems to be that new color. Would he have written the way he wrote without Baker in the world? But Baker is in the world. One interesting exercise is to think about Wallace and Baker and what they respectively thought of Updike. Updike was, of course, the exemplary man of post-war letters. Whether you are a fan of his work or not, his achievement—the uninterrupted stream of prose that emanated from his office—was astounding. The fact that he had such a long career, in such varied genres, with all of his books published under one house Knopf and almost all of his stories published within one magazine The New Yorker is unique, never to be repeated.

Because Updike, I think, has never had an unpublished thought. And [.

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The amount of writing, the quality of the writing, the type of mind it signifies, the self-regulation of that mind—all of it disturbs Wallace. Baker was 28 years old.


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Updike has been writing all the years that I have been growing up, and how I have come to depend on the idea that he is writing away as a soothing idea, and then I was reminded of Trollope, and how nice it must have been for writers back then to go about their lives knowing that Mr. I thought this because I had just read a charitable review by you of a book I probably will never read by Andre Dubus, and this had made me go through the pile of magazines to find your story, which my girlfriend had mentioned: there was something wonderful about having this story of yours waiting there, in a wicker basket of magazines, indifferent to whether I read it or not, yet written by a writer whose personality and changes of mood I felt I had some idea of in a way you can only have of a writer who has written a great deal, lots of which you have forgotten, only retaining a feeling of long-term fondness which is perhaps the most important residual emotion of the experience of literature.

Updike is that he is a true writer, and writes out the contents of his mind, and that idea occurred to him once, no doubt, suggested by some book he was reviewing, and he wrote it down; and that was what being a man of letters was all about.

David Foster Wallace bibliography - Wikipedia

Where Wallace indirectly criticizes Updike for writing out the contents of his mind, Baker praises him for the very same thing. If one could call Baker and find him home thinking, one could find Wallace home thinking about thinking. His stories are above all about thinking, the pain and recursion of it, the entrapment of it.

David Foster Wallace

No doubt this component was always present. And this generationally corrective impulse only grows and becomes less postmodernly disguised as Wallace matures.


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His morality becomes clearest in the nonfiction, where Wallace, as the addled would-be reporter, casts a meticulous eye upon, say, the attendees at an Illinois State Fair. I actually find it fascinating and wish he were still around to keep writing, so that we could all see where he would have gone next, not just in terms of his prose style but in terms of his moral vision, which of course were inextricable. Far from it. But his coolly liquid prose is often immune to the sweaty forehead of high belief. His is a well-ordered moralism.

As opposed to Baker, who is an obsessive, one who willingly throws himself into lost causes, such as writing a novel about the assassination of the sitting president, during a mania of war-fed patriotism; or writing a book trying prove the unacknowledged cruelty and bigotry of the Greatest Generation; or a book-length ode to a suffering but artistically necessary, mid-list, medium-grade contemporary American poet.

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But his books, the novels especially, are a controlled playing with a crankish persona, right? Again, Baker commits himself wholly to whatever politico-aesthetic position he finds himself in, and I find this commitment heroic. Wallace has the same didacticism in him but he is wise enough, or postmodern enough, to bury it within a scrim of self-consciousness.

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But it can all get a bit preachy. It sometimes seems like contemporary novelists think their job is teaching us political lessons we already know, a kind of political pep talk.


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  6. It triggers the knowing head nod of the NPR supporter. How did we get to a point where our best fiction reassured our politics rather than stretched the stitching of everything we ever believed? Throughout his career, he played the role of a consistently retro figure -- his first published work was light verse.

    He played golf, non-ironically. Publications, scholarship and other factors keep a writer in the canon, or not.

    From Updike to Baker to Wallace: Under the Brief Shade of the Tuxedo Shop Awning

    They may not be reading Updike, but they may be in 20 years. In a world without a center, he seems from another age. Which makes those four Rabbit books even more important -- that is the main text people will go back to. About Us. I also host occasional book-related contests and giveaways. Questioners and publishers, just email me.

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