22 February 2012

"Coming to Terms" on Wallace and Franzen

An excellent essay by Jon Baskin in The Point on the friendship and rivalry of David Foster Wallace (Infinite Jest) and Jonathan Franzen (The Corrections, Freedom), the contrasts between their art, and the meaning behind it all:

Even questions bearing directly on the essay’s offensiveness, it turns out, cannot be entirely disentangled from the critical argument at its center. Until “Farther Away,” those writing about Wallace’s death had abided by the injunction, repeated ad nauseum by the arbiters of proper opinion, to separate discussions of Wallace’s fiction from speculations about what, exactly, had made him want to die. Franzen flagrantly violates this rule, and with good reason. The myriad elements of “Farther Away” finally coalesce around Franzen’s identification of two kinds of novels, which he claims are deducible from two kinds of characters, or perspectives. One man (call him Jon) looks at the world and sees other people; the other man (call him Dave) sees only himself. if these two men are novelists, Franzen argues, the former will produce social novels, while the latter will produce novels of the self. As such, the personal anecdotes in “Farther Away” may be justified, critically if not morally, with reference to the angle they offer on what presents as the central literary insight of the piece: namely, that “close loving relationships, which for most of us are a foundational source of meaning, have no standing in the Wallace fictional universe.”

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