ALTHOUGH OF COURSE YOU END UP BECOMING YOURSELF by David Lipsky
“What I mean is that a lot of stuff that I thought were weaknesses of mine turned out to be strengths. And one of them is that I am not, Iām not a particularly exceptional person. I think Iām a really good reader, and Iāve got a good ear. And Iām willing to work really really hard. But Iām more or less a regular person. – David Foster Wallace”
Review by Doug BrunsĀ (JUL 20, 2011)
There is that question we asked one another in college: Who in history, if you could meet and talk to whomever you wished, would you select? Depending on orientation and background the answers are all over the place: Jesus is a regular; Buddha, and other spiritual luminaries frequently show up. Second tier options, Nietzsche, Thoreau (personal favorite), St. Francis. No surprises there. Aside from a small collection of historyās heavyweights, answers are typically–and sophomorically–idiosyncratic. (More recently, at a dinner party that included a bunch young adults, one answer was, oddly, Jeff Buckley.) I wouldnāt easily toss aside posterityās world-making worthies, but if I were so inclined, Iād turn to the great creative artists. Shakespeare certainly would be a contender. Homer too. Rimbaud would be fun over a couple of beers. Joyce was a good singer, I understand. Iām sure heād light up a room. Reading Lipskyās book, Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, reads like a contemporary answer to the āwho would you chooseā hypothesis. Wallace is gone now, but what if you could just spend a few days with him, even a few hours? What was the man like, really? By his work, he will be remembered. But what of the man?
In March 1996 David Lipsky was assigned to interview David Foster Wallace by Rolling Stone Magazine. Wallace was coming off a book tour, promoting his ground-breaking–and best-selling– tome, Infinite Jest. Wallace, uncharacteristically, agrees to the interview. It will span several days, with Lipsky riding along with Wallace to book readings, NPR interviews, coffee-shop breaks, pit-stops and dog walks. Lipsky writes of Wallace in the introduction, āDavid had a caffeine social gift: He was charmingly, vividly, overwhelmingly awake–he acted on other people like a slug of coffee–so theyāre the five most sleepless days I ever spent with anyone.ā The book reads accordingly. Wallace is a brilliant raconteur, breathlessly intelligent, informed, thoughtful and entertaining in that way we once thought weād be, after we got out of college.
The premise is simple: Ride around with Wallace for five days, tape recorder running and ask him questions. This is the raw stuff of Lipskyās journalism, though it a properly massaged transcription. For example, on smoking pot: āI stopped smoking pot–I think I stopped smoking pot right about the time I got out of grad school. You know, it wasnāt any kind of big decision. I just, it wasnāt shutting the system down anymore. It was just making the system, it was just making the system more unpleasant to be part of. My own system.ā On watching T.V.: āI also, thereās the–like the thing thatās killed it recently for me, is the channel-surfing thing. Is because, I always have this terrible fear that thereās something even better on, somewhere else. And so I will spend all this time kind of skating up and down the channel system. And not be able to get all that immersed in any one thing.ā The book is raw in that stream-of-consciousness way.
The project was shelved and Lipsky never wrote the article. Now, fast-forward a dozen years to the height of the David Foster Wallace posthumous creative industrial complex and someone thinks: Hey, what about those Lipskyās tapes with Wallace? Surely there is a buck or two to be made there! That is the cynical dark-side opinion one might suspiciously hold of this endeavor. That is, here lies yet another exploitive American money-making scheme, cashing out on a brilliant dead writerās extemporaneous ramblings. But there are two sides to this coin. The good news, setting aside this readerās apprehension to slink through the graveyard, is that the rambling is brilliant, insightful, funny and, most of all, human. Magnificently human, that is, if one might be capable of being human on the scale of the magnificent. And as if the writerās works themselves where not sufficient evidence, we now have Lipskyās record. Let there be little doubt, David Foster Wallace had the capacity to be magnificently human. That is, I think, at the core of what draws so many legions of readers. His brilliance was tempered through the filter of his humanity. Here in Lipskyās ride-along, we enjoy the genius–and the man.
For example, here Wallace, sipping on a Diet Pepsi, lays out his simple belief on art: āI have this–hereās this thing where itās going to sound sappy to you. I have this unbelievably like a five-year-oldās belief that art is just absolutely magicā¦.And that good art can do things that nothing else in the solar system can do. And that the good stuff will survive, and get read, and that in the great winnowing process, the shit will sink and the good stuff will rise.ā
Or cultural survival: āAt some point, at some point I think, this generationās gonna reach a level of pain, or a level of exhaustion with the standard, you knowā¦.Thereās the drug therapy, thereās the sex therapy, thereās the success therapy. You know, if I could just achieve X by age X, then something magically…Yāknow? That weāre gonna find out, as all generations do, that itās not like that.ā
There is a terribly sad and poignant scene Lipsky shares in the afterword. Wallaceās condition has deteriorated. His depression medication has lost its punch and he is reeling. He calls his parents and they come to visit. The story, as a family member shared it with Lipsky, is that āone afternoon before they left, David was very upset. His mother sat on the floor beside him. āI just rubbed his arm. He said he was glad I was his mom. I told him it was an honor.āā It sounds blithely naive, but reading this book gave me a feeling of being honored as well, a sense that the man had carved out a bit of time for me. By the end of the book my cynicism had evaporated and I was grateful for this record and the insights it contains.
On a practical note, Becoming Yourself is a good David Foster Wallace reader companion. The copy I read was loaned to me by a friend who has never read his fiction, though she aspires to. Her copy was underlined and dog-eared. It will serve her well once she dives into the works. She will have a foundation of understanding the currents that carry his narrative. Conversely, Iāve read his fiction and coming to the book after that experience, I found it illuminating. It underscored what I found in the readings and nicely dove-tailed into the universes he had so carefully constructed. For the stand-alone experience, that is, the reader who has not read Wallace and has no intention of doing so, the book provides a worthwhile and insightful peek into the world of a modern creative genius.
|AMAZON READER RATING:||from 45 readers|
|PUBLISHER:||Broadway; 1 edition (April 13, 2010)|
|AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE BOOK?||YES! Start Reading Now!|
|AUTHOR WEBSITE:||Wikipedia page on David Lipsky|
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- Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace (April 2010)