Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Continuing Online Adventures of Finding DFW

It's really interesting to me how DFW has found continued life, as it were, online. I have a theory that DFW is probably the first author to experience this trend or way of interfacing with an author after his death. This interfacing happens/is happening on two different levels that converge at odd points. The first interface is the standard scholarly interaciton with the author as a producer of texts. This is the historical method; read/analyze/discourse/write a whole bunch of seconardy commentary/have commentary written about that commentary/etc. This second level which I think is new to serious research and while Wallace may not be the first he is the first for me is the level of an Internet presence. This is doubly odd in Wallace's case because he didn't have a website that he created to hawk his books. This will be unfootnoted for now but I believe he did not even use email until later in his life. There are interview with his editor at Little Brown referencing letters not emails. There are are several sites dedicated to Wallace (Howling Fantods, DFW Once a Day, The David Foster Wallace Audio Project) and with the Infinite Summer reading project many more have sprung up though these typically deal with the readings rather than the individual. Beyond the websites, and this is the really strange and new stuff, is the digitized TV bits of Wallace on Charlie Rose and the audio clips of Wallace reading or being interviewed. These I think are remarkable for two reasons. One  they give a sort of odd half-life to Wallace. He continues to exist in a very limited context through these readings. This is not be macabre or maudlin but, at least I do, these audio/video clips are profoundly excellent sources of research. Wallace in dialogue with Rose or in Q&A after the readings answers some good questions and you also get a feel for how Wallace was as  a person. Or at least how Wallace was as a person in front of a crowd or in front  a TV. This may be debatable but I think that these 'digital interactions' with Wallace can be problematic because I think as more and more scholarship is done researchers will examine these records to attempt to extrapolate what Wallace thought/responded to certain issues. Instead of having Wallace to talk to we're now also exegeting the audio/video clip as well as the text in hopes of mining some deeper implications. Again, Wallace does answer some questions but this continued revolving existence as an online presence presents interesting and careful thought on how researchers will approach him and his life. It's actually possible to not even read a word of Wallace and simply look up video of David Foster Wallace on YouTube and experience him in a completely different way. There's some irony, possibly, in the fact that an author who dealt so stringently with entertainment and communication is archived as a video clip that one can save to favorites or comment on. I never got the pleasure of seeing Wallace read live but am able to revisit these moments through these clips. This presence online of an individual who was not digitally motived or 'Internet-active' is an interesting read on how our current culture thinks about saving or interacting with artists. And behind all of this is the online discussion via wallace-l (the listserv for Wallace readers and discussors) There's a group read of Oblivion going down right now and it's been phenomenal. *Email is  a really weird place to conduct any type of discussion/learning but the wallace-l listers are amazingly kind and courteous so that helps tremendously.* There is the continued conflict perhaps of dealing with an author of texts through a virtual medium.

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