Do you want to write like David Foster Wallace? Just follow these guidelines.
I’ve read Lee Siegel’s defense of the late writer John Updike and it seems less a reasoned critique than a courtier’s screech of outrage that any of Updike’s detractors — a dark, bloodthirsty mob led by Cynthia Ozick, David Foster Wallace and, above all, James Wood — should have the temerity to question Updike’s spot at the top of the American literary heap.
And not simply outraged — Siegel’s article fairly rattles and bangs with spluttering, Yosemite Sam-like fury at the mere suggestion that Rabbit Angstrom and Henry Bech may not have a very long shelf life. For a critic to disagree with other critics is nothing new. For a critic to attack other critics for engaging in criticism is simply pathetic.
Considering that Updike enjoyed a remarkable level of acclaim, acceptance and security virtually from the moment he started shaping words on paper, Siegel’s portrait of him as a Great White Male wounded and gouged by a flotilla of literary Ahabs is simply bizarre. As for the jabs at the “electronic anthill” of the Internet . . . well, Siegel’s misadventures on the Web are a matter of record and already the source of much well-deserved ridicule, so I guess we can simply chuckle at the continuing cluelessness of it all.
I’m on record as being ambivalent about Updike’s work: I admire Roger’s Version and some of the other novels, but generally prefer the nonfiction and the generous spirit Updike brought to the craft of reviewing books. Reading some of the faint praise occasioned by Updike’s death — and the even fainter damning tone Siegel uses against his critics — only strengthens my hunch that Updike will end up as another James Gould Cozzens, and if that makes you think “James Gould Who?” — that’s my point.
But even if this turns out to be the case, I would hope that Updike’s reputation could find a more worthy defender than this.
Though I have yet to read any of Wallace’s fiction, I’ve relished his articles and essays for years. The title essay of his collection A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, about the insular, surrealistic world of a cruise liner, is one of the funniest and most closely observed essays I’ve ever read, and the collection also includes “Getting Away from Already Being Pretty Much Away from It All,” his award-winning take on a state fair in midwestern America.
In the literary blog The Valve, Scott Eric Kaufman notes that Wallace was on the verge of what could have been a remarkable middle portion of his writing career — he’d already demonstrated tremendous literary skills and could have taken them anywhere he wished. Apparently his writing output had slowed to a crawl in recent years, and maybe he considered himself washed up as a writer. I have no idea, but I know that depression is the great liar.
Duncan Black, who as Atrios probably did more than any other blogger to hook me on this whole Internet thing, took the name for his site, Eschaton, from the novel Infinite Jest. He explains it better than I could.