My Literary Love Affair With DFW Begins: Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself by David Lipsky

Posted August 23, 2011 by Heather in Book Reviews / 11 Comments

My Literary Love Affair With DFW Begins:  Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself by David LipskyAlthough Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip With David Foster Wallace by David Lipsky
Published by Broadway on April 2010
Genres: Nonfiction, Interview
Format: Paperback
Pages: 352
Source: my shelves

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Published in 2010, Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself is an interview that David Foster Wallace (DFW) did for David Lipsky of Rolling Stone Magazine in March of 1996, at the tail end of his book tour for Infinite JestRolling Stone never published the interview (they decided to go with something else instead), but after DFW committed suicide Lipsky decided to transcribe all of their recorded conversations and publish the interview in book form.  Lipsky traveled with DFW for five days and their conversations included the topics of television, movies, music, literature, drugs/addiction, depression, life, and DFW’s fear of excess fame.  They really discussed just about everything.  Before I get into my thoughts about the book, let me back up a little bit and explain how I became interested in DFW’s work to begin with.

I originally became interested in David Foster Wallace through Robert of 101 Books.  I vaguely remember hearing all of the talk surrounding DFW’s suicide in 2008, but I don’t think I paid a lot of attention to it at the time because I didn’t really know anything about him.  I had never read anything written by him, and I’m pretty sure he never came up in conversation within my circle of bookish friends at the time.  Robert read and reviewed Infinite Jest back in May and he posted a wealth of information on the book and DFW himself.  This is how I became fascinated with DFW, not as an author at first, but as a person.  I found DFW to be a brilliant (yes, I said it, and I’m not exaggerating my feelings), down-to-earth, humane individual.  He came across as one of those people whom I would love to sit down with and have just a normal, everyday kind of conversation with.  I was hooked.  I’m not sure that ‘obsession’ is the correct word to describe my newfound love for DFW; I would rather call my feelings a deep literary respect/crush and a profound sadness that someone this wonderful—in so many ways—found himself in such pain that the only way he could foresee it ending was through suicide.

David Foster Wallace
photo: The Quarterly Conversation (quarterlyconversation.com)

When I came across Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, I thought it would be interesting to read the interview before sitting down to read Infinite Jest.  I thought it might give me more insight into someone whom I had become literally fascinated with, as well as maybe giving me a little insight into the massive book that I was about to devote over a month of my reading life to.  And it did give me some extra insight into Infinite Jest, but more than that, it gave me a better look at who DFW was as a person and it made me respect him even more.  It also made me very sad.  Although I’m sure it is harder for long-time fans, it was hard for me to read DFW’s light-hearted banter, jokes, and overall positive attitude without remembering over and over the very sad way in which his life ended.

Only two things annoyed me about this book, and they both concern David Lipsky:  Lipsky consistently tried to get DFW to admit that his life was perfect and that he had nothing left to attain (even though DFW didn’t feel that way at all), and Lipsky frequently attempted to turn the interview into a battle of wits to prove that he was just as smart as DFW (the result of which was shining a huge spotlight on his own ego and insecurities).  Eventually I just started paying less attention to Lipsky’s little interjections/comments and focused entirely on DFW’s side of the conversation, since that was what I was most interested in anyway.  I could go on and on about how great I think DFW was, but my words would never do him justice.  Here are just a few of the things he said during the interview that I found moving in some way:

On writers:

What writers have is a license and also the freedom to sit—to sit, clench their fists, and make themselves be excruciatingly aware of the stuff that we’re mostly aware of only on a certain level.  And that if the writer does his job right, that what he basically does is remind the reader of how smart the reader is.  Is to wake the reader up to stuff that the reader’s been aware of all the time.  And it’s not a question of the writer having more capacity than the average person.  It’s that the writer is willing I think to cut off, cut himself off from certain stuff, and develop…and just, and think really hard.  Which not everybody has the luxury to do.

On his parents and their relationship to books/family:

My parents—I have all these weird early memories.  I remember my parents reading Ulysses out loud to each other in bed, in this really cool way, holding hands and both lovin’ something really fiercely.

And I remember me being five and Amy being three, and Dad reading Moby-Dick to us—the unexpurgated Moby-Dick.  Before—I think halfway through Mom pulled him aside and explained to him that, um, little kids were not apt to find, you know, “Cetology” all that interesting.  Um, so they were—but I think by the end, Amy was exempted.  And I did it just as this kind of “Dad I love you, I’m gonna sit here and listen.”  My father’s got a beautiful, like, reading voice, and I would like to listen to him just read the Montgomery Ward catalog or something.

I was aware—it’s weird, it’s the same syndrome I notice in these radio interviews.  That these guys’ voices are so pretty, it dudn’t matter what they’re saying:  I’ll listen to their voices instead of… And I remember really liking to listen to Dad’s voice.  But I remember, I remember because there was some sort of deal about Amy, Amy got exempted from it, and was I gonna be exempted or not?  And I remember kind of trying to win Dad’s favor, by saying, “No, Dad, I want to hear it.”  When in fact I didn’t at all.  I remember being hellaciously bored.  And I remember picking the lint out of my navel with a pen, while Dad was doing it, and Dad saying that was the equivalent of picking your nose.  I mean, I was five.

On addiction (having spent a lot of time in halfway houses for research purposes):

I think my primary addiction in my entire life has been to television.

And one of the things I noticed in the halfway house is the difference between me and like a twenty-year-old prostitute who is dying of AIDS, who’d been doing heroin since she was eleven is, is a matter of accidents.  Choices of substances.  Activities to get addicted to.  And having other resources, you know?  I mean, I really love books and I really love writing, and a lot of these folks never got to find anything else they loved.

I began to see significant relationships between—a significant similarity between my relationship to television, and some of these people in the halfway house’s relation to, say, heroin.  That it seemed to me that the only differences, that the differences were relatively unimportant.  That there’s more than just this sort of desperate hunger, enormous hole to be filled.  And a real inclination to look outside, for like consumer products mostly of varying kinds, to fill it.  And that’s what seemed really like, movingly American about it to me.

On the importance of what Lipsky described as a “certain basic humanity”:

Today’s person spends way more time in front of screens.  In fluorescent-lit rooms, in cubicles, being on one end or the other of an electronic data transfer.  And what is it to be human and alive and exercise your humanity in that kind of exchange?

Yeah…sort of, um, who do I live for?  What do I believe in, what do I want?  I mean, they’re the sorts of questions so profound and so deep they sound banal when you say them out loud.

I think the reason why people behave in an ugly manner is that it’s really scary to be alive and to be human, and people are really really afraid.  That the fear is the basic condition, and there are all kinds of reasons for why we’re so afraid.  But the fact of the matter is, is that, is that the job that we’re here to do is to learn how to live in a way that we’re not terrified all the time.  And not in a position of using all kinds of different things and using people to keep that kind of terror at bay.

Personally, I believe that if it’s assuageable in any way it’s by internal means.  It’s more like, if you can think of times in your life that you’ve treated people with extraordinary decency and love, and pure uninterested concern, just because they were valuable as human beings.  The ability to do that with ourselves.  To treat ourselves the way we would treat a really good, precious friend.

Those are just some of the serious things DFW said that really spoke to me in some way during the interview.  The interview also showed that he was self-aware and -conscious, pretty self-deprecating, very in tune to the human condition and his surroundings, funny, and charming.  He was also quite nervous about how all of the attention he was receiving from Infinite Jest was going to affect him down the road (after the book tour and all of the interviews were over and he was finally able to sit down and think about everything).

I think that this book is a really good introduction to David Foster Wallace as a writer and as a person.  Some parts of it were very hard to read, knowing that he would end up killing himself twelve years later,  but I enjoyed their five-day conversation very much.  I would recommend Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself to any current DFW fan, or to anyone who is interested in reading his books in the future.  I think it gives us a good look into the life and mind of this incredibly smart—and always very human—person.

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(Click here to learn more about David Foster Wallace.)

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  • Somehow, I was aware that Lipsky had done some interviews with DFW, but I hadn’t heard of this book – so I’m so glad you wrote about it, because this is something I’m going to have to read when I get back to the States. It’s interesting to me that the ways we’ve approached DFW are pretty opposite (I don’t remember when I started reading him – years ago, maybe during high school or my first year of college? – but I’ll never forget the day he died, just sobbing at my kitchen table while I stared at his obit) but that we seem to have ended up in the same place re: awe of the guy.

    I’m looking forward to seeing what you think of IJ, given how eloquently you wrote about DFW and Lipsky’s interviewing here. I read it last winter, after multiple failed attempts, but I’m planning to reread it in about a year to (hopefully) gain a better understanding of it.

    • Thank you for the kind words about this review.

      I finished IJ last week, and OH MY GOODNESS. I loved it. I have been doing a lot of thinking about how I’m going to review it and really do it justice. That is going to be a tough one.

  • I’ve never heard of this book or of DFW (I know what rock have I been under), but your review piqued my interest. I’ll be picking this one up soon. Great review.

    • Don’t feel bad–I can’t believe it took me this long to discover him, either. I’m so glad I did, though. He is definitely among the ranks of my favorite authors now.

  • I remember hearing about his suicide, but I really didn’t know much about him as an author. He really did sound like an insightful and smart person. I’ll be interested to read your review of Infinite Jest.

  • I couldn’t agree more with you about your two annoyance concerning Lipsky – especially the fact that he tries to insert himself in the conversation to try to prove he’s on the same intellectual plane with DFW. Of course, that’s ridiculous, because really, no one is. 😉 Still, as HUGE DFW fan, I loved this as insight into how DFW really might have been. It was awesome to learn that he talks in much the same way he writes. And he’s not afraid of a good low-brow joke. He is, and probably always will be, my favorite writer of all time.

    Here’s my review from last May, if you’re interested: http://www.thenewdorkreviewofbooks.com/2010/05/becoming-yourself-roadtrip-with-david.html

    • I’m upset that it took me this long to discover him, but man, am I sure glad I did.

  • So happy to stumble upon this review! I only started reading DFW a year and a half ago, well after his suicide. Sometimes when I read his essays or books I can scarcely believe he is no longer here. What a tremendous talent, who unfortunately suffered so much inner turmoil. If you have opportunity I highly recommend picking up his nonfiction: Consider the Lobster, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again. Such literary gems.

    • Thank you for the recommendations! His nonfiction is actually what I’ll be digging into once I get more of the books read that I already own.

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