Reflections of a DFW Guy
Image by Brian Johnson
From LA Review of Books:
It is not the fashion in literary assessment to admit that we might have thought differently about a book if we’d read it at another time — older or younger, maybe next week instead of last week. Even without buying any fallacy about the objectivity of taste, it is hard to shake the deep intuition that at least our own, personal tastes, like our personalities, are fixed or have more than nominal continuity. To love Mrs. Dalloway is to always love Mrs. Dalloway, et cetera. Everyone knows this postulate is false, of course. But as far as I know, James Wood has never done a drive-by on some new novel while offering the caveat that he was fighting with his spouse the week he read it, so maybe he’ll circle back in a few years and a more charitable mood.
Anyway, David Foster Wallace died about 10 years ago, and — has anyone else had this experience? — his work reads differently to me now than it did then. I’m a little ashamed of how much I once loved it. It is still funny, still terrifyingly smart, precise, moving, still has astonishing range, but it also seems sort of juvenile and aggressive in a way I didn’t sense before. It feels infected by postmortem evidence of his real-life moral failings, including his pretty shameful treatment of women. Or maybe it’s just that I’ve changed, and my tastes have too. I would not have forecast any of that back in 2008. But I suppose no one who’s in love expects to fall out of it, at least not at age 19.