When People Remind You of Your Younger Self…

…and when you have some issues with how your younger self developed, stuff happens.

Consider David Foster Wallace as a professor of creative writing at Illinois State. From the recent bio:

In his undergraduate class, Wallace was kind to the clueless but cruel to anyone with pretensions. When a student claimed that her sentences were “pretty,” he scribbled lined from her manuscript on the blackboard and challenged, “Which of you thinks this is pretty? Is this pretty? And this?” He continued to battle any young man who reminded him of his younger self. When one student wowed his classmates with a voicy, ironic short story, he took him outside the classroom and told him he had “never witnessed a collective dick-sucking like that before.” Wallace promised to prevent the “erection of an ego-machine” and strafed the student with criticism for the rest of the semester.

6 comments on “When People Remind You of Your Younger Self…
  • Unless we are not paying attention, we all have issues with our younger selves; and when we have children, they inevitably develop some of those traits since they have both nature and nurture working in that direction. This is a hard thing to watch…

  • On the other hand, if you like how you turned out, it can give you hope that even the brashest know-it-all will eventually mellow out…not that I’m speaking from personal experience or anything….

  • What kind of heartless bastard breaks up a collective dick-sucking or feels compelled to prevent the “erection of an ego-machine”?

    It must have been the “boy hotly cocky enough to think he might one day inherit [the] ballpoint scepter, to wish to try and sing to the next generation….”.

    Or maybe the sadist “who thinks that readers should have to work hard to get something out of fiction” and treats the readers of Infinite Jest to ten dense pages about the disassembly of a bed, complete with diagrams.

    David Foster Wallace did say the “the human heart is a chump”, and seems to have strived mightily to prove it in that self-indulgent mess, which is, if nothing else, a triumph of anal expulsivness.

    Claire Messud remarked that its style seems “like an effusive overcompensation for insecurity”.


    After all, this is the guy who called the Web the bathroom wall of the US psyche. I look at his writing process the same way.

    It’s pretty ironic that a professor of creative writing, a perpetual adolescent himself, who humiliated these students with gusto, could write: “I’m going to argue that irony and ridicule are entertaining and effective, and that at the same time they are agents of a great despair and stasis in U.S. culture, and that for aspiring fiction writers they pose especially terrible problems.”

    Ironic, too, that your man D.T. Max linked to DFW’s Wonderfully Arrogant First Pitch Letter.

  • Good share, Ben. I’ve been pouring through DFW’s work recently, and run into his apparently inability to forgive himself for his mistakes, or his shortcomings. Rather, I think he was trying to reason his way out of them.

    Illustrates the importance of being able to forgive yourself. I think it’s the only way to truly stay *alive.*

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