Some Thoughts Upon Finishing The Pale King

I got around to finishing David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King this week. Upon finishing it, I found myself about as ambivalent coming out of the reading as I was going into it. Don’t misunderstand: I’m not in the camp, assuming such a camp exists, that doesn’t shine on the whole posthumous publication business. On the contrary, I’m pretty certain that this book would, in some form or another, probably exist eventually, and find nothing lamentable about its existence as such. Just as some of the book was published in magazines and the like prior to the Little, Brown, & Co. edition, I would be surprised if other sections would not have also seen the light of day in some form or other anyway; whereupon, over time, somebody would have the bright idea to take all the published and unpublished bits and put them all together. It would almost assuredly have looked different had it taken this editorial path toward publication, possibly very different, but The Pale King we would have. Continue reading “Some Thoughts Upon Finishing The Pale King

For the record: Some inaccuracies in §22 of The Pale King

§22 is one of the most powerful sections of The Pale King, providing an account of the narrator’s conversion from a listless burnout to a dedicated IRS agent. Crucial to this process is his accidental attendance of a review session for an advanced tax class, where the professor gives a lecture about the heroic nature of the accounting profession that has been much-quoted in reviews. The purpose of this post is to point out something that bothered me consistently about this chapter, namely its frequent inaccuracies in its references to Chicago. Whether these inaccuracies are DFW’s or the narrator’s (i.e., purposeful) is not completely clear to me, but I am inclined to think they are purposeful and will explain why after listing the primary inaccuracies I found. Continue reading “For the record: Some inaccuracies in §22 of The Pale King

A footnote to Infinite Jest

Is it possible that David Foster Wallace was reading The Martyrdom of Polycarp while writing Infinite Jest? For the sake of avoiding spoilers, I won’t mention the specific scene I have in mind, but everyone who’s read it will recognize what I mean:

When he had pronounced this amen, and so finished his prayer, those who were appointed for the purpose kindled the fire. And as the flame blazed forth in great fury, we, to whom it was given to witness it, beheld a great miracle, and have been preserved that we might report to others what then took place. For the fire, shaping itself into the form of an arch, like the sail of a ship when filled with the wind, encompassed as by a circle the body of the martyr. And he appeared within not like flesh which is burnt, but as bread that is baked, or as gold and silver glowing in a furnace. Moreover, we perceived such a sweet odour, as if frankincense or some such precious spices had been smoking there. [emphasis added because people seem not to get what I’m talking about]