Arguments Worth Having

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David Foster Wallace vs. Bret Easton Ellis

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In 1993 Larry McCaffery interviewed David Foster Wallace for the Review of Contemporary Fiction 13.2. Wallace commented on contemporary authors, including Bret Easton Ellis. (The interview at BookShelf). Recently Bret Easton Ellis went down hard on Wallace. I love it when two respected authors attack one another (not happening enough, this article describes Canada, but speaks for everywhere), but why does the second shot have to replicate the first?

Wallace on Ellis:  You can see this clearly in something like Ellis’s “American Psycho”: it panders shamelessly to the audience’s sadism.

It’s a kind of black cynicism about today’s world that Ellis and certain others depend on for their readership. Look, if the contemporary condition is hopelessly shitty, insipid, materialistic, emotionally retarded, sadomasochistic, and stupid, then I (or any writer) can get away with slapping together stories with characters who are stupid, vapid, emotionally retarded, which is easy, because these sorts of characters require no development.

If what’s always distinguished bad writing—flat characters, a narrative world that’s cliched and not recognizably human, etc.—is also a description of today’s world, then bad writing becomes an ingenious mimesis of a bad world. If readers simply believe the world is stupid and shallow and mean, then Ellis can write a mean shallow stupid novel that becomes a mordant deadpan commentary on the badness of everything.

Really good fiction could have as dark a worldview as it wished, but it’d find a way both to depict this world and to illuminate the possibilities for being alive and human in it. You can defend “Psycho” as being a sort of performative digest of late-eighties social problems, but it’s no more than that.

Ellis on Wallace:  Anyone who finds David Foster Wallace a literary genius has got to be included in the Literary Doucebag-Fools (sic) Pantheon…

I continue to find David Foster Wallace the most tedious, overrated, tortured, pretentious writer of my generation…

David Foster Wallace carried around a literary pretentiousness that made me embarrassed to have any kind of ties to the publishing scene…

The Opposite of the “You Praise Me I Praise You”-Dynamic is at work here. It’d sure be nice to see this chain stop. Imagine if Ellis praised Wallace?

Any writer can be validly dismissed or praised. I’ve never read a perfectly satisfying book. Ellis and Wallace are writers I respect. Wallace tends to over analyze, Ellis can be over the top, yet both are strong intellects, competent authors, and deserve to be read and discussed.

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Written by Caleb Powell

September 15, 2012 at 8:54 pm

One Response

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  1. Reblogged this on An Author's Blog and commented:
    The Clause vs. The Cabbie Homicide. Easy you can see this — David Foster Wallace is one of the results I pulled up with some of my work. I really need to read Wallace as I am sure that Kealan [Burke] reads the earlier of the two on this one. I hope Arguments Worth Having can do a face off between me and Burke because he didn’t go to college where I did. I am going to let that faggot, Bret Easton Ellis chew on my thoughts awhile as my classmates seen Less than Zero.    I am reblogging this because I am wondering if Horns (Ewrin) does see a similarities. I see Wallace as someone I need to look for because of writing The Pattern of Diagnosis as I am a little deadpan with my humor when I present an insult like the c-word or the other f-word. I would rather get David Foster Wallace’s work than Bret Easton Ellis. Shit I am far more controversial than Ellis ever will be.

    Nickolaus A. Pacione

    June 10, 2015 at 10:54 pm


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