David Foster Wallace vs. Bret Easton Ellis
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?
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.
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.