On cataloguing David Foster Wallace

Former NER intern and Middlebury graduate Jenn Shapland writes for The Millions about her summer spent cataloguing Wallace’s papers at UT’s Ransom Center.

I begin with a delicacy that is paralyzing. I fear getting anything out of order, out of place. I fear removing the rubber bands, the paper clips, the numbered Post-it notes. I’m distinctly aware that if I mess up, if I lose the order, the order is lost. That if I damage anything, there is no replacement. This is always the tricky, taxing part of archival work. The sense of responsibility is kind of overwhelming. I have to take out all the staples I find, because they make the paper deteriorate faster. Staples take me about five minutes each, using a thin metal wand, hands shaking. The process feels unnecessarily violent.

[read the essay]


Form and Function

Listen to KCRW’s Bookworm Michael Silverblatt and David Foster Wallace discuss some of the structural components of Infinite Jest as well as their opinions about the plight of modern literature in this stunning interview from 1996:

“MS: ‘…Something came into my head that may be entirely imaginary which seemed to be that the book was written in fractals?’

DFW: ‘Expand on that.’

MS: ‘It occurred to me that the way in which the material is presented allows for a subject to be announced in a small form, then there seems to be a fan of subject matter, other subjects, then it comes back in a second form containing the other subjects in small, then comes back again as if what were being described.. and I don’t know this kind of science but I said to myself, “This must be fractals”.’

DFW: ‘It’s, uh, I’ve heard you were an acute reader. That’s actually one of the things structurally going on. It’s actually structured like something called a Sierpinski Gasket…’ “

listen here