BAG (from the intro): Sometimes, when I'm unhappy, I'll read David's commencement speech immortalized in the booklet This is Water. Or I'll read the interview you're now holding. And it makes me happier happier to know that there was such a man, such a mind, such a friend. His words uplift me. Strange, isn't it, that he didn't find the hope within himself the hope he gave to so many others. But he will continue to give us the hope of deep humanity, profound caring, and true understanding. That's the essence of David's enduring legacy.
DFW: One of the things that college drummed into me is, “Welcome to the adult world. It doesn't care about you. You want it to? Make it. Make it care.”
One of the things that's good about writing and practicing writing is it's a great remedy for my natural self-involvement and self-centeredness. Right? “I am the center of my own world, my own thoughts and feelings are more immediate, therefore…”
Good writing is an art, and the horizon is infinite.
Vogue words tend to irritate people who aren't in the group that the vogue words are meant to signal inclusion with, possibly because part of their whole point is to exclude people who aren't in that group.
BAG: What do you think about middle-aged people who adopt the current teenage slang?
DFW: It's pathetic because it's knocking on a door that nobody's going to open.
BAG: Is it true easy writing is cursed hard reading? Does writing well always involve hard work?
DFW: Writing well in the sense of writing something interesting and urgent and alive, that actually has calories in it for the reader the reader walks away having benefited from the 45 minutes she put into reading the thing maybe isn't hard for a certain few. I mean, maybe John Updike's first drafts are these incredible… Apparently Bertrand Russell could just simply sit down and do this. I don't know anyone who can do that. For me, the cliché that “Writing that appears effortless takes the most work” has been borne out through very unpleasant experience.
BAG: How hard have you had to work to get where you are as a writer?
DFW: Like any art, probably, the more experience you have with it, the more the horizon of what being really good is recedes. So a great deal of now being in my 40s and having done this pretty seriously for 20 years is I now have a much better idea of the ways in which I'm not really very good.
BAG: What writers do you most admire?
DFW: You mean writers I think are models of incredibly clear, beautiful, alive, urgent, crackling-with-voltage prose? … You find certain writers who when they write, it makes your own brain voice like a tuning fork, and you just resonate with them. And when that happens, reading those writers becomes a source of unbelievable joy. And I sometimes have a hard time understanding how people who don't have that in their lives make it through the day.
It's also true that we go through cycles. Right? At least in terms of my own work, I've gone through three or four of these, and I'm in one now, where it feels as if I've forgotten everything I've ever known. I have no idea what to do.
And if you're wondering how much I really needed to see that, at this particular point in time:
Most of what I want to do seems like I've done it before. It seems stupid. And except on the days I'm really depressed, I realize that I've been through these before. These are actually good one's being larval. I'm being larval, right? Or else, I just can't do this anymore, in which case I'll find something else to do. And I brood about that a lot.
Finally: the very last page of this book contained a bombshell for me. Basically, my all-time literary hero made specific reference to my all-time intellectual hero. I had no idea the former knew of the latter (though their two best books, and my favourite fiction and non-fiction books ever, came out quite close to the same time). There was a little clue earlier in the book, when Wallace made reference to both “psycholinguistics” and “neuroscience”. And maybe it shouldn't be that surprising he did write a book called The Language Instinct.
DFW: I believe it is better to pay attention and to try to make your language as beautiful and graceful and adroit as possible. But a whole lot of people couldn't care less.
BAG: And the people who couldn't care less are likely to say they could care less.
DFW: Oh that's right. So I made the reverse error. Although Steven Pinker has the whole phonetic, sonic representation of I could care less that's supposed to explain why. It makes no sense! [throws up hands] Anyway, we'll talk about Pinker on some other tape.
I would have given a great deal to hear that other tape.
After reading this book, by the way, I went back and watched this again. You might enjoy doing so, too. It just gets better.