An article on David Foster Wallace’s unfinished struggle to surpass Infinite Jest.
In his final major interview, given to Le Nouvel Observateur in August, 2007, he talked about various writers he admired—St. Paul, Rousseau, Dostoyevsky among them—and added “what are envied and coveted here seem to me to be qualities of human beings—capacities of spirit—rather than technical abilities or special talents.” He was no longer sure he was the kind of person who could write the novel he wanted to write.
Around this time, Wallace wrote Nadell, telling her that he needed “to put some kind of duresse/pressure on myself so that I quit futzing around changing my mind about the book twice a week and just actually do it.” He prepared a stack of about a hundred and fifty pages of “Pale King” to send to Pietsch. There were plenty of equally finished pages—among them the story of the levitating Drinion—which, for whatever reason, he did not include. “I could take a couple of years unpaid leave from Pomona and try and finish it,” he wrote to Nadell. When she encouraged him, he responded more hesitatingly: “Let me noodle hard about it. It may not be until the end of summer that I’d even have a packet together.” In June, he e-mailed Franzen: “I go back and forth between (a) working to assemble a big enough sample to take an advance, and (b) recoiling in despair, thinking . . . I’d pitch everything and start over.”
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