It may be more difficult than it first appears

“Learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience.” – David Foster Wallace, “Kenyon Commencement Speech, 2005″

It’s non-negotiable

“It seems like one of the things really great fiction-writers do—from Carver to Chekhov to Flannery O’Connor, or like the Tolstoy of ‘The Death of Ivan Ilych’ or the Pynchon of ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’—is ‘give’ the reader something. The reader walks away from the real art heavier than she came into it. Fuller. All the attention and engagement and work you need to get from the reader can’t be for your benefit; it’s got to be for hers. What’s poisonous about the cultural environment today is that it makes this so scary to try to carry out. Really good work probably comes out of a willingness to disclose yourself, open yourself up in spiritual and emotional ways that risk making you really feel something. To be willing to sort of die in order to move the reader, somehow.” — David Foster Wallace (interview with Larry McCaffery in The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Summer 1993, Vol. 13.2)

Submitting to the bondage of the word

“The really tricky discipline to writing is trying to play without getting overcome by insecurity or vanity or ego. Showing the reader that you’re smart or funny or talented or whatever, trying to be liked, integrity issues aside, this stuff just doesn’t have enough motivational calories in it to carry you over the long haul. You’ve got to discipline yourself to talk out of the part of you that loves the thing, loves what you’re working on. Maybe just plain loves.” — David Foster Wallace (interview with Larry McCaffery in The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Summer 1993, Vol. 13.2)

So, occupy this if you will

“What’s been passed down from the postmodern heyday is sarcasm, cynicism, a manic ennui, suspicion of all authority, suspicion of all constraints on conduct, and a terrible penchant for ironic diagnosis of unpleasantness instead of an ambition not just to diagnose and ridicule but to redeem. You’ve got to understand that this stuff has permeated the culture. It’s become our language; we’re so in it we don’t even see that it’s one perspective, one among many possible ways of seeing. Postmodern irony’s become our environment.” — David Foster Wallace (interview with Larry McCaffery in The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Summer 1993, Vol. 13.2)

When the mode of the music changes, the walls of the city tremble

“Rock music itself bores me, usually. The phenomenon of rock interests me, though, because its birth was part of the rise of popular media, which completely changed the ways the U.S. was unified and split. The mass media unified the country geographically for pretty much the first time. Rock helped change the fundamental splits in the U.S. from geographical splits to generational ones. Very few people I talk to understand what ‘generation gap’’s implications really were. Kids loved rock partly because their parents didn’t, and obversely. In a mass mediated nation, it’s no longer North vs. South. It’s under-thirty vs. over thirty. I don’t think you can understand the sixties and Vietnam and love ins and LSD and the whole era of patricidal rebellion that helped inspire early postmodern fiction’s whole ‘We’re-going-to-trash-your-Beaver Cleaver-plasticized-G.O.P.-image-of-life-in-America’ attitude without understanding rock ‘n roll. Because rock was and is all about busting loose, exceeding limits, and limits are usually set by parents, ancestors, older authorities.” — David Foster Wallace (interview with Larry McCaffery in The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Summer 1993, Vol. 13.2)

Watch yourself!

“Once the first-person pronoun creeps into your agenda you’re dead, art-wise. That’s why fiction-writing’s lonely in a way most people misunderstand. It’s yourself you have to be estranged from, really, to work.” — David Foster Wallace (interview with Larry McCaffery in The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Summer 1993, Vol. 13.2)

Crank-turners on the split shift

“When you talk about Nabokov and Coover, you’re talking about real geniuses, the writers who weathered real shock and invented this stuff in contemporary fiction. But after the pioneers always come the crank turners, the little gray people who take the machines others have built and just turn the crank, and little pellets of metafiction come out the other end. The crank-turners capitalize for a while on sheer fashion, and they get their plaudits and grants and buy their IRAs and retire to the Hamptons.” — David Foster Wallace (interview with Larry McCaffery in The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Summer 1993, Vol. 13.2)