The Internet Can't Hate David Foster Wallace Because He Is the Internet

Oh how the mighty fall and rise up again on the internet. David Foster Wallace was once a mildly controversial figure in the literary world; much less so ever since his suicide has transformed him into an artists' martyr. Wallace has been lionized now...

Sep 9 2012, 4:19pm

Oh how the mighty fall and rise up again on the internet. David Foster Wallace was once a mildly controversial figure in the literary world; much less so ever since his suicide has transformed him into an artists’ martyr. Wallace has been lionized now, status cemented as the Voice of a Generation and a definitive literary light. Rightfully so, imho. At least, few other writers managed to engender such a distinctive style or have been more thoroughly emulated — especially online, where sarcasm and justifiably meandering prose are the norm.

And the internet, acting as it can as that broad reflector of the collective cultural opinion, is currently safeguarding his legacy. Its taste-making gatekeepers — not only editorial sites like Slate, Salon, the Atlantic, but entire social platforms like Reddit, Twitter, and Buzzfeed — all play their part in upholding the digitized aura of reverence that surrounds DFW. And when a notable new entry into the saga unfolds, like the publication of a new biography, say, it’s become rather predictable how the arbiters will react: again, measured reverence.

While all that seems justified, it also means that there’s relatively little colorful or shocking or truly interesting commentary that makes it through the cracks. Which, I guess, is why it was widely remarked-upon news when Bret Easton Ellis, author of American Psycho and Less Than Zero, took to Twitter to bash DFW after reading some of the aforementioned biography.

And that made actual headlines not just on myriad blog posts, but in major newspapers. Disagree if you want, but if you’re familiar with Wallace’s work, they get the blood running. There are of course further examples full-on DFW dissent, most of which takes a similar knee-jerk reaction to the cult of admirers he’s inspired.

Here’s DFW making the cut on Gawker’s Things You Can’t Make Fun of on Twitter:

6. David Foster Wallace
FACT: 95% of people who claim to have read “Infinite Jest” are lying. I have a long-standing grudge against people who believe that they are more enlightened than other people just because they read a DFW piece on lobsters or tennis, and I stand by that grudge. DFW fanboys are fucking annoying, especially when they try and use footnotes like he did. Grantland should be DDOSed off the Internet for that crime alone. Anyway, announcing you hate DFW on Twitter will get you a stern lecture from fans of a man who was terminally incapable of saying ANYTHING in 140 characters or less.

There are blog posts entitled ‘Why I hate David Foster Wallace and all he stands for’. Book Riot calls Infinite Jest the most overrated book of all time. There are screeds against his entire body of work, charging as Ellis did, that it is overwrought and fraudulent. And so on — there’s post-death DFW hate out there, if you look for it. But not much. And why not? Why is it such a shock to the system when a writer, a known, ornery provocateur at that, spills a few unkind words towards another?

Well, to take all this a step further, and perhaps onto shakier ground, let’s look at Maud Newton’s 2011 New York Times Magazine essay ‘Another Thing to Sort of Pin on David Foster Wallace’. She argues that DFW left a giant stamp on an entire generation of internet writers and bloggers, leading them to fill their sentences and arguments with ‘kind of’s and qualifications and sloppy half-arguments. It’s true that blogging was and is ideal for such noncommittal, loose and slangily florid prose. Even sans the immaculately constructed argumentation, the DFW template seemed like a breezy but intelligent-sounding manner by which to crank out blog posts and commentary. I’m personally guilty of aping the style some, and I’ve never even read Infinite Jest. And that plethora of writers, editors, bloggers, curators, tweeters and so forth who love or just appreciate Wallace — or feel that they should — now constitute the brotherhood of online good-taste-makers. They surely outnumber those who don’t.

The internet definitely delights in DFW lore — there’s the new ‘Infinite Atlas’ online map this guy made, viral Infinite Jest-inspired music videos, and heavily promoted online book clubs that focus on his work.

So if Maud is right, then Wallace DNA is etched into the blog-heart of the online editorial world. And it’s no wonder, then, that the host so naturally springs to his defense — singling out and dispatching threats, deploying Wordpress-fashioned rebuttals as if they were white blood cells.