Tell us how you really feel, Bret.
Question: David Foster Wallace â€“ as an American writer, what is your opinion now that he has died?
Answer: Is it too soon? Itâ€™s too soon right? Well I donâ€™t rate him. The journalism is pedestrian, the stories scattered and full of that Mid-Western faux-sentimentality and Infinite Jest is unreadable. His life story and his battle with depression however is really quite touching…
Now this is how you hold a grudge, people. Wait until someone dies and then respond to a jab from 17 years earlier! DFW on American Psycho in 1993:
DFW: …You can see this clearly in something like Ellisâ€™s “American Psycho”: it panders shamelessly to the audienceâ€™s sadism for a while, but by the end itâ€™s clear that the sadismâ€™s real object is the reader herself.
LM: But at least in the case of “American Psycho” I felt there was something more than just this desire to inflict painâ€”or that Ellis was being cruel the way you said serious artists need to be willing to be.
DFW: Youâ€™re just displaying the sort of cynicism that lets readers be manipulated by bad writing. I think itâ€™s a kind of black cynicism about todayâ€™s world that Ellis and certain others depend on for their readership. Look, if the contemporary condition is hopelessly shitty, insipid, materialistic, emotionally retarded, sadomasochistic, and stupid, then I (or any writer) can get away with slapping together stories with characters who are stupid, vapid, emotionally retarded, which is easy, because these sorts of characters require no development. With descriptions that are simply lists of brand-name consumer products. Where stupid people say insipid stuff to each other. If whatâ€™s always distinguished bad writingâ€”flat characters, a narrative world thatâ€™s cliched and not recognizably human, etc.â€”is also a description of todayâ€™s world, then bad writing becomes an ingenious mimesis of a bad world. If readers simply believe the world is stupid and shallow and mean, then Ellis can write a mean shallow stupid novel that becomes a mordant deadpan commentary on the badness of everything. Look man, weâ€™d probably most of us agree that these are dark times, and stupid ones, but do we need fiction that does nothing but dramatize how dark and stupid everything is? In dark times, the definition of good art would seem to be art that locates and applies CPR to those elements of whatâ€™s human and magical that still live and glow despite the timesâ€™ darkness. Really good fiction could have as dark a worldview as it wished, but itâ€™d find a way both to depict this world and to illuminate the possibilities for being alive and human in it. You can defend “Psycho” as being a sort of performative digest of late-eighties social problems, but itâ€™s no more than that.