Sven Birkerts: Present at the Creation of “Infinite Jest”

Sven Birkerts is a literary critic and essayist as well as a professor at Boston University and the editor of the literary quarterly AGNI. He was very nearly present at the creation of David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest” more than 20 years ago, but in this conversation, I wanted him to begin with today: how Wallace’s masterpiece became a touchstone for a generation. I asked him if he was ready to call it a great book.

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  • Potter

    Okay, it’s a deal. I am not of this generation, but, if I can open up this book and read anywhere to get a sense of DFW’s creativity, his sense of humor ( apparent in the TD Maxx article in the New Yorker), then I am game. I have a feeling, though, that this generation that is in love with the book, that needs it ( for confirmation?) is going through a stage not so unlike what I/we went through in the late 60’s. This was a tragic time for many who started out lost, many on hard drugs or experimenting, but who never found peace within themselves. I wonder if this is not also, or mainly, about the search for meaning in a world where religion has been abandoned, has disappointed, does not lead to a true self. I believe it a necessary stage; it can be healthy, not destructive. I am thinking of Joseph Campbell’s “Hero with a Thousand Faces”.

    I feel so sorry and sad for those who suffer from such severe depression that they cannot find enough relief. And then after the battle they can’t or don’t want to endure, end it all.I can’t imagine where one has to be in the head to leave this world, a world which has so much joy in it too, to leave a loved one or ones, and to leave in such a way. I have to fight to not feel it a smack in the face (take your world!) But I have looked into the face of such a person; it was awesome painful low-ness. You don’t want to be there.

  • Potter

    Thanks Kunal. Digging into this one at least got me off the near obsession trying to understand the Swartz suicide. There is also a great “Bookworm” interview with the master DFW himself in which he seems to actually enjoy the interview. I wish that Chris could post his interview with DFW. I went through my audio tapes of The Connection and do not find it, so I guess I was not interested enough at the time or never heard it. Also although I really respect Harold Bloom’s opinions and advice about how we should spend our precious time reading (see Nother’s comment), I note that he was really not turned on (maybe in the extreme) by DFW. But what the sounds like I should poke into it. But first War and Peace.