One of the biggest novels of the late twentieth century - both literally and figuratively - was published in February 1996. Infinite Jest by American author David Foster Wallace is nearly 1100 pages long, but the ground-breaking work of literary fiction also became a bestseller.
Lucy Burns speaks to the editor of Infinite Jest, Michael Pietsch.
United States


00:00:00hi and thanks for downloading witness the History podcast from the BBC World Service I'm Lucy bones and today I'm taking you back to February 1996 on the publication of one of the biggest books of the late 20th century by is literally and figuratively David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest
00:00:24I first met David on the page I knew his literary agent and she began sending me some short stories over being published in that first kind of out of the way magazines funny and daring and Rich and I became me at one of his early fans and I was invited to have dinner with him and we went to a small Mexican restaurant and I professed my admiration and he professed if the crate crate awkwardness with being admired and we kind of embarrassed together but enough that we like each other he was doing on threatening not intimidating he's very very down-to-earth and he professed to have a dairy allergy so that makes a lot of Mexican food in work for him
00:01:15David Foster Wallace was a writer that in his early thirties in Illinois by the time he met Michael Peach it already published one Noble and some essays and short stories and it was already industry Buzz around him he spoke to the BBC in 1995 there's something about Literature & Fiction and I think it can do things not only that pop culture can do but their urgent now what is that by creating a character in a piece of fiction you can allow a reader to leap over the wall of self and to imagine himself being that you're somewhere else but someone else it away the television and movies that no other form can do not long enough to that meeting in the Mexican restaurant would go around the David Foster Wallace was planning a second novel something big so I receive this around the first hundred Pages 130 pages of the book and I read these pages and knew there was nothing I wanted more than to have the
00:02:15opportunity of working with this right around estoppel Infinite Jest a quotation from Hamlet I want Michael Peach red with the first few pages of a sprawling epic made up of a number of different stories wife and together in the near future in an elite Tennis Academy in a halfway house in a recovering addict behind the bins and in the back alleys of the city's underground at the center of the plot is a video tape so entertaining anyone who watches it loses the will to do everything else including eat or sleep it was just mind-blowing Lee wonderful and I've never heard My Hands Held more exciting pages and I was fortunate enough to be able to persuade the publisher of the company to invest in this book at level that we've won the auction for it. Of Infinite Jest how would you describe it if it just is a novel that attempts to tell the story of the whole world in a single moment
00:03:13this is what sound incredibly grandiose but for a generation that was Ulysses and when I was in college that book was gravity's rainbow that help me understand the world in for a lot of people David Wallace reading about drug addicts in tennis students in Boston in the 1980s help them understand the whole world and notes I need Ross what even longer or packed was that we would work to make the book that is shorted because it could possibly be and still be at self not have it fall apart parallels between the themes of the book and David Foster Wallace his own life he wrote a lot about things that he knew he was a young tennis player when he was a teenager he also had problems with substance abuse was that something that you guys talked about how closely it was related to his personal experience
00:04:13I was concerned he lived in Illinois when I was working with him on this book mostly I didn't text him in person off and we didn't spend a lot of time talking about our personal lives I guess I knew from his agent that he'd been in a halfway house in treatment halfway house at one point we never talked about it just as we never we never talked about the meaning of the book or what his intentions were that he never wanted to explain it to you wanted people to get what they got out of it it was my job to try to be an ideal dumb reader thing you know I'm confused here is it necessary that be confused
00:04:48biggest concerns throughout the book and throughout his writing
00:04:51to be sincere you will that he felt was twisted out of shape by too much iron a metal or afraid of being walking we're afraid of being stale and formulaic unless we are still in formula to get away that pokes fun at it still for your quad and we have been talk so much both by the lessons of television and the saturation of television what are the things to be afraid of and one of the big reasons why irony and it's been the kind of the mode of discourse in the culture for the last 30 years has really cease to be helpful is that irony is this marvelous carapace that I can use to Shield myself from seeming to you to be naive or sentimental
00:05:37book came out in February 1996 of a novel was a great thing and it's so pretty well it when it first came out and it's sold steadily in large numbers year after year after year because when people read it there deeply moved by it and they want to talk about it they want to tell their friends how much it meant to them did he deal with the success of having been working on this enormous project for so many years and then it coming out and being successful was very happy to see it succeed and and very uncomfortable about being praised he didn't want to read the reviews at that time there was no internet so we would cut out clippings from magazines newspapers and stick them in an envelope and mailed into a writer once a week I want a book came out and he asked us not to do that and he said please it's just call me and let me know if there's a very very bad review
00:06:37in a very public place so I will understand why people why people are looking at me PD ingley 8 what is killed himself at the age of 46 the most horrific shock of my life was hearing of David's death he had kept you kept to himself to a very very close to his family his his his medical condition he did that with severe depression for most of his life and they got the better of him and he did not survive it
00:07:18and only after he died of his wife Karen green and his agent buying a Dell call me to say that in the office garage the garage office in which you worked they had found a lot of pages of a book in progress and they thought there might be a novel there and what I come look with them at what he left behind set in the head coaches of the US Tax Service in to my astonishment and so grieved the light I found that there was this even a beautiful book he did not put it in order yet but he's written in astonishingly Deep full novel about them about finding lights in the outer Leaf tedious and boring parts that's what life is really happening and that's where the great pleasure lies Michael took on the tosk attending the manuscript into a final posthumous novel called The Pale King which also became a best-seller
00:08:14send sister David Foster Wallace has become a cult figure in the world of modern literature is one of the great books about time and it's a book that anyone can read and connect with because it's about the challenges we all face
00:08:43edits of Michael Peach was talking about his friend David Foster Wallace to meet Lucy burned for witness for the BBC World Service and if you're interested in more stories from the world of Awesome books you might not like a sister podcast the cultural Frontline just sexual BBC cultural Frontline

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