18 posts tagged archives
A new cache of F. Scott Fitzgerald poetry’s been discovered. And it’s yours for the low, low price of $75,000.
Biographer D.T. Max discovers an unfinished David Foster Wallace story about the internet. It’s provisional title? “Wickedness.”
Until I saw “Wickedness,” I did not know that Wallace had ever left a stand-alone story unfinished. He tended to recycle what he wrote, and so stories became sections of novels and sections of novels were calved off into stories. But “Wickedness” (also “Wickeder”) appears to connect to no other Wallace project. Maybe it was the start of a new novel, maybe it was meant to be a short story, maybe it was an exercise in voice or a response to the noir novels he enjoyed. In its pages, he returns to the great theme of “Infinite Jest”: the lethal power of media. Only this time, he posits that the locus of our self-annihilation has moved online.
The plot of “Wickedness” centers on a tabloid reporter named Skyles who, dying of cancer of the mouth, is trying to shoot pictures of Ronald Reagan beset by Alzheimer’s for the Web site Wicked.com. Reagan’s privacy at the San Placido Institute—“the Betty Ford of nursing homes,” Wallace calls it—is a matter of not just his own security but also the nation’s: we need to remember him as he was, powerful and in command. “The nation’s morale could be affected, the integrity of the social order,” Wallace writes. “At a certain point their lives are no longer their own.” Skyles’s motive seems to be revenge: a pair of old tabloid buddies have visited him on his boat The Rodent, and revived in him the outlaw pleasures of transgressive photography. (Though Wallace voted for him twice, his choice of Reagan as Skyles’s target seems more plot than emotion driven, but he does get in a few digs in at various public figures: Nancy Reagan’s secret service name, for instance, is Mantis.)
The issue of the media’s increasingly ferocious invasions of privacy was one that Wallace felt acutely after the publication of “Infinite Jest.” In “Wickedness,” the old tabloids—The Star, The News of the World—repulsive as they were, are depicted as playing by rules, but the new ones do not. “Despite all the hoopla about populism and information,” Wallace writes of the Web, “what it really was was the bathroom wall of the U.S. psyche.” He invented for the story the sites Latrine.com, 10footpoll.com, and filth.com, which will stop at nothing to publish humiliating photos of celebrities: “Of this Senator’s penile implant (his pacemaker interdicted Viagra, the RN they’d bought off confided). Of the aging TV actress’s horror and seclusions since the plastic surgery she had to repair the botched face-lift itself was botched and left her with eyes 6” high…. Of William Shatner toupeless.”
What has changed? When Wallace wrote a long piece on the adult-entertainment awards, in 1998, he asked Premiere to order the videos in competition and ship them to him in Bloomington, Illinois. But in the era of the Internet, such shame is removed. Public vices have become private obsessions. The porn theatre has disappeared and the porn video flourishes. “ ‘Title of movie not shown on bill’ tripled hotels’ in-room porn revenues,” Wallace writes at one point. So, too, the Web’s appetite for destructive journalism: we are no longer ashamed to read tabloid news, because it just comes to us on the computer. We don’t choose it; it infiltrates our air. It’s not that these ideas were so new, even in 2000, but in a Wallace story, the statement is conveyed with such intensity that it feels discovered anew. One can see in the margins of the story example after example added of privacy shredded. You sense that Wallace is genuinely mad about it—and intrigued, taking on the persona of the guilty “ogler” he describes in his own essays. “Wickedness” is prescient—one thinks of the blandly shameless mix of crime and sex stories on the AOL home page—but, most of all, it is powerfully wrought.
Harvard hosts a conference on the art, history, and technology of note-taking:
The far-flung things that go on in scholars’ heads when they think about notes became clear at the daylong gathering. Presentations touched on talking points scribbled on Sarah Palin’s hand during a speech, fliers stapled to telephone poles and Twitter posts about the conference itself that were read from the stage all day (the event was live-streamed), many of which expressed anxieties about listeners’ own note-taking abilities.
But the conference was more than a celebration of quirky marginalia and academic navel-gazing. The study of notes — whether pasted into commonplace books, inscribed on index cards or scribbled in textbooks — is part of a broader scholarly investigation into the history of reading, a field that has gained ground as the rise of digital technology has made the encounter between book and reader seem more fragile and ghostly than ever.
“The note is the record a historian has of past reading,” said Ann Blair, a professor of history at Harvard and one of the conference organizers. “What is reading, after all? Even if you look introspectively, it’s hard to really know what you’re taking away at any given time. But notes give us hope of getting close to an intellectual process.”
Photo by Charlie Mahoney
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s postcard to himself. (via)
The Harry Ransom Center in Austin has expanded their David Foster Wallace archives for The Pale King, his 2011 posthumous novel. Here’s a look at one of his notebooks with assorted notes and clippings.
Junot Díaz’s notebook for The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.
Jack Kerouac’s hand-drawn cover for On the Road, submitted with the manuscript as it made its rounds for publication.
This was in 1952, mind you; the seminal American novel wouldn’t find a publisher until 1957. (via)
The New York Times dives into the new edition of Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms and its 47 alternate endings. Above: a draft of the novel’s first page. (Photo courtesy of John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum)
The earliest known atlas of the Americas is at the center of a story of intrigue, intercontinental travel, and thieving Royal Librarians. Also, Sweden.