Friday, June 3, 2011

Maybe I Want a Pep-Talk: David Foster Wallace and Don DeLillo

I've always been interested in the correspondence between David Foster Wallace and Don DeLillo -- two of my all-time favorite writers.

The two wrote each other for years. From what I understand, there's a father-son/mentor-student-type component to the letters and their relationship.

Wallace and DeLillo's letters are now part of the Wallace archive at the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas. (DeLillo's archive is there as well.)

Max Ross recently paid a visit and wrote about it.

Ross focuses quite a bit on the Wallace-DeLillo letters:

"In editing his sentences, Wallace edited his thoughts; and in editing his thoughts, he edited himself. Nowhere is this struggle more transparent, and more devastating, than in his correspondence with Don DeLillo. There’s one letter in particular that seems to pit Wallace the Writer vs. Wallace the Compassionate Guy He Wants to Be. The Wallace that emerges from that particular fight is a devastatingly confused guy.

"Many of his letters to DeLillo were advice-seeking, favor-seeking, and comically respectful, full of apologies and thank-yous. There’s something childish – boyish – filial in all Wallace’s letters to DeLillo, and in certain missives he wondered explicitly if he were looking for approval (10/10/95: “Maybe I want a pep-talk”). For today’s literary voyeurs, a big part of what gives the letters their intimacy is that both writers copyedit them, and so the pages are messy with handwritten insertions. Wallace and DeLillo weren’t afraid to show each other their mistakes, and there’s something powerful in that..."

There are two places in the world I'd really like to go to. One is Machu Picchu. The other is The Ransom Center.


Ravi Mangla said...

It would be pretty amazing to read those letters. I'm planning on checking out the Exley archive soon and I heard there are some letters with DeLillo in there, which should be interesting.

Andrew Roe said...

Ravi, I'd love to take a look at the Exley-DeLillo letters too. I remember reading an interview with DeLillo where he mentioned how much he admired A Fan's Notes.