I cannot stand the scribblings of the pretentious, sanctimonious, vulgar voice of the hipster generation, David Foster Wallace, so I was naturally amused to read of the hilarious tumult surrounding the holding of the 5th Annual DFW Conference.
DFW was duly pious about the fate of the humble lobster, but he was also a bad boyfriend and a lech and even his suicide in 2008 will not protect him from the rage of the #MeToo Feminists.
The Outline gravely wrestles with all the intense moral issues here.
First, the flyers were defaced. Hung in the hallways of Illinois State Universityâ€™s English department, the message was inked identically on each one: NAH I DONâ€™T LIKE PREDATORS, above the clip-art lobster and below the promise of pizza.
This was mid-October 2017 â€” post-Weinstein, pre-C.K. The flyers announced an info session for a committee to plan and execute the schoolâ€™s 5th-annual David Foster Wallace Conference. Wallace taught at ISU for nearly a decade; he wrote almost all his major works there, including the 1996 behemoth Infinite Jest. He also liked to sleep with his students, was abusive to his girlfriend at the time, the writer Mary Karr (whom heâ€™d tried to push from a moving car not long before moving to Illinois in the summer of 1993, and also once hurled a coffee table at), committed statutory rape while away on book tour (or at least told a friend he did), and wrote to his friend Jonathan Franzen to say that he sometimes thought he was â€œput on earth to put his penis in as many vaginas as possible.â€
This stuff had been public knowledge for years (all of the above is drawn from D.T. Maxâ€™s 2012 Wallace biography, Every Love Story is a Ghost Story). But with Weinstein looped on cable news, Wallaceâ€™s past behavior seemed freshly reprehensible, and more people were willing to speak out against a school-sanctioned celebration of his work.
Ryan Edel, the conferenceâ€™s chairman, took the flyers down and tried to forget about them. Edel, a big, soft-voiced Chicagoan with thick glasses and a graying beard, spent five years as a military linguist before going to ISU to get his Ph.D in 2011. As a general rule, conference chairs are experts in their field: authors of monographs, anthology intros, controversial journal articles. Edel, in contrast, had barely heard of Wallace when he took on the job in 2016. He just hadnâ€™t realized that his more-or-less provincial university hosted a conference of international significance.
His ignorance of Wallace, who died by suicide in 2008, extended to the writerâ€™s personal life. Edel had heard hints of bad behavior, and received at least one strongly worded letter from a member of the ISU community calling him out for â€œhonoring someone who had taken advantage of women, particularly students,â€ as he described it. But stacked against all the deification of Wallace as a world-historical genius/saint, this stuff had failed to fully dent his consciousness. Now, he couldnâ€™t post to the conferenceâ€™s Facebook page without being asked point-blank how he justified celebrating an abuser. Maybe the monocled bone-bags over in Updike Studies would scoff at a question like that, and start pompously discoursing on the need to situate writers in their original context. But Edel started personally answering every angry Facebook comment, unambiguously condemning Wallaceâ€™s behavior in self-searching mini-essays that could run to five or six hundred words.