March 10, 2010

DFW Papers Archived In Austin

David Foster Wallace's private papers will be archived at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, Austin.
The archive contains manuscript materials for Wallace's books, stories and essays; research materials; Wallace's college and graduate school writings; juvenilia, including poems, stories and letters; teaching materials and books.

Highlights include handwritten notes and drafts of his critically acclaimed "Infinite Jest" ... The Wallace materials are being processed and organized and will be available to researchers and the public in fall 2010.
The HRC has uploaded some pictures of the marked-up inside covers of books from Wallace's library, including two Don DeLillo novels; two pages from his dictionary (with the word witenagemot circled); a well-worn copy of Pam Cook's The Cinema Book (which seems to have been very important to the film aspects of IJ); and a bound copy of the corrections for the IJ paperback.

Wallace's agent, Bonnie Nadell, offered a few thoughts on the archive. On that page, there is a maddeningly small jpg of a hand-written IJ page. A slide show includes four additional hand-written pages. ... But wait! The first page is also uploaded at The New Yorker in amazing quality. It is the section that begins on page 157, the 1960 monologue of JOI's father.

Matt Bucher took some "crappy i-phone pics" of some of the stuff that is already exhibited. Very interesting stuff! The cover page of the IJ manuscript Wallace sent to Nadell, which has scribbling all over it, notations written in various coloured pens, features this typed instruction:
Bucher also took a picture of a manuscript page of one of the book's best sections -- the interesting facts you can learn in Boston AA -- which has been heavily edited, words added and subtracted, even some entire lines not in the final book.Someone on wallace-l noted "the feeling of wonder is mixed for me with sadness at how a living human can so quickly become an archive".

It is odd, looking at the chicken-scratch writing on the inside of his paperbacks as though they were museum artifacts. But at the same time, I cannot begin to tell you how much I want to go to see this stuff.

One of my obsessions with Infinite Jest is the nuts and bolts of its creation: How was it constructed, both the individual sections and the overall order of the narrative? What was his timeline of writing the thing? What level of crazy work went into making the narrative sound so perfectly like the reader's own personal interior voice? In one of his letters to Michael Pietsch, his editor at Little, Brown, Wallace mentions having re-written a section "for about the 11th time" -- how did that evolve?

Wallace wrote his early drafts by hand. When, in the finished book, several pages are spent detailing the rapid thought-process in someone's mind, how in the hell can you get that down writing slowly by hand? I guess that's where the real work is, the re-writing, the building, all that stuff behind the curtain. Which leads me back to being in absolute awe that this glorious novel exists.

For each draft of a story or essay there are levels of edits marked in different colored ink, repeated word changes until he found the perfect word for each sentence, and notes to himself about how to sharpen a phrase until it met his exacting eye. Having represented David from the beginning of his writing career, I know there were people who felt David was too much of a "look ma no hands" kind of writer, fast and clever and undisciplined. Yet anyone reading through his notes to himself will see how scrupulous they are. ... [A]nyone looking through his drafts and even his books will see the levels of thinking that went into every sentence and every page.


Zenslinger said...

Every so often an experienced writer either tells me, or I hear it in one of those advice from writers things, that you must compose with a pen and paper.

If true, I'm doomed. I can barely write on a piece of paper any more, and often can't read my own notes.

laura k said...

Lucky for you it's not true. In fact, it's completely ridiculous.

I haven't written with a pen since 7th grade. I switched to an electric typewriter in junior high, and have never gone back to pen and paper.

Many people physically can't write with a pen, their hands don't function well enough. Are they not really writers?

There is only one piece of advice that applies to all writers: do whatever works for you.

laura k said...

PS Allan now wants to move to Austin.

allan said...

DFW would refer to his "orgasm pen" if he had a good writing day.

allan said...

DFW: "I am a Five Draft man. ... I got down a little system of writing and two rewrites and two typed drafts. I’ve used it ever since. I like it."


I really can't write long-hand anymore. It seems too slow and I can't read it. And it doesn't work well with a ton of starts and stops and moving all kinds of shit around.

Here's a good (and probably impossible to answer) Q: Did I develop a workable writing style around the ability to easily cut and paste or does that style actually best suit how I think/write?

There are probably more than two choices, but I don't think the second one is true. How could I think (and thus write) in the same ways at 46 as I did when I was 18 or 25 or 33?