Saturday, September 27, 2008
David Foster Wallace (February 21, 1962–September 12, 2008) was an American novelist, essayist, and short story writer as well as a professor at Pomona College in Claremont, California. Wallace was best known for his 1996 novel Infinite Jest, which Time included in its All-Time 100 Greatest Novels (1923-2006). 
In 2008 Los Angeles Times book editor David Ulin called Wallace "one of the most influential and innovative writers of the last 20 years."
Wallace's first novel, The Broom of the System, garnered significant national attention and critical praise. Wallace moved to Boston, Massachusetts to pursue graduate studies in philosophy at Harvard University. He later abandoned them.
In 1992, at the behest of colleague and supporter Steven Moore, Wallace applied for and won a position in the English Department at Illinois State University. He had begun work on his second novel, Infinite Jest, in 1991, and submitted a draft to his editor in December 1993. After the publication of excerpts throughout 1995, the book was published in 1996.
Wallace published short fiction in Might, GQ, Playboy, The Paris Review, Harper's Magazine, Conjunctions, Esquire, Timothy McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, The New Yorker, and Science.
Wallace received the MacArthur Foundation "Genius Grant" in 1997. In 1997, Wallace was awarded the Aga Khan Prize for Fiction by editors of The Paris Review for one of the stories in Brief Interviews—"Brief Interviews with Hideous Men #6"—which had appeared in the magazine.
In 2002, he moved to Claremont, California, to become the first Roy E. Disney Endowed Professor of Creative Writing and Professor of English at Pomona College. He taught one or two undergraduate courses per semester, and focused on his writing.
Wallace's fiction was often concerned with irony. His essay "E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction", originally published in the small-circulation Review of Contemporary Fiction in 1993, proposes that television has an ironic influence on fiction writing, and urges literary authors to avoid irony. Wallace used many forms of irony, focusing on individuals' continued longing for earnest, unselfconscious experience and communication in a media-saturated society.
Wallace's novels often combine various writing modes or voices, and incorporate jargon and vocabulary (sometimes invented) from a wide variety of fields. His writing featured self-generated abbreviations and acronyms, long multi-clause sentences, and a notable use of explanatory footnotes and endnotes — often nearly as expansive as the text proper. He used endnotes extensively in Infinite Jest and footnotes in Octet as well as the great majority of his nonfiction after 1996. On the Charlie Rose talk show in 1997, Wallace claimed that the notes were used to disrupt the linearity of the narrative, to reflect his perception of reality without jumbling the entire structure. He suggested that he could have instead jumbled up the sentences, "but then no one would read it."
Friday, September 26, 2008
Was the author of Peter Pan a pedophile?
November 19, 2004
I have a friend who continually insists that various historical figures were pedophiles. She's made accusations against such diverse notables as Richard the Lion-Hearted, William Wallace, Julius Caesar, and James Barrie, the author of Peter Pan. I find the accusation against such a beloved figure as Barrie particularly objectionable. I put it to you, O Great Dispenser of Wisdom: Was James Barrie a buggerer?
One might have phrased this a bit more delicately, Puf. Then again, what's the point? With the release of Finding Neverland, a film about the story behind Peter Pan starring Johnny Depp as Barrie, it's certainly the first question a lot of people will ask. So here's the answer: I don't think so. Of course, that's what I said about another guy with an unusual interest in kids, Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll), right before those pictures of naked little girls showed up. But I deal in the world of what's known.
A nicely understated account of the matter may be found in J.M. Barrie & the Lost Boys: The Love Story That Gave Birth to Peter Pan by Andrew Birkin (1979). The seventh child of a Scottish weaver, Barrie possessed the two prerequisites of artistic greatness: talent and an unhappy childhood. Two things contributed significantly to the latter. First, he was short, barely five feet tall by age 17. Second, he ranked a distant second (if that) in the affections of his mother, whose favorite was his charming, handsome, etc., brother David, who was killed in an accident when not quite 14. James, then 6, attempted to console his desolate parent by adopting the mannerisms of the dead youth. On some level he never stopped, and in spirit remained a boy all his life.
Still, he was a boy who could write. Barrie moved to London in his mid-20s and enjoyed quick success, first as a journalist, then a novelist, and finally a playwright. Though shy and moody, he met a pretty (and short) young actress named Mary Ansell and married her in 1894.
The marriage was not happy. Barrie was later rumored to be impotent, but it seems more accurate to say he had little interest in sex. At any rate he never succeeded in getting Mary pregnant, though she was anxious for a child. Barrie too loved children--he just preferred to let other people make them. He and Mary began taking walks with their dog in Kensington Gardens, a park near their London home. He became a favorite of the children brought there by their nannies, entertaining them with his antics and stories about pirates and fairies. The children Barrie was fondest of were the young sons of Arthur and Sylvia Llewelyn Davies. He was an aspiring lawyer; she was beautiful and sweet. Barrie charmed Sylvia as he had charmed her kids and soon insinuated himself into the household, visiting frequently and joining the family on holidays, somewhat to the distress of Mary and Arthur. Ever in need of material, Barrie began incorporating his experiences with the Llewelyn Davieses into his work. The pirate stories he told the boys--eventually there were five: George, Jack, Peter, Michael, and Nico--became the basis for his 1904 play Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Would Not Grow Up. It was unlike anything ever seen on the stage, among other things requiring an elaborate apparatus to permit the players to fly, but proved a huge hit in Britain and the U.S.
Barrie remained close to the Llewelyn Davies family. When Arthur and Sylvia died of cancer within a few years of each other, the playwright found Sylvia's handwritten will in which she requested that Jenny, the sister of the boys' nanny, help look after them. In copying the document for Sylvia's mother Barrie mistranscribed "Jenny" as "Jimmy," i.e., himself--unintentionally, according to Birkin. But even if he did it on purpose, family and friends agree he alone had the resources to take care of the boys, and he became their guardian. Judging from their correspondence, Barrie was part father to the five, part mother, and part . . . well, lover gives the wrong idea, but he was emotionally attached to a degree some found morbid, to George and Michael particularly. George was killed during World War I, however, and Michael drowned at Oxford in 1921. (Some suspected it was suicide.) Peter, who became a successful publisher, threw himself under a London subway train in 1960. You may think: these were troubled folk. Maybe so, but no evidence survives to pin the blame on Barrie, who died in 1937. As for pedophilia, Nico offered what, barring some shocking revelation, will surely stand as the last word on Barrie's sexuality, or lack of it: "He was an innocent--which is why he could write Peter Pan."
— Cecil Adams
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
their bad advice --
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do --
determined to save
the only life you could save.
Wednesday, September 3, 2008
you're looking at the books on the shelf with your back to me
eating ice cream
when i look up your body half bends as you take a funny little kick at a table
and even though i can not see your face
this silly little half-hearted maneuver
tells me that you are happy
i tell you to come to me
you lean low and kiss me
i am thwarted as i'd expected pistachio