David Lipsky, Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip With David Foster Wallace — July 31, 2010

David Lipsky, Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip With David Foster Wallace

A photo of David Foster Wallace in his study/office. His chair faces our right, and his head is turned right to face the camera. He's holding his black lab on his lap. Wallace's face looks a bit tired.
Anyone who loved David Foster Wallace while he was alive will find this book both very charming and very painful. What [book: Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself] shows very clearly is that David Foster Wallace was the same person in real life that he was on the page. His fans already knew this: the great charm of [book: A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again] — particularly the title essay, which is one of the most gut-bustingly hilarious things you’ll ever read — is that Wallace is like an extremely smart, articulate, verbose, overeducated, humorous friend of yours, walking alongside you and pointing out things about the world around you that you would have missed. You figure out right away that there’s no way Wallace could have faked this on the page.

In [book: Although Of Course], we join Wallace on a book tour for [book: Infinite Jest], his magnum opus about late-20th-century America. [mag: Rolling Stone] has asked David Lipsky to follow Wallace around for a few days on the tour; a road trip ensues. We follow Wallace and Lipsky in cars, on planes, on smoke breaks outside of hotels, and in diners, and we get the largely unedited transcript of their conversation.

The effect is that I love Wallace even more now that it’s over, and could do without David Lipsky. I wanted Lipsky to disappear from the narrative, except that I wanted him to ask more interesting questions. He spends what seems to me like an absurd amount of time asking Wallace how he was dealing with so much fame: Wallace here was at his peak, having been featured on the cover of [mag: Time] magazine (among others). Lipsky’s probing here feels like he’s following around a starlet who’s known for trips into and out of rehab, and continually asking her, “Do you miss alcohol? Would you really like a drink right now? Oh man, you must be thirsty. How about a drink? No, just water. Ha ha. Mind if I have some gin from this flask? Don’t mind me, I’ll just have a drink.” Lipsky is after something, and it’s not clear what. Yes, [book: Infinite Jest] — the instant cause of the road trip — is about American addictions, including addictions to fame, but Lipsky’s questioning goes well beyond what the book itself warrants. He detects in Wallace a fear that becoming famous will take away from his writing, so he keeps poking and poking and poking at it — in the hopes of eliciting what, I don’t know.

The experience of reading a book like this is akin to that of watching a “behind-the-scenes” video from, say, the White House. If you’re like me, you never forget that there’s a camera there, and you never forget that everyone in the room *knows* a camera is there, and you never forget that no matter how much you tell people to “act natural,” they’ll always behave as though there’s a camera in the room. This book calls attention to the camera more than most, or in this case to the microphone: Lipsky transcribes every moment when Wallace asks him to turn off the mic, every moment when the recorder runs out of tape, every moment when Lipsky turns to the mic and adds some context to the transcript (“Here David is talking about…”). Wallace himself often remarks upon the device, and notes how flattering it is to have his every snort, sigh and eye roll scrupulously taken down.

While maybe interesting from some postmodern perspective (*the camera turns back on itself ::spooky involution::*), this makes for exceedingly distracting narration. The book was very consciously laid out as a nearly unedited travelogue, and you can think of various reasons why this might be a good way to do things. But most of the time, I wanted Lipsky to use some authorial discretion. We don’t need to know every time that Wallace coughed. I am sorry to break this news to Lipsky, but it is true.

All that said, [book: Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself] is worthwhile reading because Wallace himself is such a fascinating subject. There’s probably no one with whom I’d rather have gone on a road trip. If Lipsky is up for it, I’d gladly edit this book into a better one that doesn’t feature Lipsky at all. Probably no use waiting by the phone for his call.