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Some Brief Thoughts About DFW’s A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again

Last night, I finished reading David Foster Wallace’s first collection of essays, A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again. While reading it, I often laughed aloud at his mordant descriptions, his perspicacious takedowns of consumer culture, his withering commentary on just about everything that hits any of his senses; and I often marveled at his numerous outrageous digressions, scathing self-scrutiny, daunting yet still paradoxically approachable erudition. Page after page, I couldn’t help feeling that Wallace had embodied Henry James’s admonishment “to be one of the people on whom nothing is lost.” (Actually, Wallace has a number of blind spots, but still far less than most us.) Rather than cherry-pick passages from the book, let me instead suggest you read these essays for yourselves, in the book itself or at the following links:

“Derivative Sport in Tornado Alley” (appeared as “Tennis, Trigonometry, Tornadoes: A Midwestern boyhood” in Harper’s, December 1991)

“E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction” (The Review of Contemporary Fiction, 1993).

“Getting Away from Already Being Pretty Much Away from It All” (appeared as “Ticket to the Fair” in Harper’s, July 1994)

“David Lynch Keeps His Head” (Premiere, Sept 1996)

“Tennis Player Michael Joyce’s Professional Artistry as a Paradigm of Certain Stuff about Choice, Freedom, Discipline, Joy, Grotesquerie, and Human Completeness (appeared as “The String Theory” in in Esquire, July 1996)

“A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again” (appeared as “Shipping Out: On the (nearly lethal) comforts of a luxury cruise” in Harper’s, Jan 1996

And here is Wallace reading excerpts from “Getting Away from Already Being Pretty Much Away from It All” and “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again.” Sandwiched between them is an interview snippet:

8 thoughts on “Some Brief Thoughts About DFW’s A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again

  1. I always thought Derivative Sport In Tornado Alley would make a great first scene to a potantial biopic about Wallace. It was his first book that I read and my favorite essay collection of his. He is a great at observing culture indeed, but I prefer him on offense, like with his essay on television.

    1. Hi, Benoit.

      The set designers for the proposed biopic could probably build the landscape from Wallace’s overwhelming amount of detail.

      Wallace has incredible attack, but it’s tempered by what I would call compassion and understanding for his subject; and even when he gets mean, sometimes even petty, he’ll direct the scrutiny inward, often lacerating himself in the process.

  2. The String Theory was my favorite, being a tennis junkie. Even if you don’t care for tennis-it’s just an expansive wonderful piece.

    1. I enjoyed that one, too, Paula. Wallace also talks a lot about tennis in “Derivative Sport in Tornado Alley”, which I loved mainly for its incredible descriptions of landscape, climate, and other aspects of the particular Midwest landscape he’s examining.

      Have you read “Roger Federer as Religious Experience”? I don’t watch the sport, but these essays have definitely given me a different perspective on it.

      Oh, and there’s also “How Tracy Austin Broke My Heart”, which I’ve not yet read.

      1. I did read the Federer piece and liked it but not as much as the one on Joyce- failure is more interesting to contemplate than genius, even though he makes it clear that Joyce is also a genius, but just how insane that level of competition is (He’s now Maria Sharapova’s coach, for those who care).
        I do not know that Tracy Austin one! Where is it? She’s a regular commentator and- I truly can’t stand her. I would still love to read DFW take on her.

          1. It’s that, but it is further an inquiry into the relationship between sports at its highest level and articulation/insight. It is there, where it goes beyond being a diatribe of Ms. Austin, that it shimmers.

            1. I’d have to read it again, Tim, but I remember “How Tracy Austin Broke My Heart” being an assault on Austin’s insipid, cliché-ridden, and largely ghostwritten memoir, how it failed to even live up to the expectations of its genre. While he does, like his other essays on sports, reflect on the culture of sports (the society that produces the spectacle), Wallace, in this essay, reflects more, it seems to me, on the formal aspects of sports memoirs, viz., how they function, how they succeed, how they fail, etc., with careful attention to the demerits of Austin’s memoir. It’s more a close reading of a text rather than a springboard for a series of digressions, this coming from someone who loves Wallace’s breathtaking digressions.

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