Monday, November 2, 2015

In Between David Foster Wallace & Bret Easton Ellis

And who cares, really, if Bret Easton Ellis sounds off on the late David Foster Wallace. For Ellis, it's an obvious act fitting with his character. Yet, having a literary stand-off can teach us a lot about writing styles, and how trends come and go. It can also teach us that at the end of the day, both men think (thought) too much of themselves.

credit: Camille GĂ©vaudan
I revisited the heavy weight shooting match because of the sentimental DF Wallace movie, End of the Tour.

If Wallace represents (to a degree) bloated, overstimulated and sincere maximalist prose and Ellis the (kind of) cynical, somewhat minimal opposite, then we might understand ourselves as writers by determining where we best fit on the scale in between...assuming there is such a scale.

 An editor for both young writers named Gerald Howard, sums it up this way:
So there it was: two hot (sorry) young writers of about the same age, wildly different in style and temperament, inhabiting the same crowded literary space and clearly getting on each other’s nerves. I know that David envied the savvy with which Bret Ellis and his peer group handled the challenges of  a literary career – and castigated himself for that envy. Both fought hard and successful battles against alcoholism and substance abuse. (I watched both men at different times pound back multiple drinks in startlingly short order and each time thought, Uh-oh.) Both went on to publish culture-shaking novels. “American Psycho,” a macabre put-on that amplified every clichĂ© about yuppie scum to Grand Guignol volume, created a firestorm when the literal minded (of whom there are so many) failed to get the joke. “Infinite Jest” transformed private torment into a vast metafictional diagnosis of our entertainment-bedizened cultural condition, and, weirdly, sounded the first notes of a quest for an irony-free sincerity that has become a ruling style of David’s generation and the ones that followed.
Howard suspects Ellis' rage comes from the realization that Wallace's "irony-free sincerity" style has dominated and is most prevalent today. Do you still find this the case in 2015? It's very difficult to describe the current landscape of fiction writing with any certainty unless you're lying about the width of your vision and reading capabilities. I do notice a lot of earnest, literal-minded plots churned out month after month from the big publishers.

I've read more Ellis than I have Wallace, but that's not to say I like one better than the other. Glamorama was my favorite of the former's, and Oblivion of the latter. If I were to reread either of the two authors it would be Wallace, and probably Oblivion that I'd choose. I wouldn't want to be stranded on a desert island with either American Psycho or Infinite Jest.

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