In marking the twentieth anniversary of the publication of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest (February 1, 1996), The New York Times has sanitized an often-quoted sentence from a Wallace interview. Here’s Wallace, speaking with Larry McCaffery in 1993:
Fiction’s about what it is to be a fucking human being.And now Tom Bissell, writing in the Times :
In interviews, Wallace was explicit that art must have a higher purpose than mere entertainment: “Fiction’s about what it is to be a . . . human being.”Bissell’s piece is excerpted from his foreword to a forthcoming twentieth-anniversary edition of Infinite Jest . The word explicit is odd here, as the Times — I assume it’s the Times, not Bissell — has chosen to be less than explicit.
The excision of fucking may be less deplorable than the outright rewriting a Philip Larkin poem in a 2012 review by Michiko Kakutani: “They mess you up, your mum and dad.” But the Times hasn’t only removed a word: the added ellipsis may too easily be read as an indication of a hesitation or pause in Wallace’s speaking, changing his blunt, inelegant remark into a moment of bathos: “a . . . human being.” It would be easy enough for the Times to suggest the full content without resorting to the ellipsis: “Fiction’s about what it is to be a [f---ing] human being,” or “Fiction’s about what it is to be a [****ing] human being.” They mess you up, The New York Times .
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