Monday, February 1, 2016

NYT sanitizes DFW

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 .

Related reading
All OCA DFW posts (Pinboard)

comments: 2

Pete said...

Well, at least they called him "Mr."

Michael Leddy said...

Am I missing something? (Besides a link, which I just added.) Bissell calls him Wallace.