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David Foster Wallace

"All That"

December 14, 2009

It's churlish of me, perhaps, to complain about the New Yorker's new habit of publishing extracts from long fictions (ie novels), instead of the complete short ones for which it has so highly burnished a reputation. Anything that gets people to read fiction of any length has to be for the good.

Churlish or not, I must protest the retrofitting of The New Yorker into a trailer park for novels about to be released.

"All That" is not much of a story. It might be a very good chapter, but I'd have to read on to know. As it is, I can only say that I stopped dead at the following announcement, which appears more or less the middle of the fragment that appears in the magazine.

I am not and never have been an intellectual. I am not articulate, and the subjects that I am trying to describe and discuss are beyond my capabilities.

Coming from David Foster Wallace, this is inescapably disingenuous. The late, great writer would be the first to insist that there are things that even he could not comprise. But he could never, ever assert his inarticulacy without rendering the word entirely meaningless; for if David Foster Wallace was inarticulate, the rest of us can do no more than grunt. If Wallace eventually pulls off the "not an intellectual" characteristic of his narrator, he certainly does not do so in the excerpt at hand, which sweats with intellection.

My point here is not that "All That" isn't good. My point is that it's an integral chapter from a novel, not a hunk of bread that can be torn off for a snack.

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