Friday, August 21, 2015

The End of the Tour

First let me confess: I have not read An Infinite Jest. I know of David Foster Wallace only through articles and reviews.  A gap in my reading, yes. Just so you know.

I have not even watched any live interview clips, so actor Jason Segal's portrayal in The End of the Tour, which I saw yesterday, is the first 'real life' experience I've had with Wallace. But there I was in the almost empty theater yesterday because I had promised myself a break once I finally finished and turned in a revised synopsis to my agent. (Yes, my afternoon work break consisted of going to a 2 PM matinee about an author who was brilliant, famous and ultimately took his own life.)

Since then, I've done a bit of internet reading, but I would hardly call it immersion and I'm still digesting and pondering, and this man's life is now swirling around with the other mammoth novel I'm in the middle of which is A Little Life, which also touches on the nature of art and life and fame (both desired and achieved) and suffering, among other things.

The back and forth between Jesse Eisenberg's David Lipsky, a Rolling Stone writer (and sometimes novelist) who's come along for the last leg of Wallace's book tour and David Wallace, who seems to both embrace and eschew his enormous fame, is what makes the film tick. That and Joan Cusak as the  Midwest media escort, a role she absolutely nailed and which alone makes the film worth seeing.

If you want a fuller review, try this one from the New York Times, which is as good a place to start as any:

Or a review that talks about how the film nails the both important and sometimes icky life of a reporter:

The questions the film raises are the ones I'm struggling with right now and so I have made them today's Friday Five:

  • What does it mean to be an author in our culture, so fame-crazed as it is? If you've made it to the top, if you're John Green on press junkets, you have to maintain that somehow and it is a thing beyond the work. If you're in murky middle and such things as media escorts or even regular mileage reimbursements are generally still pie in the sky, you can fantasize -- as David Lipsky does in the film-- about the wondrous thing of being so top tier that you have an expense account and people fawning over you and at least a momentary sense that you are smarter than the pack. The question of how long this remains a desirable thing, is another story entirely.
  • No matter who you are, or where your career is, at the end of the day it's still you and the blank screen, creating something out of nothing and hoping it says what you want and that it also says what others want to read, possibly hones into the current zeitgeist in some magical way that makes your career take off or maintain. (Unless you're James Patterson and you have a team of eager writers. That's its own thing, you know?) How do you keep sitting down and doing the work no matter what?
  • In the film, David Foster Wallace and David Lipsky both agree that a benefit of writerly fame is the easier possibility of getting laid. So of course I wonder. Is that what Wallace actually thought? How would that conversation have gone and been perceived if Wallace was a woman and had expressed this to Lipsky? Or if Lipsky was a woman? Does, say, Hanya Yanagihara, author of A Little Life, mentioned above, hope for the same fame benefit? And if she does, and she says this in interviews, how is it perceived? Do women artists in general have a different set of goals for fame? Hmm… I say. Hmmm….
  • How do we handle the inevitable envy that comes with colleagues and friends getting what we're still striving to achieve? As the film opens, Lipsky is reading a gushing review of Infinite Jest which states that it will definitely win every major literary award and he says, "It's as though Paul Bunyan joined the NFL, orWittgenstein had on Jeopardy!"
  • How do we as writers/artists balance the ego needed to write with the ability to still live our life and not let the work consume us or, as was sadly the case with Wallace, who eventually and tragically took his own life, destroy us?
Have you seen The End of The Tour?
What do you think?

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