To the Creators of The End of the Tour

//mark jay

David Foster Wallace (1962-2008) was the author of many acclaimed books, including Infinite Jest, which was included in Time Magazine’s list of 100 greatest novels from 1923-2005. David Lipsky interviewed Wallace for a Rolling Stone piece in 1996, but the piece was scrapped by the magazine. Lipsky then waited until two years after Wallace’s suicide in 2008 to publish the transcripts of those interviews in his own best-selling book, Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself.

Jason Segel and Jesse Eisenberg on the set of End of the Tour. Courtesy of Vulture Magazine.

Jason Segel and Jesse Eisenberg on the set of End of the Tour. Courtesy of Vulture Magazine.

Production started this year on The End of the Tour, a film based on the interviews Lipsky conducted with David Foster Wallace. Like many Wallace fans, I was deeply upset when I heard about this movie. First, there is the inexplicable decision to cast Jason Segel as the late author. Segel’s portrayal of Wallace comes right off the heels of Sex Tape, a comedic film in which he and Cameron Diaz star as a couple trying to recoup its lost pornographic film. Second, there is the fact that Wallace’s estate has publicly disavowed the film. But most importantly, it should be clear to anyone familiar with Wallace’s life and work that this film is exactly the thing that would have made the late author shudder. Rather than substantiate this last point myself, I have instead compiled the following collage of Wallace’s own words from his novels, stories, essays, and public appearances.


To the Creators of The End of the Tour,

I am coming to see that the sensation of the worst nightmares, a sensation that can be felt asleep or awake, is identical to those worst dreams' form itself: the sudden intra-dream realization that the nightmares' very essence and center has been with you all along, even awake: it’s just been ... overlooked; and then that horrific interval between realizing what you’ve overlooked and turning your head to look back at what’s been right there all along. The dream is that you awaken from a deep sleep, wake up suddenly damp and panicked and are overwhelmed with the sudden feeling that evil’s essence and center is right here, in this room, right now. And is for you alone. [1]

A commercial movie doesn’t try to wake people up but rather to make their sleep so comfortable and their dreams so pleasant that they will fork over money to experience it. [2,3]

Movies are an authoritarian medium. They vulnerabalize you and then dominate you. [4] It is a frightening industry, though not for any of the simple reasons most critics give. [5] Unless you’re one of those rare mutant virtuosos, coming on screen stimulates your "What am I going to look like?" gland like no other experience. [6,7,8] At age sixteen and a half, I started to have attacks of shattering public sweats. [9] I mean, this stuff is real bad for me. I said “yes” to the Lipsky interviews so that I could in good conscience say no to a couple of things that are just way more toxic. [10]

Commercial film allows the moviegoer to pretend he’s somebody else, at ease in the world, unhaunted by voices telling him that there is something deeply wrong with him that isn’t wrong with anybody else and that he had to spend all of his time and energy trying to figure out what to do and say in order to impersonate an even marginally normal or acceptable human being. [11,12] This seduction, a fantasy-for-money transaction, is a commercial movie’s basic point. [13] Saying it this way, it sounds to me very crude and very simple. [14]

I am in here. [15]

Like an actual living person instead of the dithering, pathetically self-conscious outline or ghost of a person you see. [16] And what goes on inside is just too fast and huge and all interconnected to do more than barely sketch the outlines of at most one tiny little part of it at any given instant. [17] I’m complex. [18]

You will say: everybody is identical in their secret unspoken belief that way deep down they are different from everyone else. [19,20] But I am not just a fraud or a boy who plays tennis. I have an intricate history. Experiences and feelings. I do things like get in a taxi and say, "The library, and step on it.” I can create sympathy, repulsion, break your heart inside. [21,22,23,24]

I’m exerting control to control my anger. [25] There’s a part of me that doesn’t get this. [26] It puzzles me that people seem so keen on asking fiction writers straightforward interview-type questions, since if the fiction writers really thought interesting stuff could be talked about straightforwardly they probably wouldn’t have become fiction writers. [27] I have friends that would not cross the street to hear me converse [28]:

The individuals and companies involved with the production were made keenly aware of the substantive reasons for the Trust’s and family’s objections to this project, yet persisted in capitalizing upon a situation that leaves those closest to David unable to prevent the production.
— [29]

But, OK. [30] I give. [31] I’m just as pliable as everyone else. [32] The interview and face are riveting entertainment. It’s almost impossible to look away, or not to feel that special kind of guilty excitement in the worst, most greedy and indecent parts of yourself. You can really feel it: this is why drivers slow down to gape at accidents, why reporters put mikes in the faces of bereaved relatives, why the Haidl gang-rape trial is a hit single that merits heavy play, why the cruelest forms of reality TV and tabloid news and talk radio generate such numbers. But that doesn’t mean the fascination is good, or even feels good. Aren’t there parts of ourselves that are just better left unfed? [33]  

Now the story of the rich man. The rich father who can afford the cost of candy as well as food for his children: but if he cries out “Freedom!” and allows his child to choose only what is sweet, eating only candy, not pea soup and bread and eggs, so his child becomes weak and sick. Is the rich man who cries out “Freedom!” the good father? [34]

You are the rich man. You put the candy within the arms reach. [35] You made a commercial film, a recorded pleasure so entertaining and diverting, a magically entertaining toy to dangle at the infant still alive in us, to make its eyes light and toothless mouth open unconsciously, to laugh, and it for us to choose to see or turn off, and if we cannot choose to resist it, the pleasure, and cannot choose instead to live...? [36,37,38,39]

It is permissible to want. [40] But that feeling of having to obey every impulse and gratify every desire seems to me to be a strange kind of slavery. Nobody talks about it as such, though. We talk about the freedom of choice and you have the right to have things and spend this much money and you can have this stuff. [41]

The truth will set you free. But not until it is finished with you. And the truth is that the world is incredibly, incredibly, unbelievably old. You have been snared by something untrue. You are deluded. You burn with hunger for food that doesn’t exist. [42]

But it wouldn’t have made you a fraud to change your mind. It would be sad to do it because you think you somehow have to. [43]

I'm just going to look pretentious talking about this, because critical complaint seems long ago to have degenerated into plain old whining. [44,45] As in film, there was always something disappointing about clouds when you were inside them; they ceased to be clouds at all. It just got really foggy. [46] Does this make any sense? [47] Commercial film’s goal is to “entertain.” [48] Fiction’s about what it is to be a fucking human being. [49] I think of myself as a fiction writer. [50] Beyond that it all gets too abstract and twined up to lead to anything. [51]

All the best wishes,

Dave Wallace [52]

//Mark Jay is a co-founder of The Periphery.

[1] Infinite Jest, 61-62.
[2] The only work you have to do w/r/t most commercial films is whatever work you did to afford the price of the ticket.
[3] A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, 170.
[4] A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, 169.
[6] A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, 9.
[8] Infinte Jest, 203
[9] Pale King, 91
[12] Good Old Neon, 181
[13] A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, 170
[15] Infinite Jest, 1
[16] Good Old Neon, 181
[17] The reality is that dying isn’t bad, but it takes forever. And that forever is no time at all. I know that sounds like a contradiction, except if time is really passing, how fast does it go? At what rate does the present change? How are you supposed to measure the rate at which time moves? One second per second? It makes no sense. So think for a second: What if there’s really no movement at all? What if this is all unfolding in the one flash you call the present. And of course all this time you’ve probably been noticing what seems like the really central, overarching paradox, which is that this whole thing where I’m saying time doesn’t really go in a straight line is something you have to listen to in chronological time to understand, so if I’m saying that words and sequential time have nothing to do with it you’re wondering why we’re using words and taking up your increasingly precious time, meaning aren’t I sort of logically contradicting myself right at the start. Not to mention - if I really did kill myself, how can you even be hearing this? Meaning am I a fraud? - (Good Old Neon 152-153, 179.)
[18] Infinite Jest, 11
[19] Infinite Jest, 320
[20] Infinite Jest, 205
[21] Good Old Neon, 1
[22] Infinite Jest, 150
[23] Infinite Jest, 571
[24] Infinite Jest, 12
[25] Infinite Jest, 161
[30] Good Old Neon, 143
[31] Infinite Jest
[32] Good Old Neon, 154
[33] The Host
[34] Infinite Jest, 321
[35] Infinite Jest, 321
[36]  A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, 170
[37] Infinite Jest, 321
[38] Infinite Jest, 839
[39] Infinite Jest, 319-321
[40] Infinite Jest, 205
[42] Infinite Jest, 389
[43] Good Old Neon, 180.
[44]  A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, 29.
[46] Pale King, 14
[48] A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, 170
[51] Infinite Jest, 54


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