Monday, October 5, 2015


Infinite Jest was published twenty years ago. Its reputation as a heartbreaking work of staggering genius hasn't really flagged since. But with a book that huge and that seemingly difficult, the catch will always persist: is it the book's reputation that's famous, or the book itself? Is it the idea or the deed that's so revered?

This was Dave Wallace's concern from the get-go; he'd crunched the simple numbers. A book that wide and deep would necessarily take a little while to navigate and the bombastic reviews and raves that came tumbling immediately out did so with a speed that implied the reviewer or reader hadn't had enough time to really read it. For someone who wrote out of a want to connect, the idea that someone's connection with his writing was surface and frivolous was a serious bummer. The End of the Tour is a dramatization (based on life) of both that want to seriously connect, to be believed and understood by another person, and fear of superficial connection and understanding.

Young writer Dave Lipsky had a new novel that flopped when he took a job reporting for Rolling Stone. The exact opposite happened for Wallace. Infinite Jest came out and was immediately declared the best book ever. Wallace welcomed Lipsky along on the last leg of his book tour, and that interview, which took place over a few days in Wallace's house, his classroom, hotel rooms, rental cars, and the back of bookstores, became the subject of Lipsky's book Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself and The End of the Tour.

Early on in the interview, Wallace expresses concern over the future of technology and entertainment – the concerns of Infinite Jest. He foresaw, rightly so, that everything would get so slick and efficient that it would become "more convenient to sit alone". In this light, The End of the Tour – while about many things – is a sort of celebration of the sometimes inconvenient but always rewarding act of sitting with someone else. The movie is almost entirely just Lipsky and Wallace (Jesse Eisenberg and Jason Segel, who carry the film without a hint of strain) jawing and is never not compelling. As much as The End of the Tour is about David Foster Wallace, it's the animation of his want to connect, to plumb another person, to reach a point where you can find out about another person and allow them to do the same with you.

It's easy to imagine two people going through this process of discovery, but what the film doesn't really address and could never answer is whether or not one can do this with literature. Of course, that was Wallace's want for his 1000-some page book, and the concern that people are connecting with the notion of the book and not the work itself will always be around. You can get to know a little bit about Dave Wallace through Lipsky book, and through The End of the Tour, and through his probably most-read work, the pocket-sized speech "This Is Water", but it's not enough to trust the reviews and the legacy and the sample platters of his work. As Lipsky's girlfriend tells him, as he's rolling his eyes over the gushing press Infinite Jest is getting: "What if it is actually that good? You just might have to read it." Watch out watching The End of the Tour, you might just have to go and really, seriously read David Foster Wallace afterwards.

- Andrew

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