Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Pale King

An except from David Foster Wallace's posthumous, unfinished novel, The Pale King was published in this week's issue of The New Yorker.

I am enough of a David Foster Wallace fan to read The Pale King, despite the fact that it is unfinished, because a 500 pages of unpolished Wallace is better than no Wallace at all, or, for that matter, the majority of novels that have ever been published. I worry, though, that Wallace has developed such a fanatical readership over the past fifteen years that just about everything he ever wrote, including his college senior philosophy thesis and the (justifiably famous) commencement address he delivered at Kenyon College in 2005, have been published to feed his readership's cravings and, more cynically, to cash in on the profile bump generated by the media coverage of his suicide. Some of it - and The Pale King is probably the best example - was never intended for public consumption in their current forms. Is there a risk that Wallace's legacy as a master stylist and perceptive cultural critic will be ruined by the publication of unfinished works? Wallace was known for, among other things, his high standards and his obsession over details, and the publication of less-than-final drafts puts that reputation at risk.

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