It was a pleasure to have D.T. Max visit Loyola this past week. My current students had prepared questions about David Foster Wallace, long-form journalism, and writing in the age of digital media. I was so happy with how the conversation turned out—proud of my students and honored to have Daniel with us for a day. Here's the brief introduction I wrote for the event:
I’ve savored Daniel’s profiles in The New Yorker for years, but it was probably his piece “The Unfinished,” written shortly after the untimely death of David Foster Wallace, that really made me realize the courage and care of Daniel’s reportage. This article was the kernel for what would eventually become his biography Every Love Story is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace.
David Foster Wallace—who would dare to take on such a life? Such a cipher, such a tragedy, such a myth. I’ve been teaching the works of David Foster Wallace here at Loyola over the past several years, and to say that his oeuvre and his personality taken together are daunting is to vastly understate the case. Wallace’s fiction and nonfiction tunnel right into our most modern predicaments, from full-saturation entertainment to the worst kind of hyper-mediated solipsism.
But here’s the thing: Daniel takes on these big personalities, people who have, or who are, changing the shape of a given landscape—be it the slippery terrain of new media, the conservation of Nature, experimental cuisine, cancer, postmodern literature, contemporary art—and Daniel nestles right into the deepest contradictions, paradoxes, and puzzles that lie inside and around such figures and fields.
What makes Daniel’s writing so perfect for our time is that he dares to tackle the uncertain, the undone, the unfinished—those things that are in play, and up for grabs. He takes these subjects on with earnest attention, and with a savvy eye as to their blind spots and everyday conundrums. He writes the kind of stories we need to ponder, if not yet knowing how they will finish.