The End of the Tour

Nearly two years ago, I wrote elsewhere about my ambivalence toward a movie — The End of the Tour — about David Foster Wallace on a book tour for Infinite Jest. I haven’t been sure whether I’d wind up watching the movie or not, for a variety of reasons including a fear that it’d be sort of a hatchet job or lionization and that it’d feel a little ghoulish to watch it, especially given the estate’s decision not to support it.

It came out on demand recently, and last night I decided to watch it. I’m glad I did.

The movie didn’t transport me or anything. It didn’t really make me emote a whole lot, and it also didn’t feel like an outright hack job or lionization to me. Mostly it felt sort of comfortable to watch.

I didn’t love Eisenberg in it because he brought his particular personal flavor to the character of Lipsky, so that he seemed sort of more like Eisenberg playing Zuckerberg playing David Lipsky, which I found distracting. I thought Segel did a remarkable job playing a Wallace who evoked the public Wallace I know from interviews and other recordings, which doesn’t mean he captured Wallace as his intimates would have known him, but which made me feel like I was watching the public person whose work I so admire. So for me it was a nice way to revisit some of the exchanges from Lipsky’s book from which the movie drew its material.

My wife recognized Anna Chlumsky (Lipsky’s girlfriend in the movie) as the actor who played the girl whose best friend dies in the 1991 movie My Girl. I remember reading a book adaptation of the movie when I was at more or less the ages of its characters and really keenly feeling the loss that Chlumsky’s character felt when her best friend (played by Macaulay Culkin in the movie) died. For the most part I was shielded from death when I was a kid, and I don’t know whether it was strange or normal for me to react at the time with real emotion to the death of a character in that book.

There’ve been a few times as an adult that I’ve felt curiously bereft by the loss of a public person, and Chlumsky’s appearance connected that childhood sense of loss to the sickening loss I felt when Wallace killed himself in 2008, which I wrote about at the time here.

I don’t really know whether The End of the Tour was good or not, in sort of the way that when you see ugly babies out there in the world, it makes you wonder whether parents ever know that their own baby is ugly or whether they’re so blinded by their attachment to their child that they can see it as nothing but beautiful. That is, I don’t feel like I have enough distance from the material to make a good aesthetic judgment. I think the movie was probably reasonably good, and it gave me a nice sense of familiarity, as if I was watching old home video of an admired acquaintance, so for me it was a couple of hours well spent.

The End of the Tour

I spent some time today thinking and writing about the recently announced movie, entitled The End of the Tour, that will dramatize the events of David Lipsky’s book Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself. The book is an edited transcript of a road trip Lipsky took with David Foster Wallace on the Infinite Jest book tour. I’ve written extensively about Wallace elsewhere and occasionally here.

One of the things I’ve struggled to remember when writing about Wallace was when exactly I first got my hands on Infinite Jest. Of course I knew it was in college over some Christmas break, but I couldn’t remember the year. Fairly recently, I was able to recover some ancient email archives, and today I thought to check for any references to the book therein. I found one!

The reference lies in an email to one Jim Standish, dated January 2, 1998. So I will have gotten the book at Christmas of 1997. The relevant passage goes as follows:

I had such high reading ambitions for the break. I got through some Milton, a smidge of Eliot, most of a book on WCW, a few of Pound’s poems, and a fair amount of his prose. But I was hoping to get through PARADISE LOST at least two times, and I only managed one reading. Plus there’s a book on Stuart England that I wanted to finish besides reading most of Eliot’s poetry. What sidetracked me was a literary Christmas. My sis gave me three small books about language, two of them more glossaries than anything else, and a big fat fiction book. She remarked that it seemed like all I ever read was literary stuff and she wanted to make me slow down for some contemporary fiction. The book is about 1100 big pages long (100 of ’em end notes in about 6 point font) and is called INFINITE JEST, by David Foster Wallace. It’s been slow going, but worth it. I lack about 98 pages, and I’m pretty much in awe of the discipline required to put together such a complex work. Makes me feel inadequate for my struggles with coherent 18-line poems. So I’m glad to have been exposed to the book, but I hate that my academic reading’s been postponed.

Jim was a fellow I met on a Usenet group dedicated to poetry, which I was pretty into at the time. So the reading references may seem pretentious but were at least earnest and relevant, as Jim and I were in the habit of swapping reading lists and discussing what we were reading. I really enjoyed being pen-pals with him and have often regretted that our correspondence petered out not too long after I graduated. He was old — apparently sort of a long-time staple in the Stanford poetry scene — and died sometime in the five years or so following my graduation.

I write about this discovery in my email trove so that I can get back to it easily the next time I find myself wondering when exactly it was that I first picked up Infinite Jest.