David Foster Wallace

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David Foster Wallace (2006)

David Foster Wallace (born February 21, 1962 in Ithaca , New York , † September 12, 2008 in Claremont , California ) was an American writer and university professor. He became known for his novel Infinite Jest ( Infinite Fun ) , published in 1996 . Time magazine counts the work among the most important English-language novels published between 1923 and 2005. Wallace's life was from battling severe depression and alcohol addictionmarked. He committed suicide during a major depressive episode at the age of 46.

David Ulin, literary critic for the Los Angeles Times , named Wallace "one of the most influential and innovative writers of the last 20 years" after his suicide . Andreas Borcholte characterized Wallace's novels, stories and essays as the most intellectual and artistic in an obituary for the Spiegel Most daring thing that modern American literature has produced in recent years.

Wallace's literary estate includes an incomplete novel that was published in 2011 under the title The Pale King (German title: Der pale König ). The book was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in 2012 . However, the jury could not agree on one of the three finalists, so the 2012 award was not awarded.



David Foster Wallace was born in 1962 to James Donald Wallace and Sally Foster Wallace's first child. His sister Amy was born in 1964. Wallace grew up in the small town of Philo south of Urbana, Illinois , whose small-town life typical of the American Midwest he processed in numerous essays and short stories.

Wallace's father came from an academic family and, after graduating from Cornell University with a degree in philosophy , accepted a teaching position at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the fall of 1962 . His mother had a more rural background: her father grew potatoes in Maine . A scholarship enabled her to graduate from high school in a boarding school. She then studied English at Mount Holyoke College , graduated with a Masters in English after they married, and began teaching English at Parkland College in Champaign when Wallace was ten years old. David Foster Wallace attributes his passion for perfect grammar and the right choice of words to her influence during the decade in which his relationship with his mother was very distant.

Sally Foster's enthusiasm for grammatically correct language could take extreme forms: if one of the family members made a grammatical mistake during dinner, she coughed softly until the speaker noticed his mistake, and she protested in supermarkets when she saw the sign above the express checkout "Ten pieces or less" saw. With just as much passion she invented words for things that the English language did not name. For example, she used "Greebles" to describe the fluff that bare feet carry to bed. In the character of Avril Incandanza, the co-founder of the "Militant Grammarians of Massachusetts", Wallace also portrayed his mother in Infinite Fun .

Childhood and youth

Wallace describes his childhood as happy and average. Books played a big role in his childhood: he was an avid reader of the Hardy Boys , a crime novel series for young people, the Wizard of Oz , the books by PG Wodehouse and Dune , a science fiction novel by Frank Herbert . Television played a no less important role. Together with his family he saw shows like Mary Tyler Moore , All in the Family and M * A * S * H . When he was twelve, his parents gave him his own black-and-white television, and he'd spent so much time watching shows like Hogan's Heroes and Starship Enterprise that it became his parents' concern. In an interview, Wallace describes this activity of intensive television as a schizophrenic experience in his youth.

Shortly before his death, Wallace stated in a summary of his medical history that he experienced the first flare-up of depression when he was nine or ten years old. Neither his parents nor his sister could remember such an early period of depression after his death. Wallace always found himself insignificant and unattractive, felt he was not living up to his parents' expectations, and suffered from profuse sweating. According to his biographer DT Max, it was tennis and marijuana that ultimately helped him get through high school. He was the first of his schoolmates to start playing tennis and made it to 17th place in the regional junior league at the age of 14. In an essay published in 1990 about his experiences as a tennis player, however, he self-critically admitted that his talent in this sport was limited:

“My trifling with tennis excellence had far more to do with a bizarre tendency towards intuitive math and the small-town environment in which I learned and trained than with athletic talent. Even by the standards of a junior league, where everyone is a promising talent, I was a pretty untalented tennis player. My coordination was okay, but I was neither tall nor fast, almost chicken breasts, wrists so narrow that I could put my thumb and little finger around them, and I couldn't play a tennis ball harder or more accurately than most girls in my age group. But I was able to 'play with the whole place'. "

This ability was based on the fact that the mathematically gifted Wallace could intuitively grasp the angle of attack in his game and also take into account the effects of the wind that was always blowing in Illinois. He judged his acceptance of the coincidental influences of the wind and the quality of the tennis court on the result of the game to be just as significant - in his words zen-like - which upset more talented tennis players than him that they played unfocused towards the end of a match. Tennis was still a largely exotic sport in Illinois in the 1970s, practiced by few teenagers, and among these teenagers he made friends with whom he remained lifelong. In 9th grade he became a member of his high school tennis team, which emphasized his outsider status by wearing bandanas , cut T-shirts and brightly colored laces at a time when tennis players were still mostly dressed in white .

Marijuana, while an illegal drug, was easy to obtain and widely tolerated everywhere in the Midwest by the late 1970s. Parents accepted that Wallace smoked marijuana after school before doing his homework. This may also have contributed to the fact that his unusual talent became increasingly evident. At the same time, panic attacks increased, accompanied by profuse sweating, which he tried to hide by always carrying his tennis racket and a towel with him to suggest that he was only sweating so badly because he had just come from sports. His parents did not understand the extent or the meaning of these panic attacks. They did, however, allow him to stay home if he felt unable to go to school and hoped that they would end as soon as he started studying. Occasional outbursts of anger, which in retrospect can be explained as a symptom of his severe depression, were too sporadic to be recognized as symptoms of mental disorders .


Amherst College: College Row's typical brick-style dormitories

Like his father, Wallace studied from the fall of 1980 at the renowned Amherst College , initially logic , philosophy and mathematics . His unusual intellectual abilities were also shown in college. After his first year of study, he received an award as a student with the best grade point average. He remained an outsider at first, but found a lifelong friend in Mark Costello during his second semester, who had a background similar to his and under whose influence he settled in Amherst. Towards the end of the third semester, Wallace went through another depressive phase. One of his professors took in the situation and made sure Wallace see a therapist. A little later, Wallace interrupted his studies and returned to his parents. It was not until the autumn of 1982 that he had recovered to such an extent that he could resume his studies and continue to achieve excellent grades. Together with Costello he revived the satirical college magazine Sabrina , whose model was the Harvard Lampoon . Similar to his success as a tennis player, he found a small group of like-minded people by working for the magazine. One of his friends from that time recalls that their conversations jumped back and forth between subjects like Wittgenstein , the New Deal , current politics, mathematical logic, hot girls and Immanuel Kant . Wallace continued to smoke marijuana frequently. He advised one of his friends against other drugs:

"Don't use LSD or cocaine, because they're dangerous and expensive, in that order ... Mushrooms are fun, they make you giggle, and make you think you're smarter than you are - what kind." While is very funny. "

Wallace was still an avid reader, taking in almost everything on his parents' bookshelves. The two authors who made Wallace look more seriously at the possibilities of literature were Donald Barthelme and Thomas Pynchon , both major exponents of American postmodernism . In particular, the influence of Pynchon's novel The Crying of Lot 49 (dt .: The Crying of Lot 49 ) can not be overestimated in the opinion of Wallace's biographer Max. Pynchon's novel refers to the pop culture (TV shows, thrillers) that shapes American culture. The irony and wit of Pynchon's style also matched what Wallace and Costello wanted to achieve with their college magazine, Sabrina .

Alan Lelchuk

In the late summer of 1983, Wallace went through another period of depression and was prescribed Tofranil , which made him apathetic. He withdrew more and more and began to think about suicide. In the autumn he interrupted his studies again, although he had just won a scholarship as the most promising philosophy student, which he now had to repay. Under the influence of his therapist, he realized that he was suffering from an endogenous form of depression that would be with him for life. During this time, one of the first short stories was created, which already shows features that are characteristic of the later works. The Planet Trillaphon as It Stands in Relation to the Bad Thing contains numerous autobiographical references in the description of the experiences of a depressed student and was published in the Amherst Review , the literary magazine of Amherst, after Wallace returned to college . In college he was now mostly taking literature classes. Most influential was a seminar in creative writing given by the writer Alan Lelchuk . Lelchuk, a realist writer, was not enthusiastic about the work Wallace put in front of him, but acknowledged that he had an unusual talent.

In 1985 Wallace graduated from Amherst College and received summa cum laude in both philosophy and literature . His bachelor thesis on modal logic earned him the Gail Kennedy Memorial Prize . From his thesis on English literature, he later developed his first novel, The Broom of the System . Working on it had also made it clear to him that writing was what he wanted to do in the future.

University of Arizona

During his senior year at Amherst College, Wallace had applied for several graduate programs in creative writing that earned him a Masters of Fine Arts (MFA). Wallace knew that his health was fragile and the only form of work that was covered by health insurance for a writer was teaching, and to teach he needed an MFA. Wallace's applications have been accepted by several universities, including the University of Iowa , which teaches one of the world's most prestigious creative writing programs. However, the University of Iowa was also known for teaching a very specific style of writing. The University of Arizona , however, had assured Wallace that it would value literary diversity and also promised him a scholarship of $ 8,000 annually. Before he could begin graduate studies, however, he suffered another breakdown. His parents took him to a mental hospital, where doctors concluded that Wallace was atypically manic depressed . Suffering from atypical depression, the main characteristics of which are an unusual sensitivity to social exclusion, but also a quick recovery as soon as life changes, was a welcome diagnosis in Wallace's eyes. Doctors prescribed him Nardil , a drug that was taken along with a strict diet: avoiding alcohol, coffee, chocolate, hot dogs, liver and a range of cheeses.


In 1987, Wallace graduated from the University of Arizona with a Masters in Creative Writing . He broke off the PhD studies in philosophy that had begun at Harvard University in 1992 to accept a teaching position at Illinois State University . Since 2002 he has taught as Professor of English Literature and Creative Writing at Pomona College in Claremont, California.

In 1997 he was a MacArthur Fellow .

Sickness and death

On September 12, 2008, Wallace committed suicide at his Claremont home by hanging himself from a beam. His father told the press that his son had suffered from major depression for 20 years and was only able to work with the help of medication. In view of the side effects, however, after consulting his doctor, he temporarily discontinued the medication and underwent electroconvulsive therapy in a hospital in the summer of 2008 , but this did not lead to any improvement. In the end, even the next attempt at drug treatment no longer achieved the results Wallace had wanted. His father suggested that he could no longer endure his condition in the end.


With the postmodern novel Infinite Jest (Infinite Jest) Wallace 1996's breakthrough as a novelist. Due to its complexity, the work was not translated into German for a long time. Only Ulrich Blumenbach took on the challenge to transfer the demanding work into German. It took him six years to do this, and his translation was published in 2009. In 2010, Blumenbach received the Leipzig Book Fair Prize for this .

Wallace, who was first known through novels , turned away from this genre in the last years of his life . In 2003 he published a non-fiction book about the German mathematician Georg Cantor . He then wrote a volume of short stories ( Oblivion, 2004) and a volume of essays ( Consider the Lobster and Other Essays, 2005), before falling silent three years before his death. His estate included a fragment of a novel entitled The Pale King , which was published posthumously in April 2011 . Ulrich Blumenbach has been working on the translation since August 2011; the German version was published on November 7, 2013.

Wallace's texts stand out for their richness of words and complex syntax. The radical, ironic, often absurd spelling was compared to that of James Joyce and Thomas Pynchon . The texts often deal with the modern person's search for identity , the individual's desire for communication , belonging and the purpose of life. Wallace shows a keen sense for the jargon of everyday life. He succeeds in literary processing the everyday verbal fire of information and soundbites that are beating down on people from the most varied of media in such a way that their lack of meaning becomes evident. The massive use of footnotes is also typical of Wallace's style .

Works (selection)


Short stories (collections)

  • 1989: Girl with Curious Hair. Stories. Norton, New York
    • 1. German: Little girl with strange hair - Stories . (Selection) Translated by Marcus Ingendaay. Kiepenheuer & Witsch, Cologne 2001, ISBN 3-462-02975-4
    • 2. German: Everything is green: Stories . Translated by Ulrich Blumenbach . Kiepenheuer & Witsch, Cologne 2011, ISBN 978-3-462-04327-3 ( review of the translation, in ReLÜ , reviews online, 13, 2012, by Daniel Graf)
  • 1999: Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. Little, Brown and Company, Boston.
    • German: Short interviews with nasty men. Übers. Marcus Ingendaay. Kiepenheuer & Witsch, Cologne 2002, ISBN 3-462-03079-5
  • 2004: Oblivion . Stories. Little, Brown and Company, New York
    • 1. German: In old familiarity. Translated by Ulrich Blumenbach, Marcus Ingendaay. Kiepenheuer & Witsch, Cologne 2006, ISBN 3-462-03727-7
    • 2. German: oblivion . Translated by Ulrich Blumenbach, Marcus Ingendaay. Kiepenheuer & Witsch, Cologne 2008, ISBN 3-462-03974-1

Essays (collections)


  • 1984: The Planet Trillaphon As It Stands In Relation To The Bad Thing. In: The Amherst Review (student magazine)
    • English: The Planet Trillaphon in relation to the Bad Cause. German by Ulrich Blumenbach; Kiepenheuer & Witsch, Cologne 2015, ISBN 978-3-462-04749-3 . (Bilingual paperback edition)
  • 1990: Signifying Rappers: Rap and Race In the Urban Present (with Mark Costello)
    • German: Signifying Rappers: Why rap that you hate does not correspond to your ideas, but is shitty interesting and if it is offensive, then with what is going on today, it is useful offense . Translated by Ulrich Blumenbach , Maria Hummitzsch . KiWi-Taschenbuch 2014, ISBN 978-3-462-04702-8
  • 2003: Everything and More: A Compact History of Infinity.
  • 2009: This is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life (Address to 2005 students)
  • 2010: Fate, Time, and Language: An Essay on Free Will (first publication of the thesis as a philosophy student in Amherst about Richard Taylor, including other articles about Wallace and Taylor)



  • David T. Max: Every Love Story is a Ghost Story. A Life of David Foster Wallace . Granta Publications, London 2012, ISBN 978-1-84708-494-1 .
    • German edition: Every love story is a ghost story: David Foster Wallace. One life . Translated from the English by Eva Kemper. Kiepenheuer & Witsch, Cologne 2014, ISBN 978-3-462-04671-7 .


  • Marshall Boswell: Understanding David Foster Wallace . University of South Carolina Press, Columbia 2003, ISBN 1-57003-517-2 .
  • Stephen J. Burn and Mary K. Holland (Eds.): Approaches to Teaching the Works of David Foster Wallace , The Modern Language Association of America, New York 2019, ISBN 978-1-60329-391-4 .
  • Ralph Clare: The Cambridge Companion to David Foster Wallace . Cambridge University Press, Cambridge / New York 2018, ISBN 978-1-108-45177-2 .
  • Iannis Goerlandt, Luc Herman: David Foster Wallace. In: Post-war Literatures in English: A Lexicon of Contemporary Authors. 56: 1-16 (2004); A1-2, B1-2.
  • James Rother: Reading and Riding the Post-Scientific Wave. The Shorter Fiction of David Foster Wallace. In: Review of Contemporary Fiction 13.2 (1993), ISBN 1-56478-123-2 , pp. 216-234.


  • Clare Hayes-Brady: The Unspeakable Failures of David Foster Wallace : Language, Identity, and Resistance. Bloomsbury Academic, New York / London 2017, ISBN 978-1-5013-3584-6 .
  • Lukas Hoffmann: Postirony: The Nonfictional Literature of David Foster Wallace and Dave Eggers , transcript Verlag, Bielefeld 2016, ISBN 978-3-8376-3661-1 .
  • Tom LeClair: The Prodigious Fiction of Richard Powers , William Vollmann , and David Foster Wallace. Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction . 38.1 (1996), pp. 12-37
  • Frank Louis Coffi: An Anguish Becomes Thing: Narrative as Performance in David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest. Narratives. 8.2 (2000), 161-181
  • Catherine Nichols: Dialogizing Postmodern Carnival: David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest. Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction . 43.1 (2001), pp. 3-16
  • Stephen Burn: Generational Succession and a Source for the Title of David Foster Wallace's The Broom of the System. Notes on Contemporary Literature 33.2 (2003), 9-11
  • Stephen Burn: David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest: A Reader's Guide . Continuum, New York, London 2003, ISBN 0-8264-1477-X
  • Stephen J. Burn: David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest: A Reader's Guide . 2nd Edition. Bloomsbury Academic, London / New York 2012, ISBN 978-1-4411-5707-2 .
  • Michael Harris: A Sometimes Funny Book Supposedly about Infinity: A Review of 'Everything and More' . Notices of the AMS . 51.6 (2004), pp. 632–638 ( pdf full text )
  • Iannis Goerlandt: Put the book down and slowly walk away: Irony and David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest . Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 47.3 (2006), pp. 309–328.
  • Iannis Goerlandt: Still steaming as its many arms extended: Pain in David Foster Wallace's Incarnations of Burned Children . Sprachkunst 37.2 (2006), pp. 297–308
  • Iannis Goerlandt: Footnotes and Performativity with David Foster Wallace. Case studies. Noticed in passing. Annotation Practices in Literary Texts . Kulturverlag Kadmos - Ed. Bernhard Metz & Sabine Zubarik, Berlin 2008, pp. 387-408


  • Stephen J. Burn (Ed.): Conversations with David Foster Wallace . University Press of Mississippi, Jackson 2012, ISBN 978-1-61703-227-1 .
  • David Lipsky: Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace . Broadway Books / Random House, New York 2010, ISBN 978-0-307-59243-9 .
  • Larry McCaffery: An Interview with David Foster Wallace. Review of Contemporary Fiction . 13.2 (1993), 127-150, ISBN 1-56478-123-2 .
  • Laura Miller: The Salon Interview: David Foster Wallace . Salon 9 (1996).
  • The Usage Wars. Radio interview with David Foster Wallace and Brian Garner. For The Connection (March 30, 2001).
  • Michael Goldfarb: David Foster Wallace. Radio interview for The Connection on June 25, 2004.
  • David Foster Wallace: The Last Interview and Other Conversations . Melville House Publishing, Brooklyn NY / London 2018, ISBN 978-1-61219-741-8 .
  • David Foster Wallace and Bryan A. Garner: Quack This Way . RosePen Books, Dallas, Texas 2013, ISBN 978-0-9911181-1-3 .

motion pictures

radio play

  • In 2016, the German web project Unendliches Spiel , produced by WDR , BR , Deutschlandfunk u. a., 1400 volunteers each one page of the complete text of the novel. The voice recordings were combined with specially composed music to create a radio play lasting around 80 hours.
  • Endless fun. An audio book as an event . Live recording with Harald Schmidt , Maria Schrader , Manfred Zapatka and Joachim Król , 2 CDs, Der Hörverlag, Munich 2010.

Web links

Commons : David Foster Wallace  - Collection of Images, Videos and Audio Files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ A b Writer David Foster Wallace found dead , The Los Angeles Times, Claire Noland and Joel Rubin. September 14, 2008. 
  2. ^ Writer David Foster Wallace Dies , The Wall Street Journal, AP. September 14, 2008. Archived from the original on September 22, 2008. Retrieved April 2, 2012. 
  3. Selection of Time magazine , accessed on April 7, 2014
  4. Andreas Borcholte: Cult writer David Foster Wallace found dead. Article dated September 14, 2008, accessed April 9, 2014
  5. Staff: Book lovers react bitterly to no fiction Pulitzer , Reuters. April 17, 2012. Retrieved January 25, 2014. 
  6. Max: Every Love Story Is A Ghost Story. A Life of David Foster Wallace . 2012, p. 1.
  7. Max: Every Love Story Is A Ghost Story. A Life of David Foster Wallace . 2012, p. 2.
  8. Max: Every Love Story Is A Ghost Story. A Life of David Foster Wallace . 2012, p. 3.
  9. Max: Every Love Story Is A Ghost Story. A Life of David Foster Wallace . 2012, p. 5.
  10. Max: Every Love Story Is A Ghost Story. A Life of David Foster Wallace . 2012, p. 6. Wallace speaks of ... this schizogenic experience I had growing up .
  11. Max: Every Love Story Is A Ghost Story. A Life of David Foster Wallace . 2012, p. 6 and p. 7.
  12. ^ Wallace: Derivative Sports in Tornado Alley. In: A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again. London: Abacus 1998. pp. 3–20, here: 4.
  13. ^ Wallace: "Derivative Sport in Tornado Alley" In: A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again. London: Abacus 1998. pp. 3-20. The original quote is: My flirtation with Tennis excellence had way more to do with the township where I learned and trained and with a weird proclivity for intuitive math than it did with athletic talent. I was, even by the standards of junior competition in which everyone's a bud of pure potential, a pretty untalented tennis player. My hand-eye was OK, but I was neither large nor quick, had a near-concave chest and wrists so thin I could bracelet them with a tumb and pinkle, and could hit a Tennis ball no harder or truer than most girls in my age bracket. What I could do was "Play the Whole Court".
  14. ^ Wallace: Derivative Sports in Tornado Alley. In: A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again. London: Abacus 1998. pp. 3-20.
  15. Max: Every Love Story Is A Ghost Story. A Life of David Foster Wallace . 2012, p. 10.
  16. Max: Every Love Story Is A Ghost Story. A Life of David Foster Wallace . 2012, p. 9.
  17. Max: Every Love Story Is A Ghost Story. A Life of David Foster Wallace . 2012, p. 12.
  18. Max: Every Love Story Is A Ghost Story. A Life of David Foster Wallace . 2012, pp. 19-22.
  19. Max: Every Love Story Is A Ghost Story. A Life of David Foster Wallace . 2012, p. 26.
  20. Max: Every Love Story Is A Ghost Story. A Life of David Foster Wallace . 2012, p. 27.
  21. Max: Every Love Story Is A Ghost Story. A Life of David Foster Wallace . 2012, p. 30. The original quote is Don't do LSD, and don't do coke, because they're both dangerous and expensive in that order .... mushrooms are fun and giggly and they make you think you 're smarter than you are ... which is fun for a while.
  22. Max: Every Love Story Is A Ghost Story. A Life of David Foster Wallace . 2012, p. 31.
  23. Max: Every Love Story Is A Ghost Story. A Life of David Foster Wallace . 2012, p. 32 and p. 33.
  24. Max: Every Love Story Is A Ghost Story. A Life of David Foster Wallace . 2012, p. 35.
  25. Max: Every Love Story Is A Ghost Story. A Life of David Foster Wallace . 2012, p. 39.
  26. Max: Every Love Story Is A Ghost Story. A Life of David Foster Wallace . 2012, p. 48.
  27. Max: Every Love Story Is A Ghost Story. A Life of David Foster Wallace . 2012, p. 50.
  28. Max: Every Love Story Is A Ghost Story. A Life of David Foster Wallace . 2012, p. 52.
  29. Wallace himself has described the unbearable agony of the disease in detail using the example of the suicidal fictional character Kate Gompert, to whom he devoted a chapter in Infinite Fun (pp. 99-114).
  30. ^ The last days of David Foster Wallace , report on salon.com, accessed June 17, 2009
  31. ^ The New York Times, Bruce Weber, September 14, 2008
  32. ^ Spiegel-Online: David Foster Wallace found dead
  33. Raffael Barth: Longest radio play in the world ready . BR Puls, March 13, 2017. Retrieved September 14, 2019. [1]
  34. Stefan Fischer: Completed early. In just ten weeks, "Infinite Fun" turned into a radio play. In: Süddeutsche Zeitung, May 23, 2016, p. 23.