Thanks for Jennifer Howard's article on the now-burgeoning area of David Foster Wallace studies ("The Afterlife of David Foster Wallace," The Chronicle Review, January 14).
While it is of moderate interest that there are more doctoral candidates studying Wallace's work now than when I wrote the first doctoral dissertation (2003) devoted to Wallace's Infinite Jest, it is hardly surprising, considering that Infinite Jest was published in 1996 and thus can only barely be considered "contemporary" anymore. Scholarship on his work was bound to heat up, like it gradually did for Pynchon, too. It's more than a little sad, though, that the writer's suicide was the primary catalyst for the sudden, widespread attention to his work. And now an industry is forming around it.
I would also say that Ms. Howard's article would have been much improved if she had investigated the true early pioneers of Wallace studies. Scholars like the University of Cincinnati's Tom LeClair, who published the first peer-reviewed article on Infinite Jest, or Frank Cioffi, Mary Holland, N. Katherine Hayles, myself, and many others, have been toiling on Wallace's lavish works for well over a decade now. A modest acknowledgment of the first wave of Wallace-studies pioneers would've been a more accurate historical assessment of the discipline.
J. Timothy Jacobs
Adjunct Instructor of English
The following comments are from chronicle.com:
I think the author exaggerates the lack of academic interest in Wallace's work, as, especially for such a young writer, it had built up considerably over the course of the last decade. It's also worth noting that Modernism/modernity published a long tribute by a number of academics not long after Wallace died (in the January 2009 issue), indicating the high esteem in which he was held.
Great article. I look forward to the coming scholarship. But all the attention, at least in this report, seems to be on the essays and the novels; there wasn't a single mention of Girl With Curious Hair. This short-story collection was the book that first introduced me to Wallace, and it's still a favorite. I hope Wallace's short fiction also gets the attention it deserves.
Thank you for keeping the memory of David Foster Wallace's work and life alive for us all. Dave was a teacher, mentor, and friend to me while I was working on my master's in literature at Illinois State University. His death has had a profound impact on me. The inclusion of a written artifact in this article brought me to tears (somehow, I expect to see photos of him, but seeing his handwriting again is shocking, as it brings him back into the present for me in a way that I didn't think possible). Thank you for not forgetting that Dave was more than just a great writer—he was a truly beautiful mind and a gentle, and surprisingly shy, spirit.