Brow Beat

Watch an Uncut 84-Minute Interview with David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace, doing an interview with German TV in 2003.

David Foster Wallace would have been 50 today. The Infinite Jest author, who died in 2008, has long inspired exhaustive chronicling on the Internet; fan communities have brought together every audio interview and reading available to stream online, cobbling together crowd-sourced footnotes as burrowing and obsessive as those from his own nonfiction and novels.

With such an active community of aggregators on the Web, it’s surprising to come across something you haven’t seen or read a couple times before. But I had not yet watched this whopping 84-minute uncut interview with Wallace, posted yesterday on Open Culture. YouTube uploader Artzineonline explains that it was recorded with the German public television network ZDF in 2003 (it was uploaded to YouTube in 2010). The interview is available in lightly edited chunks sorted into Wallace-y topics like “Political thinking in America” and “Drugs and Entertaintment,” or in a series of unedited, 10-minute segments.


Just as his novels and essays often explicitly questioned their own formal conventions, Wallace, in this interview, frequently launches into extended self-conscious asides—making the television interview partly about the process of television interviews. “You know what would help me?” he says early on. “Tell me what you think. If we do this as a conversation it will be easier for me.”

As Open Culture details:

Wallace wonders aloud how much of what he says will get edited out, if he can discuss his all-consuming suspicion that “there’s something really good on another channel and I’m missing it” while he’s actually on television, and how to talk to the media about how difficult it is to talk to the media while pretending you don’t know you’re talking to the media.


A number of DFW tributes have gone up today on the web. Letters of Note unearthed a 1995 letter from the young novelist to Don DeLillo, one of his idols, about his battle between self-indulgent fun and seriousness in his work (true to form, it’s notable for employing both the words misprision and tummy). The New Yorker recommends D.T. Max’s posthumous 2009 profile, which is available to read online, and The Awl has rounded up the expansive, if unwieldy, “46 Things to Read and See for David Foster Wallace’s 50th Birthday.” From Slate I would recommend in particular Nathan Heller’s Assessment of David Foster Wallace, and “why he inspires such devotion in his fans.” From the wealth of today’s tributes, it’s clear that that’s as true now as ever.

Interview clips:
David Foster Wallace on Education
David Foster Wallace on Drugs and Entertainment in Infinite Jest
David Foster Wallace on Political Thinking in America
David Foster Wallace on Commercial Publishers
David Foster Wallace on Literature
David Foster Wallace on Humor and Infinite Jest

Complete interview:

Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8, and Part 9.


Were David Foster Wallace’s Favorite Books Mostly Thrillers?