“Talk about what you love”[1]: One Woman, Who Loves DFW, Talks

[1] Quote from Josh Radnor’s Liberal Arts by Zibby: “You think it’s cool to hate things, but it’s not.  It’s boring.  Talk about what you love.”

Written by Ashlie Kontos, Diversity Team

My name is Ashlie Kontos.  I live and work in Houston, TX.  I graduated with a BA in English and minors in History and Classical Studies from the University of Texas at Tyler (UT Tyler) in May 2010.  I completed my thesis–entitled “Our Attachments Are Our Temples”: Addiction, Recovery, and the Metamodernist Movement–and recently graduated from UT Tyler in May 2017 with an MA in English.  I currently serve as the Undergraduate Medical Education Academic Coordinator for the Michael E. DeBakey Department of Surgery at Baylor College of Medicine.

I began reading and studying David Foster Wallace’s work in August 2011 after reading Robert L. McLaughlin’s “Post-Postmodern Discontent: Contemporary Fiction and the Social World,” which appeared in symplokē in 2004.  I have explored addiction, human connection, well-being, social networking sites (SNSs), consumption, and journalism within the context of DFW’s works.  I serve as one of the editors to the Normal publications from the annual DFW Conference held in Normal, IL, and some of my own essays appear in these publications.

I am not the typical model of a DFW fan: I am a young, feminist, lower middle-class, Jewish (Humanistic), “white” female from the South.  I did not and do not have a real, tactical, physical community of DFW fans in Houston with whom I can discuss and debate Wallace’s works.  So, the creation of the International DFW Society and the addition of a diversity committee within the society gave me so much elation!  I am honored to be a part of a team striving for inclusion, honest–albeit at times uncomfortable–discussions, and a space to embrace and challenge our understanding of DFW and his oeuvre.  I hope to encourage a broader, yet always deeper, exploration and illumination of DFW’s (non)literary texts.

I am okay with individuals not liking DFW’s work. I don’t prefer the work of Dickens. I cannot stand to read any of Julian Barnes’s novels. But I did read those authors, and I did so without grandstanding on The Guardian and/or Electric Lit. I am not sure why these ladies (i.e. Amy Hungerford, Deirdre Coyle, and now Jessa Crispin) are all so enraged about DFW specifically. I understand not liking an author; I also understand resentment at being forced to read specific authors in school or at university; I also understand and support resisting and restructuring the patriarchal system in which we all still live and work. What I do not understand is “Ack! Men!” I don’t understand the op-ed diatribe about not-reading or not-reading-a-specific-author.

Firstly, some of my favorite writers are men – DFW, Forester, and Keats, but some of my favorite writers are also women – Annie Dillard, Zadie Smith, Pat Barker. I’m not going to stop reading works that I enjoy because of the author’s gender. That is not the kind of feminism that I represent – i.e. one in which the patriarchy is simply supplanted by a matriarchy. I stand for an egalitarian engagement with the world, and that includes my reading list.

Secondly, no one is demanding that these women read DFW. A boyfriend/friend/colleague saying “You should read x” is not an assault on your to-read list. It’s a suggestion: a way to start a dialogue about books and reading. If you don’t want to read that specific author or don’t like that author, just set a boundary (like a healthy adult would do) and say, “Thank you for that suggestion. I’ll consider it.” Or as Jay Z said:

“Youngin ice-grilling me;
oh you not feeling me?
Fine, it cost you nothing;
pay me no 
mind” — “Heart of the City (ain’t no love)”

Thirdly, I prefer talking about what I love. When I do talk with others about what I love, I have found that people respond in kind. This typically develops a dialogue of respectful recognition of the fact that the other person has differing yet just as valid tastes as my own and it sparks a healthy curiosity to explore new ideas/authors/subjects, etc. So a model of this would be:

I love many of David Foster Wallace’s works because they talk about subjects that are important to me in a way that I have not seen depicted in contemporary fiction. Specifically addiction. Though I struggled with the steps in AL ANON while I was attending meetings, I found that the characters in Infinite Jest were also struggling with those same steps – albeit in AA – and Wallace’s expression of that inner-struggle was depicted in such a distilled way that I felt like he was inside my head. I also love his ability to criticize something yet simultaneously recognize that he is just as complicit in what he is criticizing – for instance, in “Shipping Out” Wallace remarks on the passengers’ need for more-and-more pleasure while on the cruise, yet he too admits that he wants more too, specifically when the ship passes by another bigger, newer, nicer cruise ship. “Little Expressionless Animals” is one of my favorite short stories, which makes no sense because it’s so sad, but from the first page of the story, I was captivated and moved. I wish you, too, could have experienced some of the joy I did when reading Wallace, but I’m sure that you had that similar feeling with another author, right? Who do you love reading?

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