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    Dr. Kim Middleton

    Office: 423 Western Ave. #7

    email: kmiddleton_at_strose.edu

    phone: 518 485-3647

    hours: MTW 5-6, and by appt.
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On Endnotes

Given our conversation about the role of endnotes, I thought you might like a taste of that same conversation from Infinite Summer.  You can find the entire call and response here, and below is a small taste of Matt Baldwin’s take, which sets the tone for the rest:

I have gone back and forth on the issue about two dozen times in the last month, and right now I’m learning away from “essential literary device” and toward “gratuitous pain in the ass”. Plus I just don’t buy any of the rationales I’ve heard for them: that they simulate the game of tennis, that they simulate the fractured way we’d be receiving information in Wallace’s imagined future, that they are there to constantly remind you that you are reading a book, etc. I’d be more inclined to believe these theories Infinite Jest was the only thing Wallace had written that included them. But the more you read his other works, the more it becomes obvious that Wallace couldn’t even sign a credit card slip without bolting on an addendum. The dude loved endnotes–I’m pretty sure that’s the only real reason they are there.


2 Responses

  1. Let me throw in a couple of clarifications and caveats.

    First. I never said I disliked the endnotes. (You didn’t imply that I did Dr. Middleton, but many commentators on that post drew this inference.) I find them (often) funny and interesting, and I understand that their presence is something of a benevolent prank Wallace is playing on the reader. However, I have yet to be convinced that they are somehow essential to Infinite Jest, except insofar as they are essential to the “David Foster Wallace experience”. It’s similar to Alfred Hitchcock always putting himself in his movies–it wasn’t essential to Vertigo that the director appear as “Man Walking Past Elster’s Office”, but it also wouldn’t have been a Hitchcock film without that touch.

    Second, yes, I have seen the Charlie Rose interview in which DFW defends the endnotes, arguing that they serve a very important function in the novel. (See: http://www.charlierose.com/view/interview/5639) In fact, his explanation is foremost among the rationales that I reject. My gut feeling is that Wallace wanted endnotes so he justified their inclusion. Authors are very very very very good at convincing themselves that the way they wish to write something is the only conceivable way in which it can be written, and perhaps that’s what happened here.

    But it’s DFW novel, and who am I to question how he wrote it? I don’t think the endnotes are “essential”, but I wouldn’t presume to assert that they shouldn’t have been included at all.

  2. On the contrary, Matt, your take gave the members of the class who are frustrated with the endnotes a good chuckle and a sense that they weren’t alone. Scott, our reader of DFW’s non-fiction, concurred with you—the dude just writes with footnotes. It’s how his mind works.

    For my part, I like your Hitchcock comparison the best—-its a move that’s characteristic of the author/filmmaker’s own aesthetic.

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