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David Foster Wallace was terrible to women

posted by Jason Kottke   May 21, 2018

In an Atlantic piece titled The World Still Spins Around Male Genius, Megan Garber writes:

The notion that the women’s stories about his behavior were somehow a nuisance, though — the notion that things would be so much simpler, macrocosmically, had they kept their experiences to themselves — remains with us. I know that because, shortly before The New Yorker published its story about Eric Schneiderman, the poet and memoirist and essayist Mary Karr published her own story on Twitter. This one was about David Foster Wallace. It was about the writer stalking her and abusing her and, in general, refusing to take no for an answer. As Karr elaborated, in one tweet that reads, in the #MeToo context, as its own form of starkly tragic poetry: “tried to buy a gun. kicked me. climbed up the side of my house at night. followed my son age 5 home from school. had to change my number twice, and he still got it. months and months it went on.”

The added tragedy of all this — kicked, climbed, son, gun, months — is the fact that Karr was not, specifically, making allegations. As Jezebel’s Whitney Kimball pointed out, “The fact that [Wallace] abused [Karr] is not a revelation; this has been documented and adopted by the literary world as one of Wallace’s character traits.” D.T. Max’s 2012 biography of Wallace, Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story, documented those abuses: Wallace, Max alleges, once pushed Karr from a vehicle. During another fight, he threw a coffee table at her. Karr, in her tweets, was merely repeating the story she has told many times before. A story that has been treated — stop me if this sounds familiar — largely as a complication to another story. In this case, the story of the romantically unruly genius of one David Foster Wallace.

You can read Karr’s thread for more stories…many more chimed in there (and elsewhere online) to share that Wallace slept with his students and was a serial womanizer.

I don’t know where to start in writing about this. But as someone who has written about his books, stories, and essays extensively for more than a decade — no writer’s work has been more important and influential to me than Wallace’s has — I think it’s important to state plainly for the record that David Foster Wallace, for a significant portion of his adult working life, was physically abusive and terrible to women.