Saturday, May 14, 2011

David Foster Wallace or Chuck Palahniuk?


One of the hardest things to do when setting up brackets like these is to remain impartial. Or: bias is a given, but we need to work to balance that bias.

For instance, if the last slot comes down to David Foster Wallace or Chuck Palahniuk, which writer goes in?

Both have cult followings. In his fiction, Foster Wallace stands for everything I abhor in postmodern lit. The work of both writers is rather dark. Which writer is more important, influential, and representative of our era?

David Foster Wallace put his mind out there as perhaps no author ever has, pushing the envelope of hyper-stimulated intelligence. What his fans react to more than the works themselves is the sensitivity of the person behind the words. His was a dead-end path, in my estimation, yet Wallace took the path all the way to the end, which ended in his own destruction. A cautionary tale, but in its way, an admirable one.

Palahniuk is a more transparent writer. Does this necessarily mean a shallower one? His warmed-over Nietzscheanism has appeal to young men today. Is there anything remarkable or lasting in it? That's the question.

What happens when we throw Michigan writer Jim Harrison into the mix, who's been shown on these threads to have his share of followers?

One thing Harrison isn't, is a trailblazer. He seems to have burst full-born from Hemingway's head. His best-known work, Legends of the Fall, includes a segment about World War I, and is obviously-- obviously-- a nod to Hem and the Hemingway ethos.

That said, Harrison's work feels more American than either Wallace's or Pahluniak's-- there's more affection for the country, the people, the land. With a mere 64 slots to play with, do we include a local colorist? What, then, about Erskine Caldwell? Bret Harte?

Decisions, decisions. . . .


  1. Chuck P all the way over DFW.

    DFW is primarily an academic phenomenon. Chuck P is one of the few recent serious writers to break out of the walls of the academy (or never to have been trapped inside them to begin with).

    If American lit has a future, then Chuck P is pointing the way towards it: a working class writer who channels the frustrations of the masses. DFW is just the darling of the obsolete, parasitic, elitist coteries; his work is a dead end, as you pointed out.

  2. One wonders if Chuck's success is due more to the movie version of "Fight Club" than his books.
    I was disappointed when I read the book after seeing the flick. Pahalniuk employs a stripped-down prose style, Carver-like, that may have come from a writing program. An example is his short story "Escort," which has the same looking-away that one finds in standard minimalist literary stories. He's certainly no teeming-with-life James Jones or Ralph Ellison, and so seems a narrowing, a limiting, of the art. While he covers gritty topics, he doesn't do it with the explosiveness of a Hubert Selby Jr.
    I've been trying to reward artistically ambitious writers. With only 64 slots to fill, they should go first to major writers, before curiosities and cultists.
    Major in theme, scope, ambition. . . .
    I'm reading and rereading many writers, still thinking this all out.

  3. What do you mean by "looking-away?"

  4. The dropped ending. No out-of-control dialogue. A gentility to the presentation. Withheld opinion and anger. A refusal to confront the world head-on. Lack of context. A narrow focus. A character will work in an auto plant, but we never see the plant or the bosses or the mass of other workers.
    Other writers give you life straight-up and head-on, to quote from a Peckinpaugh film.
    Palahniuk may yet make the cut, because there are contemporary alternatives who are worse.

  5. This is an interesting question. Like asking which movie do you want to rent on a Friday night: the first is going to be ground-breaking and irritating and annoying and ironic in it's commentary and make you feel less alone and possibly uplift you while breaking your heart, the second is going to be something else. The question is: Which one is about DFW and which one is about Chuck P? As a fan of both writers I can tell you who'd I would vote for, and it's not really even that close, but that's just my opinion. But I'll keep my vote to myself. There are many supposedly fun things I would never do again.

  6. Yeah, missed some grammar there. Shaddup. Its. Who I'd. My bad.

  7. Not even close. DFW is a genius- Chucks a fucking hack. Also- DFW wasn't a "pop" writer or a "post modernist" writer either. Maybe you should get a handle on your subject matter. Isn't interesting that CXhuck's latest book is a trip through Hell with a vapid child? That's what all his books are! You must live under a rock. How the fuck do you expect to get world class lit from a shallow uneducated mysogynyst?