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Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself

Rolling Stone writer David Lipsky recalls the five-day journey he took with David Foster Wallace during Wallace’s 1996 “Infinite Jest” book tour.

By Alicia J. Rouverol / April 13, 2010

Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace By David Lipsky Broadway Books 352 pp., $16.99

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The only thing that strikes me as more daunting than being inside the thought process of David Foster Wallace might be the experience of being inside the head of the person writing his biography.

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If experimental and avant-garde writing “can capture and talk about the way the world feels on our nerves,” as Wallace believed, then David Lipsky’s Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace is an avant-garde biography of how the world felt on Wallace’s nerves.

If you want a linear read, this biography is not for you. If you’re a Wallace fan, however, you’re not looking for a linear book. But you do want one that pushes you. And Lipsky pushes.

“Art requires you to work,” Wallace tells Lipsky, on their five-day journey during the tail end of Wallace’s 1996 “Infinite Jest” book tour.

Lipsky was sent on the road by Rolling Stone magazine to write a piece on Wallace, then 34, who was considered one of the most important young writers of the time.

A contributing editor at Rolling Stone, Lipsky’s writing has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s, the New York Times, and other major publications; his stories have been anthologized; and he has won numerous awards. His books include “The Art Fair,” “Three Thousand Dollars,” and “Absolutely American.”

In “Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself,” Lipsky is not telling us about Wallace’s life: He is showing Wallace living his life. His book could only have been written after spending five days with Wallace, on what Wallace calls “our hypothermia smoking tour of the Midwest.”

Wallace and Lipsky argue and taunt each other on topics ranging from avant-garde art to the addictive nature of entertainment (the central theme of “Infinite Jest”), to the exhausting years, months, and weeks leading up to the release of Wallace’s book.

Together they journey from reading to reading, state to state, in diners and airports. In freezing weather, in smoke-filled cars, amid canceled airline flights, the men talk and Lipsky tapes.

“A good book teaches the reader how to read it,” Wallace says. Lipsky’s book offers no road map but we figure it out.

The book features nearly verbatim interviews. Lipsky includes his questions and summarizes parts of the conversation. Contextual data lands on the page, with liberal use of brackets. We get what Wallace himself was after in his own writing: “all the French curls and crazy circles.”

It will either drive you mad, or you will love it for all its messiness. One thing is certain: If you didn’t already love Wallace, this book will make you love him.
There are things here that fans or friends may take umbrage with: disclosures Wallace himself might not have appreciated (his comments about other writers); possible outcomes of the book tour (you’ll have to read the boook to find out); and asides that could detract, if you let them.

But focus on the book’s form or its hiccups and you will miss its purpose. Lipsky, I believe, is being purposefully messy or expansive, a critique some reviewers made of “Infinite Jest.”

The purpose is to get us inside Wallace’s head, and Lipsky takes us there. More aptly, he doesn’t interrupt Wallace as he takes us there. We get to see every synapse firing.

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