Tag Archives: end zone

Don DeLillo to David Foster Wallace, on reading math

Kottke has a scan of some correspondence between Don DeLillo and David Foster Wallace: a DDL->DFW letter from 1997 and a DFW -> DDL from 1992.

This from DeLillo is striking:

Once, probably, I used to think that vagueness was a loftier kind of poetry, truer to the depths of consciousness, and maybe when I started to read mathematics and science back in the mid-70s I found an unexpected lyricism in the necessarily precise language that scientists tend to use  My instinct, my superstition is that the closer I see a thing and the more accurately I describe it, the better my chances of arriving at a certain sensuality of expression.

So work hard on your papers, folks — a great American novelist might be nicking your prose style.

There’s also an interesting and strange bit from DeLillo about how he pays attention to the shapes of individual letters on the page, trying to make a pleasing pattern of “round” words and “tall” words.  I wouldn’t be surprised to hear this from a poet, but in a novelist it seems (to use DeLillo’s own word) superstitious.  Is it possible this is really contributing to the effects he’s trying to achieve?  Look, I’m a hardliner on the point that how a sentence sounds is more important than what it means.  But this comes off fussy, even to me.

Wallace’s side of the correspondence is mostly a fan letter.  I was pleased by his love for End Zone, my favorite DeLillo novel and undeniably the funniest.  He suggests that a piece of Infinite Jest “owes a rather uncomfortable debt” to End Zone; which piece?

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