Books

For David Foster Wallace, Florida Was A Supposedly Fun Place He'd Only Visit Once

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"They wanted to know more... and I think that was sort of a stronger force in the end than sort of the trauma around the suicide," says Max about conducting interviews for the book. "In that sense, it was sort of like a memorial service."

Max will join other biographers and memoirists on Saturday morning for a conversation at the Miami Book Fair International. Before the event, he spoke with Cultist about David's one-and-only Florida experience, which is catalogued in the classic essay "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again." He also clued us into the pleasure of writing a biography on a contemporary subject.

Why was the thought of doing "absolutely nothing" on a cruise ship so traumatic for David?

It seems pretty obvious that being pulled out of his routines was anxiety provoking, as was being put in the midst of people who could have fun. Obviously the cruise ship piece was an opportunity to objectify people as happier and more normal. So the particular structure of the cruise ship gave him the perfect opportunity to turn his personal anxiety into a sort of societal unease or dis-ease, and he does it beautifully because the cruise ship touches on one of the great themes he'd been working on [which is] reviewing Joseph Franks' four or five volume Dostoevsky biography, which he publishes in the Village Voice that summer. So he's inside this very somber investigation about Dostoevsky of all people as he's writing notes on the cruise ship.

And you can see that the contrast is really perfect. He's almost like Dostoevsky sitting there thinking these thoughts about the impiety of all these people who are surrounding him.

What would David have thought of Florida?

Would he have liked the sort of multi-cultural aspect of Miami, the music? Who knows? Certainly it would be a possibility. He had a tendency to be interested in that kind of thing. But David wasn't a big traveler. I think that the cruise ship part of Miami would be the easy target for him. But would he have had interest in other parts of it? It's hard to know. I think he would have found Miami Beach interesting in sort of its earlier incarnations and probably highly toxic in its current one. The kind of Miami Beach that gets on the cover of Interview magazine would have been anxiety provoking for him.

He was a complicated guy and it wouldn't be surprising for him to find Florida insufficiently intellectual. But David wasn't really after that. He was after some other sort of authenticity of spirit. Miami has so many aspects to it. The tourist aspect would probably have not appealed to him. On the other hand, he loved tennis. I was totally surprised when he liked and didn't like when he traveled. He would certainly have been terrified of the sharks. That's a given. I don't think he was a fan of the water.

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Allie Conti was a fellow at Miami New Times and a staff writer for New Times Broward-Palm Beach, where her writing won awards from the Florida Press Club and the Society of Professional Journalists. She's now the senior staff writer at Vice and a contributor to the New York Times, New York Magazine, and the Atlantic.