David Foster WallaceFederer as Religious Experience
Biographical Information• DFW is a literary author• Wrote 1076 page novel Infinite Jest• Often gets called an “essayist”• Born in New York, both parents were professors• Studied literature and philosophy, specialising in mathematics and modal logic, graduated summa cum laude
Article details• Was written in 2006• Appeared in The New York Times, Play, The Paris Review and others• Later appeared in Both Flesh and Not collection• Some critics have called it “the best sports article of all time.” Others have called it an inaccurate fan letter (Nadal fans)
DFW• Style most closely resembled Hunter S. Thompson• Didn’t see himself as a “journalist”• Genuinely liked the writing, did not do it for desperation of money (such as George Orwell)• Played tennis when young
Why I Chose/Like The Article• Found it on “best journalism” list• Wallace is an enthusiast• Delicate and intelligent approach to the appreciation of sports• More than a sports article• Two men at the top of their game• About taste
The Article - structure• DFW explores complexities of the human condition through tennis and particularly RF, but it is not metaphorical – he is actually talking about tennis• Piece is written from “courtside” and includes two shot-by-shot descriptions of Federer winners at Wimbledon• Written in descriptive narrative form, and includes expositional segways that resemble the thoughts of a Wimbledon attendee• Writing changes almost paragraph by paragraph from the technical and immediate to the general or metaphysical – the relationship between tennis and philosophy could only be noted by DFW.• Presents a one-sided argument – Federer is almost faultless
The Article• DFW attempts to describe the feeling for the spectator of experiencing “Federer Moments”• Says RF is the best tennis player alive, possibly ever• Meditates on the grace of the professional athlete and concludes sports appreciation is the human reconciliation with having a body
The Article• In much of the article DFW uncovers elements obscured to public viewers on television, such as the gentlemanly way Federer hangs his coat, or the tiring Wimbledon myth-perpetuation at the event: “It’s like the sort of authority figure that has every last plaque, diploma and award he’s (sic) ever gotten, and every time you come into the office you’re forced to look at the wall and say something to indicate that you are impressed.” - Wallace
The Article• DFW, using his specialist knowledge of tennis, outlines the falsity of the argument that the modern game is about brute strength and racquet technology. He says that Federer’s very existence disproves this in ways which are metaphysical and technical…
The Article• DFW argues that, Federer, like Ali and Jordan, is exempt from certain physical laws through having preternaturally good reflexes and advanced “kinesthetic sense”.• He uses the idea that to RF tennis would actually appear slow and easy, to illustrate the difference between perception and reality, and to basically prove that RF is playing a style of game from 30 years ago at something like 3 times the pace, while maintaining the ‘modern’ characteristics of a power-baseliner. In this description he sort of sets up RF to be the next stage in the evolution of the game.
The Article - style• DFW writes entirely subjectively and liltingly, tangentally. His style is conversational. He demonstrates an interest in the game which is almost nerdy, but manages to make it interesting to almost anyone.• Literary style: “his forehand is a liquid whip”.• Makes no pretense of covering the star or personality of Federer, just an explanation of why watching him hit a ball is one of the most beautiful things one can see.• Departure from, possibly even a direct criticism of, cliched sports journalism, with its dull interviews, hyper-masculinity, massive egos.• DFW getting to go on cool assignments
Analysis• DFW saw many things as spiritual in nature. He hated the pessimism of the postmodern era and saw writing and many other human pursuits as symbolically and actually redemptive. I think that this positivity is evident this article and it is very infectious.• I found it meaningful that literary figure is a) interested in tennis and b) would communicate his childlike enthusiasm with general readers.
Analysis• One critic said that it is never really clear what assignment Wallace was sent on and I think this is true, he spurns a lot of the conventions of journalism and is definitely in the vein of New Journalism, writing for and of the people. My argument for this is, if you have someone as insightful, intelligent and funny as DFW writing, why would you want him to be objective? He has been criticised for being “loose with the facts” like Thompson, but I am not sure if this is just bitchiness. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wDIVX7pNwGE 5.55
Analysis• DFW said that for his non-fiction work he “created a persona that is a little stupider and schmuckier than I am…” Others have said he acts as an “intimate dunderheaded guide” for the reader. I just thought that he tapped into a real common persons experience.• Is the article a joke? No.
Analysis“ Of course, in men’s sports no one ever talks about beauty or grace or the body. Men may profess their “love” of sports, but that love must always be cast and enacted in the symbology of war: elimination vs. advance, hierarchy of rank and standing, obsessive statistics, technical analysis, tribal and/or nationalist fervor, uniforms, mass noise, banners, chest-thumping, face- painting, etc. For reasons that are not well understood, war’s codes are safer for most of us than love’s. You too may find them so, in which case Spain’s mesomorphic and totally martial Rafael Nadal is the man’s man for you — he of the unsleeved biceps and Kabuki self-exhortations. “ – Wallace• Elements suggested but not really mentioned: world history, gender deconstruction, aesthetics, psychology, politics.
Conclusion• As a result of this article I have decided I like the work of DFW immensely.• The admiration of a self-confessed “library boy” for the “indescribably beauty” of a top athlete is charming, and Wallace is articulate and amusing.• The kinesthetic sense that Wallace sees in Federer I also see in Wallace.