Bret Easton Ellis slams David Foster Wallace on Twitter(Read article summary)
A decades-long literary feud rears its head again as Bret Easton Ellis uses a new bio of David Foster Wallace as an excuse for trash-talking.
Think David Foster Wallace is untouchable?
Think again. ‚ÄúAmerican Psycho‚ÄĚ author Bret Easton Ellis tore into the late author of the critically acclaimed ‚ÄúInfinite Jest‚ÄĚ and ‚ÄúThe Pale King‚ÄĚ on Twitter last week, and in true Ellis fashion, he didn‚Äôt hold back.
‚ÄúReading D.T. Max‚Äôs bio I continue to find David Foster Wallace the most tedious, overrated, tortured, pretentious writer of my generation,‚ÄĚ Ellis tweeted. ‚ÄúDavid Foster Wallace was so needy, so conservative, so in need of fans ‚Äď that I find the halo of sentimentality surrounding him embarrassing.‚ÄĚ In several more tweets, he continued, ‚ÄúDFW is the best example of a contemporary male writer lusting for a kind of awful greatness that he simply wasn‚Äôt able to achieve. A fraud.‚ÄĚ
Ellis‚Äôs comments came on the heels of a new biography of the late author, D.T. Max‚Äôs ‚ÄúEvery Love Story is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace.‚ÄĚ (See our review of the biography here.)
In the midst of reading the bio of Wallace, who took his own life in 2008 after a lifelong battle with depression, Ellis told his 300,000 Twitter followers, ‚ÄúOMG is the solemnity of the David Foster Wallace myth on a purely literary level sickening.‚ÄĚ
He then turned his attention to DFW fans, saying: "Saint David Foster Wallace: a generation trying to read him feels smart about themselves which is part of the whole bullsh** package. Fools.‚ÄĚ
Who does Ellis think he is ‚Äúbeing exceptionally hostile and ungenerous toward a tragically tormented writer who, having hanged himself, is in no position to defend himself,‚ÄĚ writes Salon.com‚Äôs Gerald Howard (who, incidentally, edited both Ellis and Wallace when they were starting out).
For starters, anyone familiar with Ellis knows he‚Äôs no stranger to the shock-and-awe method of courting controversy.
He is, after all, the guy who in 2010 suggested women are inherently ill-equipped for directing movies. The guy who just last month declared Matt Bomer unfit for playing the title role of Christian Grey in the film adaption of ‚Äú50 Shades of Grey,‚ÄĚ because he is gay. And the guy who, hours after J.D. Salinger died, tweeted, ‚ÄúYeah! Thank God he‚Äôs finally dead. I‚Äôve been waiting for this day for-****ing ever. Party tonight!‚ÄĚ
But there‚Äôs more here than meets the eye. Ellis and Wallace are literary rivals that go way back, and Ellis‚Äôs hostile tweets are just the latest in a two-decades-old exchange of literary beef.
In 1988, Wallace criticized Ellis‚Äôs first published essay, calling Ellis and his category of novelists ‚ÄúCatatonics‚ÄĚ for their ‚Äúna√Įve pretension,‚ÄĚ according to Slate. ‚ÄúWallace‚Äôs argument, characteristically, defies easy summary,‚ÄĚ Slate‚Äôs Forrest Wickman writes, ‚Äú‚Ä¶but, in the context of literary critical essay,‚ÄĚ is damning.
A few years later, Wallace laid into ‚ÄúAmerican Psycho‚ÄĚ in an interview with Larry McCaffery, saying it ‚Äúpanders shamelessly to the audience‚Äôs sadism for a while, but by the end it‚Äôs clear that the sadism‚Äôs real object is the reader itself‚Ä¶You can defend ‚ÄėPsycho‚Äô as being a sort of performative digest of late-eighties social problems, but it‚Äôs no more than that.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúAlternating between PR stunt, outright bullying, vigorous intellectual debate, and exercise in ego-bashing and boosting, literary feuds are nothing if not pure bibliophilic entertainment,‚ÄĚ we once wrote in a post on Paulo Coelho‚Äôs attack on James Joyce‚Äôs ‚ÄúUlysses,‚ÄĚ calling the feuds ‚Äúas old as literature itself.‚ÄĚ
Perhaps, but we‚Äôre more inclined to heed the reasoning of The Guardian‚Äôs Barbara Ellen.
‚ÄúIt could be that they‚Äôre feeling a bit bored, their lives and careers aren‚Äôt as exciting as they once were,‚ÄĚ she writes, ‚Äúthe coffee is cold, the croissant not delicious enough, and mischievous people are encouraging them, telling them that their bratty behavior and ill-thought-out rantings are 'a breath of fresh air!'‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúThey mouth, off, in the process,‚ÄĚ she continues, ‚Äúmaking themselves look ridiculous and just a tad obsessed with their targets.‚ÄĚ
We couldn‚Äôt have said it better ourselves.
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.