Feb 26, 2017

Excerpts from "The End of the Tour"

I really like The End of the Tour, which is a movie based on a book based on a 1996 interview/conversation between David Lipsky and David Foster Wallace.

A couple of excerpts really poked out for me. I'm pretty sure the movie lines aren't verbatim from the original conversation, but I like them anyway.

Upon arriving back at DFW's house after dinner, during their first evening together:

DFW: I don't have a diagnosis or a system of prescriptions as to why we – and when I say "we" I mean people just like you and me: mostly white, upper-middle class, obscenely well educated, doing really interesting jobs, sitting in really expensive chairs, watching the best, most sophisticated electronic equipment that money can buy – why do we feel so empty and unhappy?

DL: Right, it's kinda like Hamlet, except with channel-surfing.

DFW: I'm not saying that watching TV is bad, or a waste of your time, any more than like, masturbation is bad or a waste of your time. It's a pleasurable way to spend a few minutes. But if you're doing it twenty times a day – if your primary sexual relationship is with your own hand – something is wrong...

DL: Except at least with masturbation, some action is being performed though, right? Isn't that... that's better.

DFW: Okay, you could make me look like a real dick if you print this.

DL: No, I'm not going to. But, if you can, speak into the mike.

DFW: Yes, you're performing muscular movements with your hand as you're jerking off. But what you're really doing, I think, is you're running a movie in your head. You're having a fantasy relationship with somebody who is not real, strictly to stimulate a neurological response. So look, as the internet grows in the next 10, 15 years, and virtual reality pornography becomes a reality, we're going to have to develop some real machinery inside our guts to turn off pure, unalloyed pleasure, or I don't know about you, but I'm gonna have to leave the planet.

DL: Why?

DFW: 'cause the technology is just going to get better and better. And it's going to get easier and easier, and more and more convenient, and more and more pleasurable to sit alone with images on a screen, given to us by people who do not love us but want our money. And that's fine – in low doses. But if it's the basic main staple of your diet, you're gonna die.

DL: Well, come on...

DFW: In a very meaningful way, you're going to die.

And in DFW's living room, at the end of their last night together:

DL: I gotta ask you about this rumor...

DFW: Is this the heroin thing?

DL: Yeah.

DFW: Is this the heroin thing again?

DL: Yeah.

DFW: It isn't true. What is so hard for you to believe?

DL: The reason it is so hard to believe is because there is so much about drugs and addiction in the book.

DFW: That doesn't mean that it's autobiographical. The book stuff is meant to be a metaphor. What is – You don't believe a fuckin' word that I've said, do you?

DL: I didn't say that.

DFW: I was not – I never was a heroin addict.

DL: Okay. The rumor I heard was that in the late '80s, when you were at Harvard, you got involved with drugs and you had some kind of breakdown.

DFW: I don't know if – I don't know if I had a breakdown. I got very, very depressed. I told you that. It had nothing to do with drugs. I have spent most of my life in libraries. I never lived that dangerous kind of life. And I would never stick a needle into my arm...

DL: Okay, so how do you think that rumor got started –

DFW: I have no idea! I have no idea.

DL: Alright. Alright. Calm down.

DFW: And I'm telling you – if you were to structure this as some sort of like "...and then he spiraled into terrible addiction" sort of thing, it would be inaccurate. It was much more that I got more and more unhappy; the more unhappy I got, the more I would drink. There was no joy in that drinking. I used it for anesthesia. Okay?

DL: Okay. What kind of drinker were you? Were you a kind of falling-down drinker? Were you a waking-up-on-the-curb drinker?

DFW: No! I was not, okay?

DL: Okay. Alright.

DFW: Part of my reticence about this whole thing – is that it won't make very good copy for you. Because no, I was not like that at all.

DL: You did agree to this interview.

DFW: I know that I did.

DL: Alright, I'm not going to push much further. Sorry.

DFW: I am also aware that some addictions are sexier than others. My primary addiction my entire life has been to television. I told you that. Now television addiction is of far less interest to your readers than something like heroin, that confirms the mythos of the writer.

DL: Yeah, a myth I do not believe, okay?

DFW: Right. Yeah, I know you don't believe that. I'm also aware that one of the things that's swirling around here is you wanna have the best fuckin' article you can have. So you know what? Why don't you write whatever the fuck you want. I am telling you that this was not a Lost Weekend sort of thing. Nor was it some lurid, romantic, writer's-alcoholic sort of thing. What it was was a 28-year-old person who had really exhausted a couple other ways to live. Like really taken them to their conclusion. Which, for me, was a pink room with a drain in the center of the floor, which is where they put me for an entire day when they thought that I was going to kill myself. Where I had nothing on, I had someone observing me through a - through a slot in the wall. And when that happens to you, you become tremendously, just unprecedentedly, willing to examine some other alternatives for how to live.

[rereads: 1, edits: grammatical tweaks to my transcription]