David Foster Wallace, and TV

Here’s a good one from Brainpickings.org: “David Foster Wallace on Art vs. TV and the Motivation to be Smart

There’s a brief snippet of DFW’s thoughts on reading/watching, which can be found in its entirety in Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace

“You teach the reader that he’s way smarter than he thought he was. I think one of the insidious lessons about TV is the meta-lesson that you’re dumb. This is all you can do. This is easy, and you’re the sort of person who really just wants to sit in a chair and have it easy. When in fact there are parts of us, in a way, that are a lot more ambitious than that. And what we need… is seriously engaged art that can teach again that we’re smart. And that’s the stuff that TV and movies — although they’re great at certain things — cannot give us. But that have to create the motivations for us to want to do the extra work, to get those other kinds of art… Which is tricky, because you want to seduce the reader, but you don’t want to pander or manipulate them. I mean, a good book teaches the reader how to read it”

And if we’re talking about David Foster Wallace and TV, I recommend this link — courtesy of Slate.com: “Uncut 84-Minute Interview with David Foster Wallace” — in which he shares his thoughts about television as a medium, avante garde art, and many other things.

For an excellent read check out the essay, “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction.” It is one of the best things I’ve read about television in quite awhile. Don’t worry, it’s far from a boring TV-is-bad-for-you harangue; there’s a rich discussion of irony, self-consciousness, and why people choose to read/watch what they do. You can find it in his 1997 collection of nonfiction writings, A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again.


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I run the ThinkLab at the University of Cambridge, and research digital habits, productivity, and wellbeing.

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