The Single Best Paragraph in the Entire David Foster Wallace Archive

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03/11/2010 4:33 PM |

The University of Texas at Austin’s Harry Ransom Center has, these past few years, aggressively been acquiring the papers of notable modern authors, as D.T. Max reported in a 2007 New Yorker piece; it included the revelation that director of the center counted David Foster Wallace among the second tier of living writers whose archives the center should target.

Two years later, Max was given access to the many papers left behind by David Foster Wallace as he worked on his wonderful postmortem profile. The contents of those papers—drafts, a little bit of correspondence, vocab lists, books read for pleasure and research and heavily marked-up with infinitely suggestive marginalia, vocab lists, and adorable juvenilia—have now been acquired by the Center; the New Yorker offers a sampling of their contents. They are, like the work itself, practically infinite, but out of them I have helpfully distilled their essence, found on the second page of an early letter sent to Wallace by Michael Pietsch, editor of Infinite Jest, and annotated by the author: