Please wait

David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace, page from the Pale King materials, “Midwesternism” notebook, undated. Manuscript notebook, 10 1/2 × 8 1/4 in. (26.7 × 21.0 cm). Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin. Image used with permission from the David Foster Wallace Literary Trust.

David Foster Wallace, page from the Pale King materials, “Midwesternism” notebook, undated. Manuscript notebook, 10 1/2 × 8 1/4 in. (26.7 × 21.0 cm). Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin. Image used with permission from the David Foster Wallace Literary Trust.

Born 1962 in Ithaca, NY
Died 2008 in Claremont, CA

On view in the 2014 Biennial are the notebooks David Foster Wallace used to compose early drafts of The Pale King (2011), the novel he was working on when he took his life in 2008. Some humanize the critically acclaimed writer by giving a sense of his idiosyncrasies—one page is covered in abstract doodles, the cover of another notebook, labeled “scenes,” has a kitschy picture of kittens. Others offer glimpses of his voracious appetite for and encyclopedic knowledge of literature and philosophy (quotes copied from Friedrich Nietzsche and poet John Berryman) and politics (a clipped article about President Obama). Wallace, who was raised in Champaign, Illinois, is a vital inclusion in the Whitney Biennial not only for his Midwestern roots, shared by many artists in curator Michelle Grabner’s section, but also for the ethical nature of his creative output. Set largely within an IRS office in Peoria, Illinois, The Pale King distills the central themes of his writing: In a consumer society overflowing with technological, virtual, and chemical options for entertainment and escape that distract us from authentic engagement with our surroundings and other people, Wallace argued, it is particularly when we are least interested that such engagement is most necessary. In the final section of The Pale King, titled “Notes and Asides,” he observed: 

“It turns out that bliss . . . lies on the other side of crushing boredom. Pay attention to the most tedious thing you can find . . . and, in waves, a boredom like you’ve never known will wash over you . . . Ride these out, and it’s like stepping from black and white into color. Like water after days in the desert. Constant bliss in every atom.”

On View

Fourth Floor

Work by David Foster Wallace is on view in the Museum’s fourth floor galleries.