Jonathan Franzen Drops Gossip On David Foster Wallace

Frazen vs Wallace

Via: The AWL

Looks like Jonathan Franzen is calling bullshit on David Foster Wallace.  At the most recent New Yorker Festival, Franzen alleged that Wallace fabricated a part (possibly a large part) of his non-fiction work.  Here’s a transcript of the conversation that took place between Franzen and journalist David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker:

Remnick: Well, I was, I was fascinated to hear... that there are some people in this world who feel that it's o— that to have a kind of hyper-postmodern view of nonfiction/fiction questions, that it's all writing, and that questions of fact, facticity and, well, that's kind of square and old-fashioned, and it's okay that Kapuscinski does what Kapuscinski does and kind of makes this up because it's really just a metaphor for Poland itself. And other writers that one could name who have a different view of fact and fiction... You're pretty strict about the dividing line. You see, you think that somebody who's—
Franzen (interjecting): [unintelligible]
Remnick: — allegedly writing nonfiction and cheats it—
Franzen: Yeah.
Remnick: —is cheating the reader, is somehow in a way that should be kind of like admitting a false —
Franzen: David and I disagreed on that.
Remnick: David?
Franzen: Dave Wallace, yeah.
Remnick: So Wallace felt well—
Franzen: Yeah, cause he—
Remnick: He said it was okay to make up dialogue on a cruise ship?
Franzen: For instance, yeah. Uhhmmm...
Remnick: I'm heartbroken to hear it.
Franzen: I know, I know. No, those things didn't actually happen. You notice he never published any nonfiction in your magazine.
Remnick: Not for want of trying but that's another matter, but but...
Franzen: He would have had to, maybe he...
Remnick: He would have fell before the fact-checkers.
Franzen: I think the fact-checkers... and, to me, the fact-checkers, we, uh, I'm so afraid of fact checkers.
Remnick: Good. [laughs]
Franzen: But that's, you know, that's kind of like the boundary lines in tennis. That was a great shot, only problem was it was two feet behind the baseline. I will have crushed...
Remnick: But David called it in.
Franzen: Well, yeah, I mean... I love that cruise ship piece of Dave's, so I'm not, I'm not... it was, yeah, two somewhat different approaches.

The problem is that the accusation isn’t very specific.  Franzen says, “Those things didn’t actually happen,” but what is he talking about exactly?  Just the dialogue?  Or is he saying the entirety of Shipping Out is fictional?

To Franzen’s credit, Wallace has admitted to taking liberties with certain elements of his non-fiction, specifically, cleaning up quotes.  He commented on the matter in one of his past interviews with The Boston Phoenix: “You hire a fiction writer to do nonfiction, there's going to be the occasional bit of embellishment. ”  To a point, I can understand that, if only to make the piece more “readable.”  As James Frey can attest, a line definitely exists, and it seems Franzen’s accusation is that it was crossed to some major or minor degree.  It’s the ambiguity of his statement that’s going to have the literary world buzzing, but perhaps Franzen already knew that.

When one highly revered author goes after another highly revered author, the results are never anything less than messy.

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Fylh's picture
Fylh from from from is reading is from is reading is reading is reading reading is reading October 13, 2011 - 4:20pm

Franzen is, at bottom, a worm pretending to to be a basilisk. And basilisks don't even exist; he's doomed no matter what he does.

Kasey's picture
Kasey from the morally and physically challenging plains of Texas is reading 12pt. Courier font October 14, 2011 - 6:09am

Add to this the fact that DFW is not here to defend himself and this looks even less appealing for the likes of JF...

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading a lot more during the quarantine October 20, 2011 - 11:15am

Great article on the relationship between Frazen, Wallace, and Eugenides HERE.

Bradley Sands's picture
Bradley Sands from Boston is reading Greil Marcus's The History of Rock 'N' Roll in Ten Songs October 20, 2011 - 4:48pm

I assume that a large amount of dialogue in creative nonfiction is fabricated (or paraphrased) because unless someone has a superhuman ability to remember everything that people say, the dialogue that they write won't be completely accurate.