Friday April 15th, 2011

The Opposite of Federer

Speaking of Geoff Dyer, he has a brief essay up at Prospect Magazine about his “literary allergy” to David Foster Wallace. On the one hand, I’m a Wallace fan. On the other, there are plenty of sacred literary cows to whom I’m immune, and I would hate for criticism of beloved writers to disappear. Moving away from hands altogether, it’s also true that though I’m a fan, there are things about Wallace’s work — perhaps especially his fiction — that bother me. Dyer writes, “I react against the variously contrived sloppinesses of all those ’sort ofs’ and ‘kind ofs’ in tandem with, sometimes followed by, the magisterial flamboyant (’Existentiovoyeuristic conundra notwithstanding’).” I agree about the contrived sloppiness, for various reasons, but mostly because of the “contrived” part. And this is more a matter of taste than anything else (there must be some people who prefer Rafael Nadal’s human twitches and strains to Roger Federer’s robotic efficiency), but Dyer offers a smart metaphor for Wallace’s style, given Wallace’s writing about tennis, and about Federer in particular:

Federer’s style is about maximum economy and grace of action. Between games he just sits there. Barely even sweats. DFW, by contrast, is forever picking his shorts out of his arse like Nadal, bouncing the balls as many times as Djokovic, tugging his cap forwards and backwards like Roddick, or twitching like Lleyton Hewitt. He is the least Federer-like writer imaginable.