Leonard Bankhead is a philosophy double major who chews tobacco, wears a bandanna, disdains ironic detachment, and has a history of mental illness that has led to multiple hospitalizations — just like David Foster Wallace. (Also, like Infinite Jest’s Hal Incandenza, Bankhead self-medicates through out high school with marijuana.) Certainly, Leonard is distinct from DFW in a number of ways as well — the particularities of his family situation, his being a total stud, that he’s a manic-depressive, not just a depressive, that he’s not a writer, and all the vagaries of the plot — but the similarities are so iconically David Foster Wallace (a bandanna and chew are not common accoutrements) that Eugenides, who did not have a well-known or documented friendship with Foster Wallace, must intentionally be calling him to mind.
Here’s how Bankhead is introduced, in a semiotics class he’s taking with Madeleine. Like Foster Wallace, he’s a double major in philosophy and a hard science (in Foster Wallace’s case it was philosophy and math English, though he wrote a book about math) and he dips chew. You can find this in one of the New Yorker excerpts.
“He said in a quiet voice that he was a double major (biology and philosophy) and had never taken a semiotics course before, that his parents had named him Leonard…. After he finished his coffee, he dug into his right snowmobile boot and, to Madeleine’s surprise, pulled out a tin of chewing tobacco. With two stained fingers, he placed a wad of tobacco in his cheek. For the next two hours, every minute or so, he spat, discreetly but audibly, into the cup.
Leonard is also interested in subjects that interested Foster Wallace. . . .
Oh, and is The Recognitions seriously, “falling out of the canon faster than John Dos Passos”? Kinda thought Gaddis was experiencing a little bit of respect finally, though, National Book Awards notwithstanding, I don’t think he was ever particularly “canonical.”