Is This What The Pale King Should Have Looked Like?


Earlier this week, I mentioned that The New Yorker has published a work by David Foster Wallace entitled Backbone, an excerpt from The Pale King.

Now there is an extremely interesting Google Doc that purports to offer “Changes between the transcription of David Foster Wallace reading ‘A fragment of a longer thing’ (Dec. 2000) and The New Yorker’s publication of that story as ‘Backbone’ (Feb. 28, 2011).”

The document, of course, offers an intriguing glimpse into Wallace’s changes as a writer over the course of eight years. Yet it also offer more: an alternative scenario for what a Pale King publication might have looked like.

Its common knowledge now that Wallace did not get close to finishing The Pale King, and that the book that will be published on April 15 represents a heavily edited and stitched together version of what Wallace left behind. Clearly, this book has been made to serve the many readers out there who would like to see a completed, standardized version of The Pale King.

Yet, it has been suggested that such a book would have been contrary to Wallace’s objectives as a writer, possibly representing a serious change over what Wallace would have written himself. Recall, for instance, that Infinite Jest is famously an “incomplete” book in that the narrative strands purposely never come close to actually cohering into a typical ending; surely if Jest had been discovered among Wallace’s papers after his death an editor might have given it a “correct” ending, thus ruining Wallace’s vision.

What we see in this Google Document is a vision of what The Pale King might have looked like, if its editors had chosen to leave it in the disarrayed state it was discovered in. Surely this would have been a book with less mass appeal than the “completed” Pale King that will be published on April 15, but would it have been truer to Wallace the writer?

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More like, what we see in this Google Document is a vision of what The Pale King might have looked like had Wallace not edited it at all in the decade after that reading.

This document might offer some insight into Wallace’s own process of editing and revision, but it definitely doesn’t speak to the extent to which the manuscript was edited for publication.

I would be interested to see a version of The Pale King published along the lines of Nabokov’s The Original of Laura, which, although somewhat lacking as a coherent narrative, provided an intimate glimpse into Nabokov’s process.

Michael: Think you missed my point. I was advocating for a PK along the lines of TOOL; i.e., one with Wallace’s edits, multiple drafts, etc included in the “final” text, instead of something smoothed and polished posthumously by editors.

I think we might sort of also be getting that? Or at least a website “to make large chunks of the manuscript available to fans, so they can see how the book came together and ‘have a detailed sense of Wallace as a working writer.'”

[…] fans are die-hards. Despite my reservations about this book, readers of this site are still snapping up Wallace’s final […]

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