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David Foster Wallace and Addiction and Recovery (and History)

Updated: Aug 30, 2023

Maria Bustillos, of TheAwl.com has written a thoughtful (long) commentary on the collection of carefully read, highlighted, and annotated recovery/self-help books in the newly opened David Foster Wallace Papers at UT Austin’s Harry Ransom Center.  Her  well-documented essay addresses a question about which there has been much speculation since DFW’s suicide in 2008: did he identify as a recovering alcoholic/addict, or was he simply interested in that world?  Combing through interviews, historical evidence, and the annotations in books by well-known recovery authors like Ernie Kurtz and John Bradshaw,

Granada-- or Ennet-- House


Bastillos’ answer is yes: Wallace did see himself as an addict in recovery, and Boston’s well-known 12-Step-based Granada House is indeed the model for Ennet House, the scene of a significant portion of the action in his 1996 novel Infinite Jest.

Full consideration of Wallace’s simultaneous engagement with 12-Step earnestness and postmodern irony is beyond the scope of this blog.  Points readers might, however, be interested in Infinite Jest’s depiction of what is frequently referred to as “black belt AA”: a version of the recovery program  that adheres very closely to the fellowships 12 Steps and 12 Traditions, without much tolerance for “pop” psychologizing, which is often seen as an occasion for “stinkin’ thinkin.'”  Pomo highbrows will be combing the DFW archive at UT for the foreseeable future– sometimes to good effect, as in Bustillos’s piece, but probably sometimes not.  Is it insane to hope that excitement about this archive will result in some spillover effects in the form of serious research into the history– or histories– of Alcoholics Anonymous?

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