Short story: “A Radically Condensed History of Postindustrial Life”

by look i have opinions

“A Radically Condensed History of Postindustrial Life,” by David Foster Wallace

Appeared in the Spring 1998 issue of Ploughshares (subscribe or order copies here); collected in Brief Interviews with Hideous Men; found online here and here; there’s also a recording by the author on YouTube

73–79 words

I kind of like this piece. Apparently when it came out, it got some flak because of its length (as did Infinite Jest—Wallace can’t seem to win on that front).

One thing I don’t like is that I suspect the tongue-in-cheek title is essentially in earnest. I’m not crazy about the way Wallace treats his own kind of people (well-off, educated, neurotic—okay, my kind of people too) as a shorthand for our entire era. Seems disingenuous. A lot of people in postindustrial society can only aspire to the type of unhappiness portrayed here. Not that that makes it less authentic as unhappiness, but I don’t think it works as a condensation, radical or not. I could be wrong about that, and/or about Wallace’s intent here.