On complacency and terror in prose style

by look i have opinions

“Wallace is hard to parody: the parodist reads with an eye for the moment when an author gets too magisterially comfortable with his own style, and slips momentarily onto autopilot, and Wallace frantically avoided such moments. The Howling Fantods ran a David Foster Wallace Parody competition in 2004, and what makes the authors of the winning entries in this competition not sound like Wallace is precisely a certain stylistic comfortableness/smugness/polish. E.g. several of the parodists chose to recreate the celebrated poet who is skewered in the story ‘Death is Not the End’—‘a poet two separate American generations have now hailed as the voice of their generation,’ or in other words the phony of phonies, a velveteen genius. Comparing the original with the parodies clarifies where the original gets its force, namely from Wallace’s sheer terror that the person he’s lampooning might be himself. What keeps that story ‘authentic’ is Wallace’s own fear of being inauthentic.”

—James Warner, in that essay I like to quote a lot

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