Literary Voyeurism (Part 1)

Cover of David Lipsky's BUT OF COURSE YOU END UP BECOMING YOURSELF

Cover of David Lipsky’s ALTHOUGH OF COURSE YOU END UP BECOMING YOURSELF (2010) – Fair Use asserted

I’ll come right out and admit it: I’m a literary voyeur. I’ll take any opportunity for a behind-the-scenes look at an author’s life. If it’s one of my favorite authors, so much the better. The “flavor of the month” works for me as well. I’ll even pay attention if it’s a writer whose work I don’t like or whom I have never read. For me, it’s probably due in part to having been to grad school in English, but any serious reader is prone to develop into a bookish Peeping Tom if he or she is not careful.

This is different (but not entirely so) from an addiction to celebrity. I’m not pining (much) for dark secrets. I want to find out what authors are like as people. This brings up a problem: I’ll never get more than glimpses of the “real” person. In any interview, whether written or broadcast in audio or audiovisual format, the interviewee adopts a persona (as does the interviewer). In part, it’s a defensive reaction, but it’s also an adaptive function.

Psychiatrist C. G. Jung (who founded analytical psychology after breaking with Freud) wrote about this phenomenon in the personality theory portion of his psychological works. Everyone has a range of personae, or “masks,” that he or she uses in different social situations, “designed on the one hand to make a definite impression upon others, and on the other to conceal the true nature of the individual” (Jung, Two Essays on Analytical Psychology, 1953, p. 190). There’s nothing inherently wrong, abnormal, or necessarily false about this response, but it does impede readers, listeners, and viewers of interviews from learning as much about an interviewee as they would like.

Jung’s theory and Janet Malcolm’s ideas about the ethics of the journalist-interviewee relationship (in The Journalist and the Murderer, about which I wrote a couple of days ago) were both active in my mind as I read (with great voyeuristic delight) David Lipsky’s lengthy interview with David Foster Wallace, as presented in Lipsky’s Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace (Broadway Books, 2010). As I mentioned in the post on Malcolm’s book, Lipsky’s book is the second in a trail of “literary breadcrumbs” that I have been following since watching “The End of the Tour” (2015, reviewed by me), the screen adaptation of the book.

Let’s dispense first with the eternal question: “Which did you like more: the book or the movie?” For my voyeuristic purposes, the book. It has much more detail than any screenwriter could pack into the approximately 110 – 130 minutes of running time in the average feature picture. Moreover, the book (like any written work) forced me to create my own internal “movie” of its content, my own vision of Lipsky, DFW, and their interactions. In any film, the look of the personae and locations, etc. and the perspective through which they are seen are determined for the viewer. This holds true in “The End of the Tour” (2015) in which I enjoyed Jason Segel’s portrayal of DFW, but did not care for Eisenberg’s Lipsky.

I plan to get away from the film to discuss the book, but there is one scene in the film that has a segment that is not in the book. In the scene in which DFW is overdosing on TV in Julie’s apartment, Segel’s DFW has a somewhat paranoid reaction to Eisenberg’s Lipsky’s interactions with Julie. Lipsky the author does not document any such event in his book. I know, I know — “artistic license.” I interpret this segment as an attempt on the part of the screenwriter (Donald Margulies) and director (James Ponsoldt) to show the darker, creepier side of DFW’s personality. It’s also a jarringly false note, as it does not resonate with the rest of the film, although it might be valid as an allusion to behavior such as DFW allegedly displayed in his rather obsessive relationship with memoirist Mary Carr.

More voyeuristic observations to follow . . . .