Reading David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King Live on Stage; Paperback Coming Soon

“David Fos­ter Wal­lace’s writ­ing sort of lends itself to being read aloud,” says actor Bri­an Elerd­ing. He under­states the case; at times, Wal­lace seems to have craft­ed his prose specif­i­cal­ly to reflect and embody spo­ken lan­guage. He lis­tened to the Eng­lish actu­al­ly used today, includ­ing all its tics, hitch­es, sole­cisms, and delib­er­ate inar­tic­u­lac­i­es, with an obser­va­to­ry pre­ci­sion and rig­or approach­ing the sci­en­tif­ic. Actor-writer-direc­tor John Krasin­s­ki first put this qual­i­ty of Wal­lace’s writ­ing to a high-pro­file test with his 2009 film adap­ta­tion of Brief Inter­views with Hideous Men. In the above clip, we see the mak­ing of a sim­i­lar project in a very dif­fer­ent form: last April in Bev­er­ly Hills, the PEN (Poets, Essay­ists, and Nov­el­ists) Cen­ter USA put on a live read­ing where “eleven tal­ent­ed actors” per­formed David Fos­ter Wal­lace mono­logues “to an enthu­si­as­tic crowd of 300.”

These mono­logues came adapt­ed from The Pale King, Wal­lace’s famous­ly posthu­mous nov­el about what, if any­thing, lays beyond the crush­ing veil of tedi­um at a Peo­ria IRS branch office. As we enter the throes of Unit­ed States tax time, the book gears up for a paper­back release fea­tur­ing addi­tion­al mate­r­i­al, some of which appeared last month at The Mil­lions. PEN’s read­ing, intro­duced by Los Ange­les Times book crit­ic David L. Ulin, show­cased inter­pre­ta­tions of The Pale King’s char­ac­ters through the voic­es of actors like Nick Offer­man and Josh Rad­nor, come­di­ans like Rob Delaney and June Diane Raphael, and even for­mer Black Flag front­man Hen­ry Rollins. Now best known as a spo­ken-word artist, Rollins under­stands well the pow­er and depth of human speech. “It’s try­ing to reach you on every page,” he says of Wal­lace’s writ­ing. “He’s try­ing to make a con­nec­tion.” Strug­gling to pin down the exact nature of Wal­lace’s res­o­nance, so strong with so many read­ers, lit­er­ary schol­ars have used hun­dreds of thou­sands of their own words to draw the very same con­clu­sion.

Relat­ed con­tent:

David Fos­ter Wal­lace: The Big, Uncut Inter­view

‘This Is Water’: Com­plete Audio of David Fos­ter Wallace’s Keny­on Grad­u­a­tion Speech (2005)

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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