David Foster Wallace, from a letter to the editor in Harper’s Magazine in 1996.
Earlier that year, Jonathan Franzen wrote his famous essay, “Perchance to Dream: In an Age of Images, a Reason to Write Novels,” where he lays out his attitude toward contemporary fiction, and proposed a template that would later be implemented in his novel The Corrections. The next month, Harper’s published a letter from Kurt Vonnegut in response to Franzen’s article, where he said, “Novelists are people who believe they can dampen their neuroses by writing make-believe. We will keep on doing that no matter what, while offering loftier explanations.”
Wallace sacked Vonnegut on this observation, calling it “horseshit,” saying that if Vonnegut’s statement were the whole truth, “who would want to devote hours of brain work to something somebody had written just to dampen his own neuroses?”
I love this whole exchange: from the spirited argument of purpose and ideals, to the importance and consequence of the audience’s presence. I have a tendency to romanticize the process of making and the opportunity of speaking directly and sincerely to other people, but it’s comforting to see that others can also find the magic in the arrangement. We have a tendency to over-use “magic” for unfitting purposes without much mystery, so it’s encouraging to realize that there really are magical things out there accessible to all of us. Auspicious wonder need not live in an ivory tower, so I’ll continue tending to my sentences.