David Foster Wallace Lives (In 'The New Yorker')

The late, great David Foster Wallace has a short story in the latest issue of The New Yorker. "Backbone" describes a six-year-old boy whose main goal in life is "to be able to press his lips to every square inch of his own body." Here's an excerpt from the 4,750-word story:

Nor was it ever established precisely why this boy had devoted himself to the goal of being able to press his lips to every square inch of his own body. It is not clear even that he conceived of the goal as an "achievement" in any conventional sense. Unlike his father, he did not read Ripley and had never heard of the McWhirters--certainly it was no kind of stunt. Nor any sort of self-evection; this is verified--the boy had no conscious wish to "transcend" anything. If someone had asked him, the boy would have said only that he'd decided he wanted to press his lips to every last micrometre of his own individual body. He would not have been able to say more than this. Insights into or conceptions of his own physical "inaccessibility" to himself (as we are all of us self-inaccessible and can, for example, touch parts of one another in ways that we could not even dream of touching our own bodies) or of his complete determination, apparently, to pierce that veil of inaccessibility--to be, in some childish way, self-contained and -sufficient--these were beyond his conscious awareness. He was, after all, just a little boy.

Fans of Wallace, who committed suicide in 2008, can look forward to more posthumously published work in the near future: his unfinished novel, The Pale King, will be released next month.

Read the full story at The New Yorker.

Presented by

Eleanor Barkhorn is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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