You write that Infinite Jest was motivated by his "dysfunctional yearning for Mary Karr." How did she influence his drive to write the book?
What I meant by that was that he was trying to impress her. He really wants her to think he's doing wonderful work, and I think when she, at various times, breaks up with him, he's thrown into those negative spirals that can also be enormously productive for a person, a creative spiral of anger. Almost like something out of a Hollywood movie. There's a note in one of my files where he says something like, "Infinite Jest was just a means to Mary Karr's end, as it were." A sexual pun.
You write that Wallace, during his younger years at least, was "politically fairly conservative," and that he "voted for Ronald Reagan and supported Ross Perot in 1992." Yet it's interesting how his politics changed over time. You write he was a vocal critic of George W. Bush and "seriously considered leaving the country" when he was reelected. You say he even briefly thought about the possibility of being a speechwriter for Obama.
The paradigm here is he tended towards the extreme as a young man. He came from a liberal academic family in the Midwest, and it was a little bit of an épaterof the bourgeoisie in voting for Reagan. I also think that there's a little aspect of Ayn Randism in his confidence in himself. It's also paradoxical. Later on, he was a beneficiary of a great number of social services, so he could hardly have emerged from all those experiences still in a Reaganite frame of mind. I think his wife, Karen Green, made him more liberal and more interested in politics on a daily basis. With that said, when you look at all his correspondences, there's hardly anything about politics.
Since his death, there seems to be an emerging interest in Wallace's religious views, and to cast him as more religious and spiritual than he was. What do you make of that? One part of the book I found striking is when you discuss how he developed an interest in Buddhism, but as you write, it was always hard for him to "understand that Buddhism wasn't a course you tried to ace." He seemed to have the same issues when it came to Christianity.
I think some people have tried to turn David into some kind of Thomas Merton figure, but whereas Merton found God, David found God in the form of a 12-step program. Part of the 12-step program that he found hardest to accept—and therefore in my mind most exciting to think about—was faith. I don't think the Judeo-Christian God ever satisfied him. I think he found it hard to put his skepticism away and feel faith. I think that one of the reasons he tried so hard to believe in God was because in 12-step programs, one of the reasons there's an emphasis on God isn't because 12-step programs want you to be a Christian or a Jew, they want you to know you're not God. And that's really important for him as an addict: I'm not God. I can relax a bit. I don't have to be perfect in my attitude towards others. I just have to do what I can do. I think there's a very important quote he liked, which I list in the book's notes: "It's not about whether or not you believe, asshole, it's about getting down and asking." That's so David.