I first heard about David Lipsky’s Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip With David Foster Wallace from Mark Athitakis when we were on a panel in New York a few weeks ago. The book consists of transcripts from a prolonged interview with Wallace conducted just after Infinite Jest appeared. I’ve published some comments on the book elsewhere, but wanted to pluck out and pass along a long passage—one that Mark read during the panel discussion.
It spins out from a reference to the Interlace system in IJ, but you can skip the background without losing the point. (Ellipses in brackets are mine; otherwise they are sic from the text, as with much else.)
Wallace is speaking, remember, in March 1996, and explicitly addressing a question about how things will shape up in about 15 years:
[T]he big thing, if you’re doin’ movies or packaging any sort of thing, is to get on the Interlace grid. That Interlace will be this enormous gatekeeper. It will be like sort of the one publishing house from hell. They decide what you get and what you don’t.
Because this idea that the Internet’s gonna become incredibly democratic? I mean, if you’ve spent any time on the Web, you know that it’s not gonna be, because that’s completely overwhelming. There are four trillion bits coming at you, 99 percent of them are shit, and it’s too much work to do triage to decide.
So it’s very clearly, very soon there’s gonna be an economic niche opening up for gatekeepers. You know? Or, what do you call them, wells, or various nexes. Not just of interest but of quality. And then things get real interesting. And we will beg for those things to be there. Because otherwise we’re gonna spend 95 percent of our time body-surfing through shit. […] It’s gonna be—you’re gonna get to watch all of human history played out again real quickly.
[….]If you go back to Hobbes, and why we end up begging, why people in a state of nature end up begging for a ruler who has the power of life and death over them? We absolutely have to give our power away. The Internet is going to be exactly the same way. Unless there are walls and sites and gatekeepers that say, “All right, you want fairly good fiction on the Web? Let us pick it for you.” Because it’s gonna take you four days to find something any good, through all the shit that’s gonna come, right?
We’re gonna beg for it. We are literally gonna pay for it. But once we do that, then all these democratic hoo-hah dreams of the Internet will of course have gone down the pipes. And we’re back again to three or four Hollywood studios, or four or five publishing houses, being the…right? And all of us who grouse, all the anarchists who grouse about power being localized in these media elites, are gonna realize that the actual system dictates that. The same way—I’m absolutely convinced—that the despot in Hobbes is a logical extension of what the State of Nature is.
Well now if that won’t stir up the hornet’s nest then I don’t know what will.