On 17 October 2003, I interviewed David Foster Wallace at New York’s Park South Hotel about his book Everything and More: A Compact History of ∞, which was then just being published. A week later, a condensed and edited version of the interview was published in the Boston Globe, a version that has since been reprinted in Stephen J. Burn’s Conversations with David Foster Wallace.
After Wallace died in September 2008, I went back to my transcript of the original interview and posted on this blog a few passages that I hadn’t been able to shoehorn in to the published version, including some to-and-fro about God and infinity that verged on the mystical. I intended even then to make audio files of the interview available some day, but at the time, I was a bit shy about the fact that during the interview, Wallace briefly turned the tables and spent a few minutes interviewing me (fortunately, he let me turn the tape recorder off for most of those minutes). Also, it turned out to be trickier than I expected to connect an old-fashioned cassette player to a newfangled laptop. In fact I didn’t figure out the proper Radio Shack doohickey until a few days ago.
Here, then, at last, are MP3 files of my interview with Wallace. The first side of the cassette is about 48 minutes long; the second, 33 minutes. The sound quality isn’t great. In both segments, the tape recorder is turned off and on several times, which may be confusing to a listener. If you hear sudden non sequiturs, you’ve probably just passed a silent lacuna of this kind. From time to time, Wallace plays with the conventions of the audio interview by making a gesture that contradicts the words he’s saying aloud; if you hear me laughing even though Wallace doesn’t seem to have said anything funny, that’s probably why. As I explained when I published excerpts of the transcript in 2008, when the first side of the tape ran out, it took me a few minutes to notice, and so I lost what may have been the best part of the exchange, about Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem and the Infinite Jest character Pemulis (I posted my notes about the content of the missing minutes in the 2008 blog post).
These files probably won’t be riveting to listen to unless you’re both a David Foster Wallace fan and a math nerd, and even if you are, the first twenty minutes or so are fairly slow. I confess that I myself can’t any longer follow all the math talk in this interview; even at the time, I was a little out of my depth. But despite these limitations to its appeal, the audio does offer an unedited sample of what Wallace sounded like in conversation, and I hope it will be of interest to some.
UPDATE, 21 February 2017: A reader/listener named Peter Demers volunteered to excise some of the tape hiss from my files and has shared with me new versions. I’m leaving the original MP3s above, but his versions, which are in the M4A (AAC) format, do sound a little sharper: