Charlie Rose interviews David Foster Wallace | March 1997

Charlie Rose: What does post-modern mean in literature?

David Foster Wallace: Ah, no no no…after modernism.
It’s a very useful catch all term because you say it and we all nod soberly as if we know what we’re talking about when in fact we don’t. There are certain…when I mean post-modern, I’m talking about maybe the black humorists who came along in the 1960s, the post-Nabokovians. I’m talking about Pynchon, and Barthelme, and Barth. DeLillo in the early 70s. Coover, and I’m sure I’m leaving out a lot. Um, let me see…

Charlie Rose: But that’s the camp you put yourself in?

David Foster Wallace: That’s the camp that interested me when I was a student. The problem is I think post-modernism has to a large extent run its course. The biggest thing for me that was interesting about post-modernism is that it was the first text that was highly self-conscious. Self-conscious of itself as text, self-conscious of the writer as persona, self-conscious about the effects that narrative had on readers, and the fact that the readers probably knew that. It was the first generation of writers who’d actually read a lot of criticism, and there was a certain schizophrenia about it. // It was very useful it seems to me because the culture…this was a real beaker of acid in the face of the culture. The culture at the time this came out–this was before the youth rebellion in the 60s–was very staid and very conservative. The problem though is now that a lot of the schticks of post-modernism–irony, cynicism, irreverence–are now part of whatever it is that’s enervating the culture itself.