‘A Frightening Time in America’: An Interview with David Foster Wallace by Ostap Karmodi | NYRblog | The New York Review of Books
Ostap Karmodi: Do you feel we’re living in an age of consumerism or is that just a media concept that doesn’t have any real meaning?
David Foster Wallace: This question, as you know, is very complicated. I can give answers that are somewhat simple and I can really talk only about America, because it’s really the only society that I know. America, as everybody knows, is a country of many contradictions, and a big contradiction for a long time has been between a very aggressive form of capitalism and consumerism against what might be called a kind of moral or civic impulse. For many years everybody knew that business was business and people needed to make money, but people were also a little embarrassed or ashamed of that. It was regarded as somewhat crass. Some of this contradiction comes out of England and old conflicts between the bourgeoisie and nobility. Sometime—I’m not sure whether it was the 1990s or 1980s in America—half of that conflict really sort of disappeared, and there’s now a celebration of commercialism and consumerism and marketing that is not really balanced by any kind of shame or embarrassment or reticence or sense that in fact consumerism and commercialism were really only a very small part of human life. I think that many peoples’ daily lives probably aren’t completely consumer-driven here in America, but they’re certainly much more so than they were twenty or thirty years ago.
OK: Do you think it’s a natural trend that will stop by itself at some point?
DFW: Where’s it’s going, I’m not entirely sure. In America, and I imagine in large parts of Western Europe, there’s a certain problem which is that corporations have gotten more and more power, both culturally and politically. Here in America it now takes large amounts of money to run for various kinds of democratic office. Corporations have a great deal more money than private citizens, corporations make these donations that then result in laws that favor corporations even more, and you get a sort of cycle. And corporations are very strange, they’re composed of people, they have the legal status of a person, but they don’t have a conscience or soul the way people do. You end up with this increasing distortion of American values where everything becomes about money and selling and buying and display. We’ve reached a point with the current president and the current administration where corporations have so much influence and so much control and are doing so much damage that’s obvious to everybody that there may be a backlash, a kind of spasmodic reaction against it. The next ten years here in America are going to be very interesting probably for the whole world to watch.
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