The Nature of the Fun
In this essay, Wallace discusses the act writing, touching on key themes like hideousness, the imperfection of communication, and the writer's aim. He writes:
The best metaphor I know of for being a fiction writer is in Don DeLillo's "Mao II," where he describes a book-in-progress as a kind of hideously damaged infant that follows the writer around, forever crawling after the writer (dragging itself across the floor of restaurants where the writer's trying to eat, appearing at the foot of the bed first thing in the morning, etc.), hideously defective, hydrocephalic and noseless and flipper-armed and incontinent and retarded and dribbling cerebo-spinal fluid out of its mouth as it mewls and blurbles and cries out to the writer, wanting love, wanting the very thing its hideousness guarantees it'll get: the writer's complete attention.
The damaged-infant trope is perfect because it captures the mix of repulsion and love the fiction writer feels for something he's working on. The fiction always comes out so horrifically defective, so hideous a betrayal of all your hopes for it -- a cruel and repellent caricature of the perfection of its conception -- yes, understand: grotesque because imperfect.
He continues to say that "even at the height of its hideousness the damaged infant somehow touches and awakens what you suspect are some of the very best parts of you: maternal parts, dark ones. You love your infant very much. And you want others to love it, too, when the time finally comes for the damaged infant to go out and face the world."
He uses the same 2nd person narrative he often uses when discussing the act of writing fiction (see especially Octet), and self-defensively cautions against the intentional fallacy, because judging the book as a direct extension of and reflection on the author would "mean you see and despise hideousness in a thing you made (and love), in your spawn and in certain ways you.
He ends the essay with some sage, writerly advice: "The smart thing to say, I think, is that the way out of this bind is to work your way somehow back to your original motivation -- fun," to recapture the idea of "work as play." Wallace certainly knows how to make work "fun" and "play," especially with his "play" on language. This related to post-structuralist Jacques Derrida's idea of free-play: in a post-modern world, man (any man, but especially an author) can not be judged the center of the universe or origin of meaning. Without this centralized reference, all that is left is “free play.”