Wallace in Normal

Greetings from Chicago!

I’m taking a little vacation, and so I am totally behind schedule. But I think I’ll totally catch up by next week.

I wasn’t just vacationing though – Chicago has been a bit of a side trip (and today is sadly my last day in this wonderful city). From Wednesday until Saturday morning I was attending the DFW conference in Normal, IL at ISU. Besides having the howling fantods, I believe my paper went well and I enjoyed the presentations that I attended.

If you didn’t know, Wallace spent some time in Normal (technically, he lived in Bloomington and taught at ISU in Normal. Normal and Bloomington are kinda like one town, Normal is uptown and Bloomington is downtown). So I got to see some of his very haunts, where his office was, and where he taught. I even saw where he lived, which was also the house where Infinite Jest was finished.

Was there any kind of insight gained from visiting these spots? These places where Wallace had been was interestingly unremarkable. Normal is….pretty damn normal. The coffee shop was pretty bland. The house was kinda run down. The office is now a medievalist’s office (and it looks like any other office). The classroom is just a classroom. We were also surrounded by a lot of corn. And it was quiet. Except for those damn cicadas!

But yet I feel like I got a bit of that midwesternness of Wallace in Normal. I’ve never been to the Midwest, so whether or not it was a place that Wallace lived, it was still good to experience a small Midwestern town. The town has stood in contrast to the city of Chicago, where you can hardly find a quiet and peaceful place (although I am sure there are some, it’s just Normal itself is one quiet peaceful place).

But I can’t quite put my finger on how I got a better sense of Wallace by visiting the Midwest for the first time. I would go through my books of his, but I’m far away from them and I’m currently writing on my phone because my laptop is acting funny. But let’s just say that this unremarkableness did contribute something, that drinking bland coffee and having a bland breakfast, and being surrounded by corn gave me a slightly better sense of where Wallace comes from.

That’s all from me today. I need to pack my bags and head out of Chicago and back to good ol southern Ontario.


Author: philmiletic

I am an English PhD candidate at the University of Waterloo. My dissertation focuses on "the virtual communities" of David Foster Wallace and Gertrude Stein.

3 thoughts on “Wallace in Normal”

  1. Very interesting, and I think you may even have unwittingly put your finger right on the very stereotype of midwesternness! It’s not so much the “peacefulness” as it is solitude, paired peculiarly with a feeling that you’re neither too big, nor too small, but just right, and since everyone partakes in the same environment and resources, people seem far more alike than different. Then so because it frees the self to be an observer, it’s the type of tribalism that encourages self-perception and self-awareness, and hopefully even self-assessment and self-appreciation. In Chicago’s sprawling mega-universe, you’re all too mindful of being non-stop watched, compared, and evaluated, whether it’s true or (more likely) not. Too much of everything is just enough.


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