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Fiction is one of the few experiences where loneliness can be both confronted and relieved. Drugs, movies where stuff blows up, loud parties -- all these chase away loneliness by making me forget my name's Dave and I live in a one-by-one box of bone no other party can penetrate or know. Fiction, poetry, music, really deep serious sex, and, in various ways, religion -- these are the places (for me) where loneliness is countenanced, stared down, transfigured, treated.

Is this actually a David Foster Wallace quote, and if so, what is its source?

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Luckily, people on the internet have already done the heavy lifting to track down the exact source of this quote. It's from an interview with Gerald Howard which was published in 1996 in the magazine Elle, Volume 11, Issue 6, page 58. A high-quality scan of the relevant page can be seen here, and more context around the quote is as follows:

GH: Why write fiction at all, let alone 1,100-page novels, in our age of attenuated attention spans?

DFW: (a) Stories let us talk to one another about stuff that just can’t be talked about any other way; no semantic model could explain why Cynthia Ozick’s image of floating Jews in “Levitation” means as much as it does; (b) I’m pretty lonely most of the time, and fiction’s one of the few experiences where loneliness can be both confronted and relieved. Drugs, movies where stuff blows up, loud parties—all these chase loneliness away by making me forget my name’s Dave and I live in a one-by-one box of bone no other party can penetrate or know. Fiction, poetry, music, really deep serious sex, and, in various ways, religion—these are the places (for me) where loneliness is countenanced, stared down, transfigured, treated. In lots of ways it’s all there is.

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  • Ah, snap. Deleting my answer.
    – Adam Burke
    Feb 28, 2023 at 6:43
  • 2
    @AdamBurke your answer includes a very pertinent piece of info that neither of the other extant answers does. Please consider undeleting!
    – verbose
    Feb 28, 2023 at 7:54
  • Ok, sure thing @verbose.
    – Adam Burke
    Mar 1, 2023 at 1:10
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It's from an interview of David Foster Wallace conducted by Gerald Howard, his former editor, for Elle magazine volume 11 issue 6, some time in 1996, the year Wallace's magnum opus Infinite Jest was published. Edmund Waldstein has transcribed the entire interview on his blog and also provided a scanned PDF for download.

The specific quote is in response to Howard's question:

Why write fiction at all, let alone 1,100-page novels, in our age of attenuated attention spans?

Wallace replies:

(a) Stories let us talk to one another about stuff that just can’t be talked about any other way; no semantic model could explain why Cynthia Ozick’s image of floating Jews in “Levitation” means as much as it does; (b) I’m pretty lonely most of the time, and fiction’s one of the few experiences where loneliness can be both confronted and relieved. Drugs, movies where stuff blows up, loud parties—all these chase loneliness away by making me forget my name’s Dave and I live in a one-by-one box of bone no other party can penetrate or know. Fiction, poetry, music, really deep serious sex, and, in various ways, religion—these are the places (for me) where loneliness is countenanced, stared down, transfigured, treated. In lots of ways it’s all there is.

Judging from the structure of that answer, I would guess that the interview was conducted via email.

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It's in an interview by Gerald Howard in Elle magazine, February 1996, titled "Infinite Jester". It can be found reprinted in the book David Foster Wallace: The Last Interview, and Other Conversations. This can be found online in the Google Books preview, which does not include a page number.

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