October 22nd, 2013 / 11:26 am

Who Wears a David Foster Wallace Shirt?

I’m hesitant to discuss Wallace post-suicide because there’s a holiness that somehow feels dry-humped when he’s discussed online. I approached The Pale King with this kind of hesitation and also with large amounts of excitement, anxiety, and eventually, shame. I didn’t feel right reading that book. In many ways, I wish it didn’t exist, even though it’s brilliant in set piece after set piece. There’s been more books since, and each have appeared in a skin-crawling “wait-we-have-more” fashion. It’s not that the books themselves are new – most are old essays, obscure interviews, a graduation speech, and even, an undergrad thesis. It’s the kind of thing capitalism rots and succeeds at – mask it as honoring the work and publishing it for the fans, cash in.


We all saw the books coming. What threw me off was a link to a t-shirt with an Enfield Tennis Academy logo of crossed tennis rackets and maroon text. I saw this more than a year ago and I haven’t forgotten it. I’m not going to be mean here because when I first saw the shirt I kind of liked it. It seemed so ridiculous and fun and ironic and eventually, yeah, exactly the kind of thing Wallace would shake his head at. But there’s something deeper and stranger going on here.

Here’s a compilation of text I’ve curated from twitter, tumblr and instagram regarding the Enfield Academy t-shirt (I emailed the graphic designer of the original design for an interview but she declined). I’ll let the text speak for itself, but I think what’s interesting, and this is why my feelings were all twisted up regarding a fucking t-shirt, is that there’s a major level of shame involved in owning this. You have to make some kind of excuse that you own it, and even if you get past that, then you feel like no one else is going to get the shirt and those who do get the shirt will no doubt look at each other and go back to the beginning and mirror shame off each other.

“I’m always disappointed when no one at my son’s preschool comments on my Enfield Tennis Academy shirt.”

“Don’t know what’s worse: my roommate who got the Enfield Tennis Academy T-shirt or me initially not getting the Infinite Jest reference.”

(man in shirt pic) “if I don’t have to explain this to you, then you’re probably as nerdy as I am” #hoodie #infinitejest #davidfosterwallace #awesome”

“One of my favorite shirts! The back is a little IJ joke courtesy of my great friend Christopher Schaeffer aka ghostsorballoon and I laugh everytime I wear this shirt. I’ve never had anyone sidle up to me and chat me up about DFW while wearing this though, so :////”

“all i want is a good enfield tennis academy tshirt”

Counter girl: “What’s that, a tennis shirt? Do you play tennis?”

Dude: “No.”

Counter girl: “Poser!”

Dude: “Well, actually—this will sound a little pretentious, but this shirt is from the tennis academy in the book Infinite Jest.”

“The only thing I don’t like about wearing my Enfield Tennis Academy shirt is that no one seems to get it :( ”

“purchasing this shirt as a conversation starter to meet my future husband”

“If I bought an Enfield Tennis Academy shirt, would you hold it against me?”

(close-up body shot, female) “shameless” #infinitejest

“just met a guy on the street wearing an Enfield Tennis Academy shirt that said INCANDENZA on the back omg”

“Whatever, I just ordered an Enfield Tennis Academy t-shirt. Shut up, I’m awesome. No, shut up.”


  1. lorian long

      i do

  2. DJ Sweeney

      maybe the deep and strange thing is not about this t-shirt but t-shirts in general

  3. danielbroberts

      This gripe seems pretty silly. it’s a t-shirt. for people who love the book, it’s a funny little novelty item. shirts like this– that is, with little intellectual in-jokes for book geeks– exist that reference lots of different authors and books (I can right now only think of a Clockwork Orange one I’ve seen that advertises the Korova Milk Bar) — you’re only getting your panties bunched because this time it’s David Foster Wallace, who of late has been a fun punching bag for “ugh, so much hype, he’s overrated and his obsessive fans are annoying” think-pieces. Y’know?

  4. Bobby Dixon


  5. elias tezapsidis

      “too mainstream”

  6. deadgod

      I’d guess that The Pale King has plenty of brilliant writing, but the story of its editing/publication is, to me, gross: rifling the pockets of a corpse, digging gold out the teeth, checking the hips for titanium screws… what the hell–I recycle!

      (I’m in this case a hypocrite; if Salinger’s unpublished writing gets published, I’ll probably read it.)

      But I think writing-connected t-shirts (and coffee cups, and key chains, and desk calendars, and…) are different.

      (Some of these comments are repellent, but what’s icky about starting a conversation about this book one loves so much with a t-shirt?)

      The suicide wretchedness and grief… well, geez, Infinite Jest–and a fan’s admiration–don’t need to be part of all that?

      Would you feel squeamish at the sight of a t with a picture of Plath on its front? Or would you suppose that the wearer is, undisrespectfully, a fan of some strikingly harrowed, harrowing poems? and prefers to advertise poetry she or he loves–or, perhaps egregiously, her or his love itself–over billboarding some other, eh, brand?

  7. Jeremy Hopkins

      Maybe, maybe.

  8. Jeremy Hopkins

      Somewhere there’s a t-shirt that says ‘Mosquito Libido.’

  9. Bill Hsu

      Book Soup in LA has t-shirts designed for the store by writers. I wear my William Vollmann-designed shirt a lot, with the squiggly cryptic drawing and hard-to-decipher signature. No one who’s asked about it knew who Vollmann is.

  10. Brooks Sterritt

      nowhere in the article does Shane use the term “overrated.” on the contrary, it’s because people rate[d] him so highly so recently that the post-death publications (and the t-shirt) seem weird (and inferior products).

  11. Timmy Reed

      My thoughts on literary tee shirts: I would like to publish a novella about tee shirts, printed on one of those print-all-over tee shirts, and hide the ending in the armpit. Then I want to make a separate tee shirt just to publicize the novella-on-a-tee shirt concept. And maybe a hat. With like a pinwheel on top. But of course this all needs to be done posthumously or no one will give enough fucks to write an article about whether they think I am being exploited or not.

  12. lorian long

      holy shit u have a vollmann t-shirt??? do they sell these online?

  13. Bill Hsu
  14. deadgod

      Favorite meta-tattoo: NEVER COMPLAIN AND NEVER EXPLAIN.

      –and when somebody says, ‘Oh. Ford.’, you can say, ‘I’m quoting Disraeli.’

  15. Owen Kaelin

      Once upon a time, one of my great ideas was to print a story spread out across a whole bunch of shirts. You’d have to seek out the shirts and put them together to create a story. I knew I would never do it, of course.

  16. Owen Kaelin

      Also, I want a shirt that says “I heart cronopios.”

  17. Richard White

      i would not wear this T but i would not cast shameful looks at another for doing so. Would David mind any type of capitalists piggy backing of IJ if it got it more recognition, and, more readers. Doubtful. Next, Imagine if david saw a person wearing this T in his local supermarket aisle: i bet he would be overwhelmed with joy on seeing it. no? Can we not have them produce things we actually love?

      I say, If you love the T shirt wear it with pride. And i hope you bump into another fan and enjoy a lovely interaction!

      And… Thank for writing this post, i see where you are coming from, but i don’t agree now ive thought about it. Kindest, rich x

  18. Bill Hsu

      By the way, I wouldn’t have recalled the Infinite Jest reference if I just saw the shirt before the article. But it certainly wouldn’t have bothered me. Why is there so much grief over this? I hang out with lots of people who wear t-shirts with horribly obscure references. Doesn’t everyone here? (Umm?)

  19. Adam

      I’m still reconciling the sense of Wallace I get from his fiction and non-fiction, with the facts laid-bare in Max’s biography. Obviously, we should expect our heroes to be flawed (I can still admire Fassbinder’s craft, while acknowledging that he was deeply abusive) but with Wallace it feels almost *like a betrayal* (with the simultaneous knowledge of how trite and entitled having that sentiment is) because of the intimacy of his writing and… I don’t know. The callousness with which he treated his students. The abuse of his partners. The admission of statutory rape. Attempting to hire a hit-man to murder his ex’s husband… hard to reconcile with the man you feel you know from his writing.

  20. mimi

      never mind

  21. deadgod

      It’s contrary, and in that sense “hard to reconcile”, but I don’t think the thing is that uncommon: the sensitivity and even tenderness of a cruel person (or one goaded by urges to be vicious).

      What comes first to my memory: the story with the LBJ aide who comes home to his dominant Caribbean lover, and that tennis article. And “Mr. Squishy”, in its vigorously unstintingly compulsive meticulousness.

      And the ‘romantic’ manias and misbehavior? Even more common, in my experience.

      It’s probably not wise to trust too quickly someone smart (and in this literary case, extremely artful) who’s keenly alert to your vulnerabilities. But as a reader, he’s not your boyfriend or bro… ?

      What one learns of the life mingling into one’s experience of the work: both irresistible and (usually) most-to-be-resisted?

  22. Zulema Summerfield

      i want an html giant t-shirt.

  23. Quincy Rhoads