TIME Books

How David Foster Wallace Explained Why He Wrote Infinite Jest

David Foster Wallace in his hometown of Bloomington, Ill. in 1996.
Gary Hannabarger—Corbis David Foster Wallace in his hometown of Bloomington, Ill. in 1996.

"In a time of unprecedented comfort and pleasure and ease, there was a real sort of sadness about the country," Wallace told TIME

In the new film The End of the Tour, out Friday, Jason Segel plays the late author David Foster Wallace, in a look at Wallace’s life shortly after the release of his 1996 tome Infinite Jest. The movie takes place during the promotional tour for the book that firmly established Wallace as what TIME would soon call “Fiction’s New Fab Four.” (The other three were Jonathan Franzen, Rick Moody and Donald Antrim.)

“Wallace made a connection with Infinite Jest, his 1,000-page opus about an early 21st century North America splintered by drugs, fanatics and a business ethic so venal that even the months of the year have product names,” TIME’s R.Z. Sheppard commented.

And, Sheppard had concluded in the previous year’s review of Infinite Jest, there was good reason for the attention Wallace was getting. The book was a “marathon send-up on humanism at the end of its tether” and full of “generous intelligence and authentic passion.” Looking back at it now, that send-up is particularly mordant. After all, the book takes place in 2014.

In a sidebar to the review, Wallace told TIME that the choice to set Jest in the then-future was crucial to the book’s reason for being. “In a time of unprecedented comfort and pleasure and ease, there was a real sort of sadness about the country,” Wallace is quoted saying. “I wanted to do something about it, about America and what our children might think of us. That’s one reason for setting the book 18 years ahead.”

Now, for better or worse, we know.

Read the original review of Infinite Jest, here in the TIME Vault: Mad Maximalism

TIME museums

See Original Models of the Apple I and Other Iconic American Inventions

The first U.S. patent was issued on July 31, 1790

It was 225 years ago Friday that Samuel Hopkins of Philadelphia was granted a U.S. patent for his new method of making potash, a salt useful for fertilizer. The patent was signed by George Washington, who had established the patent system mere months earlier.

Hopkins’ patent was the first such document in the nation’s history, but it was far from the last. As can be clearly seen by the documents and objects on show at Inventing in America—an exhibit that opened earlier this month at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, in collaboration with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and will be on view through 2020—the tradition of ingenuity in the United States has been a fruitful one. And that makes sense: as John Gray, the museum’s director, said in a statement, the U.S. itself was a new invention when it was founded.

It used to be required that a patent application come with a model of the idea, and now the museum has thousands of those models, along with prototypes and trademark examples. From the printing presses and typewriters of the 19th century, to DuPont Kevlar—celebrating its 50th birthday this year—and the Apple computer, here are some examples to get the inspiration going for the next big invention. (Sorry, a thinking cap isn’t one of them.)

TIME politics

How Medicare Came Into Existence

Aug. 6, 1965
Cover Credit: BORIS CHALIAPIN The Aug. 6, 1965, cover of TIME

TIME said the bill—signed on July 30, 1965—created a "welfare state beyond Roosevelt's wildest dreams"

It was 50 years ago Thursday, on July 30, 1965, that President Lyndon Johnson signed the Medicare bill, turning the national social security healthcare program for older Americans into law. But, despite Johnson’s legendary powers of legislative persuasion, the celebratory signing event—complete with the enrollment of the first Medicare beneficiary, former President Harry S. Truman—could have looked very different.

After all, the idea of helping American seniors afford health care took time to gain traction: The idea came up not long after Franklin Roosevelt initiated the modern social-security system in the 1930s. When the coinage “Medicare” first came on the American scene, the program it described was not the one we think of today. In 1960, the term referred to an opposing program proposed by the Eisenhower administration. The big fear at the time was that tying any kind of health aid to social security would quickly deplete the funds available for that then-30-year-old system; Eisenhower’s version, overseen by then-Vice President Richard Nixon, would have been both voluntary and state-funded.

In that year’s Presidential campaign, however, Nixon lost to challenger John F. Kennedy—who, as TIME put it a few years later, “vowed without qualification that his Administration would persuade a Democratic Congress to pass a medicare bill, to be financed under the social security system.” Kennedy died, however, before he could make good on that promise—which is where Johnson comes in. Benefiting from his 1964 election victory, Johnson made it happen. But what exactly it would look like remained to be settled.

By April of 1965, as TIME reported, there were three options in the running: Johnson’s social-security-linked compulsory program; an Eisenhower-esque voluntary program with no link to social security; or an American Medical Association-backed plan called “eldercare,” which prioritized patient choice and was need-based. The solution came, surprisingly, in the form of House Ways and Mean Committee chair Wilbur Mills, who had been a staunch opponent of Medicare. He combined elements of the three plans into one that would succeed. The basics of the plan were compulsory and funded by increasing social-security taxes, while extras were voluntary. The program we now know as Medicaid, for those in need, would also be expanded.

“The medicare bill will not solve all the problems of growing old—but it will certainly make the process much less costly to the elderly,” TIME noted. And that wasn’t all it did, the magazine continued. The medicare bill represented a fundamental change to American political norms:

Almost 30 years ago, Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed into law the Social Security Act. At the moment of signing, he issued a statement that, in retrospect, sounds almost apologetic: “We have tried to frame a law which will give some measure of protection to the average citizen and his family against the loss of a job and against poverty-ridden old age. This law, too, represents a cornerstone in a structure which is being built but is by no means complete. It is a structure intended to lessen the force of possible future depressions.”

Social security was mostly an emergency act in a nation still struggling out of the depths of a depression in which, in F.D.R.’s famed phrase, more than one-third of the nation was “ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished.” The change since then in American life has never been more apparent than last week, when Congress acted on two bills that projected a new sort of welfare state beyond Roosevelt’s wildest dreams. First, the House of Representatives passed and sent to the Senate, where it faces certain swift approval, the Johnson Administration’s $6 billion-a-year medicare bill…

Action on both bills came not in time of depression but in the midst of the most prosperous year that the affluent society has ever known. There were a few squawks about presidential pressure, but it was widely accepted that both measures would achieve great good in making the U.S. even more affluent without turning it into a socialistic society. It was generally conceded that both bills, despite the vastness of their scope, were aimed not at increasing the power of the Federal Government, but at eradicating some remaining blemishes in the Great Society.

Read the full story, here in the TIME Vault: The New Welfare State

TIME space

The Sadly Familiar Reason NASA Was Created

Dwight D.  Eisenhower, T. Keith Glennan
AP President Dwight Eisenhower and Dr. T. Keith Glennan, the first head of NASA, discuss photos received from the satellite Tires I in Washington on April 1, 1960,

The act that created the space agency was signed on July 29, 1958

NASA may be devoted to exploring the universe, but the agency owes its existence to a far more earthly concern: office politics.

The National Aeronautics and Space Act, which was signed into law on July 29, 1958, was intended to “provide for research into problems of flight within and outside the earth’s atmosphere, and for other purposes.” One of those other purposes, as TIME noted shortly after the act was signed, was “to overcome the interservice rivalries that had confused the U.S. missile and space programs.”

Before NASA, various branches of the military were conducting research into aspects of space exploration like jet propulsion and satellites, and each wanted a key role in the exciting new field. Giving a single branch agency over all space exploration would alienate the others. Moreover, it could signal that the universe was a battleground as much as a place of inquiry. As the NASA act noted, activities in space “should be devoted to peaceful purposes.”

With the establishment of an agency specifically dedicated to space—and its counterpoint, the military research agency now known as DARPA, which was created at the same time—that bureaucratic nightmare was thought solved.

Or not. As TIME reported that autumn, NASA’s authority to take over peaceful space-centric mission didn’t exactly go down easy:

Energetic Dr. T. Keith Glennan, chief of the newly created National Aeronautics and Space Administration, made his way into the Pentagon office of Army Secretary Wilber Brucker last fortnight with a message: civilian-run NASA, operating under Congressional authority, intended to take over the Army’s missile-making Redstone Arsenal, 2,100 scientists from its missile team, the Army-backed Caltech Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Los Angeles and various other installations.

Brucker lost no time hustling down to the office of Deputy Defense Secretary Donald Quarles to protest. In Chicago Major General John Medaris, Redstone commander, dramatically got aboard a plane for Washington to fight off NASA capture—while a news leak rallied press reinforcements.

President Eisenhower tried to stop the kerfuffle by saying that he hadn’t yet decided who would run the Arsenal and Laboratory in the long run. The Army implied that they’d be fine splitting the difference and giving everything except Redstone to NASA.

A version of that plan is what ended up happening, and before the end of the year NASA’s preeminence in American space exploration was settled. And, TIME reported, there was no sign of future in-fighting—at least not that NASA’s Glennan would be involved with. “I doubt,” he said, “that I can go through this again.”

Read more from 1958, here in the TIME Vault: Fight for Space

TIME Music

The Long History of the ‘Happy Birthday’ Song—And Its Copyright

Irving Berlin
American Stock Archive—Getty Images circa 1920: Portrait of American composer Irving Berlin (1888-1989)

An ongoing case has drawn attention to the song's ownership. This wouldn't be the first time the tune's fate could be changed by a lawsuit

The strange tale of “Happy Birthday to You” took a new twist this week, when lawyers told the New York Times that they had submitted new evidence in an ongoing case about the song’s copyright. The music publishing company Warner/Chappell has long claimed ownership of the rights to the song, but a filmmaker working on a movie about the song claims to have found proof that the song belongs in the public domain.

Though the lawsuit’s results have yet to be determined, this won’t be the first time the song’s fate has been changed by a lawsuit.

The saga began back in 1893, in Louisville, Ky. Patty Smith Hill was a kindergarten teacher with a musically inclined sister, Mildred. When Mildred wrote a little tune and Patty put some child-friendly words with it—”Good morning, dear children / Good morning to all”—it was loved by the students, who helped it spread to schoolrooms throughout Kentucky and beyond. The verse about birthdays was added after the fact, and it spread even faster.

Years later, after Hill had become a recognized expert in childhood education stationed at Columbia in New York City, a new Irving Berlin musical revue called As Thousands Cheer opened on Broadway. One of the comedy sketches in the show was set at a birthday party for John D. Rockefeller Sr. during which, as the Great Depression continued in the real world, his children gave him Rockefeller Center as a token of their affection. Though the rest of the show featured music by Berlin, that scene relied on the birthday song, without the “Good Morning” verse. As TIME reported in 1934, while the case was still ongoing, the producer of As Thousands Cheer was sued for plagiarism, to the tune of $250 in payment per performance. Though Patty Hill said that she had “long ago resigned herself to the fact that her ditty had become common property of the nation,” those who had paid to use the tune in the past—like Fox, which had used it in Baby Take a Bow, a Shirley Temple film released that same year—didn’t feel so easygoing about it, and neither did Hill’s family.

It was in 1935, after the As Thousands Cheer lawsuit (which was settled), that the Hills officially registered the copyright of the birthday-centric lyrics of the song, in order to avoid future disputes.

But, ironically, it was that very show that helped make the copyright so difficult to enforce: As Thousands Cheer was a hit, and the birthday scene was influential in spreading the ritual of singing the song at every birthday party. As George Washington University law professor Bob Brauneis described on an episode of On the Media about the song, the timing was also appropriate on a world-historical level: the very idea of a regular birthday party wasn’t really widespread before the era during which the Hill sisters wrote the song. The song and the occasion at which to sing it came up together.

In 1988, the Birch Tree Group music publishers sold the copyright to Warner for an estimated $25 million. Back then, TIME reported that it would pass into the public domain in 2010. A law extending copyright terms, however, was passed in the late 1990s, and now the the “Happy Birthday” copyright should hold until no sooner than 2030—unless the current lawsuit changes that.

TIME movies

What TIME Got Really Wrong About the Beatles Movie Help!

Help!
Movie Poster Image Art / Getty Images A poster for Richard Lester's 1965 musical film 'Help!' starring The Beatles.

A last-ditch effort 'before their long love affair with the squealers dies out'

It was 50 years ago—on July 29, 1965—that the Beatles movie Help! was released in the U.K., and TIME’s critic had a very cynical guess as to why. “Help! is the Beatles‘ all-out try at carving a new career as a screen team before their long love affair with the squealers dies out,” the magazine surmised shortly after its U.S. release later that summer. “As such, it is a failure, for as actors they are still nothing but Beatles, without enough characterization—or even caricaturization—to play anything but sight gags.”

The second half of that paragraph was pretty accurate: even while playing characters, the Beatles were still unmistakably the Beatles. They never quite managed (with the possible exception of Ringo Starr’s turn on Shining Time Station) to fully take on roles other than their own. But the idea that the band needed Help! to boost a dimming star is, in hindsight, dead wrong. Today, decades after their run ended, there are plenty of “squealers” who still love the Beatles.

And, for that matter, who still love Help!

After all, even though the acting was deemed questionable, TIME’s critic found plenty to admire: “The charm and experimental spontaneity of A Hard Day’s Night has here been replaced by highly professional, carefully calculated camera work and cutting,” the review gushed, “plus a story line made out of finely wrought jack-in-the-boxes.”

Read the full review, here in the TIME Vault: Chase & Superchase

TIME Transportation

See Incredible Photos of Vintage Airplanes

A new book offers a look into Boeing's photo archives

It was only about a decade after the Wright Brothers’ first flight that Bill Boeing, who was in the timber business in Seattle, decided to learn how to fly planes. After he ordered a plane of his own, Boeing decided the design left room for to be improved upon. So he did. In 1934, TIME called him “a hard-headed industrialist who turned to flying as a hobby, began making airplanes as a whim and ended up by giving the world a new standard of aircraft performance.”

The eponymous company he founded in 1916 has been part of nearly every step of the aviation industry’s evolution, from wood-and-canvas contraptions to the jets of the modern age.

100 Years of Boeing

In a new book, Higher: 100 Years of Boeing, by Russ Banham (available Aug. 4), 200 photos—mostly from Boeing’s company archives—are used to trace that history, and all of the pit-stops in between.

TIME Law

When Spousal Rape First Became a Crime in the U.S.

A statement by Donald Trump's lawyer has highlighted continued misunderstanding about the concept

Donald Trump lawyer Michael Cohen quickly apologized on Tuesday after he said—in response to an old allegation against Trump—that it’s impossible to rape one’s spouse. Cohen said that he did not actually believe what he had said.

His original statement also happens to be inaccurate—spousal rape is a crime in the U.S. today—but that wasn’t always so.

English common law, the source of much traditional law in the U.S., had long held that it wasn’t legally possible for a man to rape his wife. It was in 1736 that Sir Matthew Hale—the same jurist who said that it was hard to prove a rape accusation from a woman whose personal life wasn’t entirely “innocent,” setting the standard that a woman’s past sexual experiences could be used by the defense in a rape case—explained that marriage constituted permanent consent that could not be retracted.

That idea stood for centuries. Then, in 1979, a pair of cases highlighted changing legal attitudes about the concept.

Until then, most state criminal codes had rape definitions that explicitly excluded spouses. (In fact, as TIME later pointed out, it wasn’t just the case that saying “no” to one’s husband didn’t make the act that followed rape; in addition, saying “no” to one’s husband was usually grounds for him to get a divorce.) As the year opened, a man in Salem, Ore., was found not guilty of raping his wife, though they both stated that they had fought before having sex. But, even as the verdict was returned, a National Organization for Women spokesperson told TIME that “the very fact that there has been such a case” meant that change was in the air—and she was quickly proved right.

The case believed to be the first-ever American conviction for spousal rape came that fall, when a Salem, Mass., bartender drunkenly burst into the home he used to share with his estranged wife and raped her. It’s not hard to see how this case was the one that made the possibility of rape between a married couple clear to the public: they were in the middle of a divorce, and the crime involved house invasion and violence. As TIME noted, several other states had also adopted laws making it possible to pursue such a case, though they had not yet been put to the test.

By 1983, when TIME devoted an issue to “private violence,” 17 states had gotten rid of the rules that made spousal rape impossible to prosecute. In 1991, as part of another cover-story package about rape, the question came up again, revealing another change in attitudes that had yet to occur: A governmental committee the previous year had estimated that about 15% of married women would experience marital rape, and yet few of those rapes would be reported. Though the oft-cited joke about spousal rape—”But if you can’t rape your wife, who can you rape?”—no longer described mainstream opinion, an activist told TIME that many people still thought that marital rape was not real abuse but rather “she has a headache and doesn’t want to have sex and she gives in.”

And yet, when incidents were pursued, the charges tended to stick: the vast majority of cases brought in the first years after 1979 led to a conviction.

Today, spousal rape is illegal throughout the U.S.

TIME faith

The Evolution of Modern Satanism in the United States

Occult Cover
Cover Credit: JACK AND BETTY CHEETHAM The June 19, 1972, cover of TIME

The unveiling of a statue in Detroit has garnered fresh headlines for Satanism

This weekend, hundreds of adherents and observers flocked to a Detroit warehouse to witness the unveiling of a statue erected on behalf of the Satanic Temple. As organizer Jex Blackmore told TIME, the Satanic Temple isn’t quite a religious organization, but rather a group of people who prioritize human logic. One of the meanings of the monument, Blackmore added, is to celebrate “a reconciliation of opposites”—particularly in relation to the public display of monuments of other faiths.

But, though the new statue has earned the Satanic Temple a fresh round of attention, Satanism has a long tradition.

In the early 1970s, interest in the occult in American culture was so high that TIME devoted a cover story to the topic, and a large portion of it was focused on Satanism. As the story pointed out, the idea of “the Devil” is an ancient one, predating the Old Testament’s coinage of Satan. The early days of Christianity saw the development of a theology about Satan, and an increase of his agency and power in religious stories. Narratives outside the biblical canon expanded that characterization; by the 13th century, Satan was seen to be mighty (and popular) enough to be worthy of condemnation.

“Some of the confessions [in the Inquisition age] must have been sheer defiance: faced with a ruling establishment that was sanctified by the church, a resentful peasantry followed the only image of rebellion they knew—Satan,” TIME posited. “The satanic messiah became especially appealing in times of despair, such as the era of the plague known as the Black Death. Real or imagined, the pact with the Devil may have been the last bad hope for safety in a world fallen out of joint.”

Perhaps for that reason, the Christian Church’s efforts to root out Satanism were not entirely successful. The French aristocracy under Louis XIV was titillated by tales of nude demonic ritual, and the prim and proper Victorian period saw a spike in interest too.

But the existence of Satanists as an organized, public group in the United States is a much newer phenomenon, much of which can be largely traced to one man: Anton Szandor La Vey, author of 1969’s The Satanic Bible. La Vey founded the Church of Satan in 1966 in San Francisco. As TIME explained in 1972, La Vey’s organization was not the scary Satanism of religious imagination:

La Vey’s church and its branches might well be called the “unitarian” wing of the occult. The members invest themselves with some of the most flamboyant trappings of occultism, but magic for them is mostly psychodrama —or plain old carnival hokum. They invoke Satan not as a supernatural being, but as a symbol of man’s self-gratifying ego, which is what they really worship. They look down on those who actually believe in the supernatural, evil or otherwise.

La Vey’s church is organized, incorporated and protected under the laws of California. La Vey, 42, stopped giving out membership figures when his followers, who are grouped in local “grottoes,” reached a total of 10,000. The most striking thing about the members of the Church of Satan (one of whom is shown on TIME’S cover) is that instead of being exotic, they are almost banal in their normality. Their most insidious contribution to evil is their resolute commitment to man’s animal nature, stripped of any spiritual dimension or thought of self-sacrifice. There is no reach, in Browning’s famous terms —only grasp. Under the guise of eschewing hypocrisy, they actively pursue the materialistic values of the affluent society—without any twinge of conscience to suggest there might be something more.

Though the 1960s and ’70s saw the introduction of several other concepts called Satanism—from actual religious belief, to a credo used to justify criminality—the Church of Satan did not fade away. In 1978, the U.S. Army even included the group in the manual of “Religious Requirements and Practices” delivered to its hundreds of chaplains. (TIME mentioned that the manual explained that Church of Satan devotees might need “candles, a bell, a chalice, elixir, a sword, a gong, parchment and ‘a model phallus,'” but that chaplains would not be expected to supply those materials.) Though La Vey died in 1997, the organization he founded continues without him.

The brand of Satanism on display in Detroit was of a different sort: political Satanism, a more recent innovation. Those activists are associated with the Satanic Temple, a New York-based group that has spent the last few years publicly offering alternatives to more mainstream displays of religiosity. The Satanic Temple sees Satan as a Paradise Lost-inflected metaphor who represents skepticism and the ability to challenge authority. A spokesperson for the Church of Satan told TIME in 2013, for a story highlighting the differences between the two groups, that the newer organization was focused on “politically oriented stunts” that had “cribbed” their philosophy from the more established group. Meanwhile, the Satanic Temple said that its aim was, in cases where religion had been inserted into the public sphere, “to ensure that its view of the world is included.” If the Detroit attendance figures are any indication, they’ve succeeded.

The continued existence of two organizations that claim Satanism for two different functions highlights a point made by John M. Kincaid, the Church of Satan’s minister of information in the mid-1970s: though it may take a variety of forms, interest in mystery and rebellion is timeless. “The need to believe,” he wrote to TIME in 1974, “is as dominant a factor in this so-called enlightened age of ours as it has ever been”—which means those who are skeptical are present and accounted for too.

Read the full story from 1972, here in the TIME Vault: A Substitute Religion

TIME conflict

See How Northern Ireland’s Bloody Sunday Turned Violent

An exclusive clip from the upcoming episode of CNN's 'The Seventies' shows how the historic clash began

In late January of 1972, the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland took a risk: he banned all protest demonstrations. Parades had been the starting points of several clashes during the long conflict over Britain’s role in the region, and it seemed like ending them couldn’t hurt—at first. “There were some suggestions that the I.R.A., for its part, might try a new tactic by organizing illegal parades of Catholics to test the ban and the government’s will,” TIME reported. “The result might well mean more bloody clashes between the warring sects, the need for still more British troops to maintain order, and more trouble for a land that has trouble enough.”

As shown in this exclusive clip from the next episode of CNN’s The Seventies, which airs on Thursday at 9 p.m. E.T., the prediction that the parade ban would not put an end to violence quickly proved correct. In fact, the violence that followed shortly after the ban was one of the best-known incidents of the period: Bloody Sunday.

On Jan. 30, 1972, a Catholic protest over the imprisonment of I.R.A. suspects turned violent, as TIME reported the following week:

On that bright, wintry afternoon, a march in the Catholic ghetto of Londonderry called the Bogside suddenly turned into a brief but violent battle between the marchers and British troops. When the shooting stopped, 13 people lay dead in one of the bloodiest disasters since the “troubles” between Ulster’s Protestant majority and Catholic minority began almost four years ago. The incident seemed to end almost all hope of a peaceful settlement in Northern Ireland. Not since the executions that followed Dublin’s 1916 Easter Rising have Catholic Irishmen, North and South, been so inflamed against Britain and so determined to see Ireland united in one republic at last.

Read more from 1972, here in the TIME Vault: The Bitter Road from Bloody Sunday

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