No, That Is Not DFW's Copy of Ulysses. It's Not Even Ulysses.
|Not from David Foster Wallace. Not Ulysses. (photo via Tony Shafrazi)|
I, too, immediately thought, "Wow!" when I saw it.
I, too, accepted the idea that it must be David Foster Wallace's copy of Ulysses, because, well ... you've heard of David Foster Wallace, right?
I'm teaching a course in literary analysis in the fall and so am collecting whatever images I can find of the ways (reasonable or absurd) that serious readers annotate what they read. I zoomed in on the image to see if I could figure out the logic (or illogic) of it. But the pages didn't look like Ulysses to me. Nor, for that matter, did the style of annotation resemble what we know of DFW's style from the books at the Ransom Center. I zoomed in, and though the resolution was quite low, I made out what seemed to be two names: Maureen O'Sullivan and, at the top, Robert Mitchum. It looked to me like a biography of Robert Mitchum.
It was easy enough to use Google Books to find a Robert Mitchum biography with this page layout: Lee Server's Robert Mitchum: "Baby, I Don't Care".
I sent a Tweet to the person who originally posted this; I assumed he'd just been joking, as anything with a bunch of weird annotations could jokingly be called DFW's something-or-other. Though I don't know his motivations, this still seems the most likely explanation. That everybody immediately and without any research assumed it was true and not a joke was ... illuminating.
I continued to wonder what the book was, though, and why someone had ... decorated it ... in the way they had. I didn't have time to track it down, but Bibliokept did, and came up with some interesting stuff. Check out that link — it's a fun detective game.
The image is still compelling and fascinating, despite not being a book of DFW's nor a copy of Ulysses. In some ways, it's more impressive that it isn't a complex text like Ulysses, but just a popular biography of a movie star.
What are the lessons here? 1.) Don't believe everything you see on the internet. 2.) Sometimes things are even weirder than they seem at first.