David Foster Wallace Defines The Word Despair

From David Foster Wallace’s essay “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again,” collected in the book of the same name:

The word’s overused and banalified now, despair, but it’s a serious word, and I’m using it seriously. For me it denotes a simple admixture—a weird yearning for death combined with a crushing sense of my own smallness and futility that presents as a fear of death. It’s maybe close to what people call dread or angst. But it’s not these things, quite. It’s more like wanting to die in order to escape the unbearable feeling of becoming aware that I’m small and weak and selfish and going without any doubt at all to die. It’s wanting to jump overboard.

 

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4 comments

  1. Nathan Zuckerman · May 18, 2012

    Between this and Anne Sexton…you feelin’ OK, Biblioklept?

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    • Biblioklept · May 18, 2012

      LOL. I am fine, I assure you. It’s a lovely unseasonably cool Friday in Florida; my slim summer work week is over; the David Markson book I ordered from the book store came in today, as did a review copy of Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams. My kids are painting in the backyard and I’m whiling away an hour before I make a shandy.

      I’ve been listening to the new audiobook of A Supposedly Fun Thing; I haven’t listened to it in years. Anyway, I kind of mentally underlined this passage, which seems especially grim post-suicide.

      Like

  2. John A. Griffin · May 18, 2012

    A Great Blog you’ve got here. I enjoyed your Myles excursus.

    Like

  3. joey · May 18, 2012

    When I read the essay last year, this passage also stuck out to me. Made me think about Kierkegaard’s definition and treatment of the concept of despair in Sickness Unto Death. Left me wondering if the two authors had different perspectives on the topic.

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