This post will be full of typos and rhetorical slips and just generally bad writing. I’m just gonna write and post and I won’t bother editing. Sorry.
This morning, after BLTs with wife and child I checked my email. My buddy Damon sent me this article from the New York Times. Damon’s subject line, “David Foster Wallace dead at 46 (suicide)” kinda blew my mind. I didn’t get past the first lines of the Times report before tears started coming out of my eyes.
I’ve read all of DFW’s books, and, as corny as it sounds, the majority of them spoke so directly to me, so intimately, that I feel as if I’ve lost someone I knew. I’m sure that this isn’t the case at all, because he’s a writer and I’m his audience. He’s not friends or family. But reading him doesn’t feel that way. I would describe his style as a really, really good friend sitting on the couch with you, telling you stories that were both painfully funny and painfully sad. Infinite Jest provided a world of escape–a world I became addicted to–when I felt lonely in a foreign country I’d moved to. Girl with Curious Hair changed forever the way I thought about writing and reading–it opened me up to a whole new bank of authors and styles. But it’s probably DFW’s essays that hit me most directly.
Anyone who’s read the title essay from A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, or “Getting Away from Already Being Pretty Much Away from It All” from that same collection knows just how funny and insightful and analytical Wallace could be–all without any of the caustic meanness a lesser writer might employ. DFW’s essays–and fiction–are always negotiating the razor line between earnest emotion and ironic detachment. He hated the latter but understood it was part of a cultural mode, part of the counter-tradition of post- or meta- fiction that he was continuing and responding to with his own writing. The two essays that probably best exemplify this are a Fun Thing‘s “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction” (this should be required reading for every thinking person) and “Authority and American Usage,” DFW’s take on who-decides-what-is-proper-grammar-and-diction (collected in Consider the Lobster). I was re-reading the essay last Thursday and last night, with the intention to finish it today, with the intention to use it as part of something else I had planned to write. It will be impossible to finish it with the same reading schema in mind.
Just last week I listened to DFW reading from some as-yet-unpublished stuff; one section, on an overachieving boy that everyone hates is hilarious. The crowd is sometimes laughing too hard for DFW to maintain his rhythm and he has to slow down. In the interview that follows the reading, DFW seems like a really sweet, honest guy.
I remember distinctly my cousin calling me, well over a decade ago now, to tell me that Kurt Cobain had shot himself. I felt nothing then–it seemed perfectly logical. I was a huge Nirvana fan; they were my first concert and a big musical/cultural determiner in my young life. But his suicide seemed normal, natural even to me. I remember thinking “Of course.” When Hunter S. Thompson committed suicide, it seemed strange to me that he’d taken so long to do it. And when one of my favorite writers of all time, Kurt Vonnegut, passed away last year, I felt sad, but not so sad. So it goes.
This, this devastates me though. How could he hang himself? Why? I feel selfish and sad. Will we get another novel? Is it wrong to feel this way? I’m pretty sure that it’s wrong. I think about his body, hanged, and it makes me sick. I honestly felt close to this person. Unlike DeLillo or Pynchon or Barth, there was no veil or mediation in Wallace’s greatest work, no distance between his voice, or his speakers’ voices and my own burning internal ear. I have no pithy statement or philosophical wax for this piece, I have no way of summing up here. I feel sick.