Of all the David Foster Wallace obituaries and appreciations floating around the internet–many of them moving and insightful–today’s feature at The Onion, “NASCAR Cancels Remainder Of Season Following David Foster Wallace’s Death” strikes me as the strangest. The conceit of the piece, that NASCAR drivers are keenly attuned, even motivated by the literary world, is frankly some of the basest, dumbest, most obvious irony ever, and possibly the kind of contrived situation at which Wallace might’ve cringed. Yet there’s something sweet in The Onion elegy’s clumsiness. Consider this analysis of Infinite Jest they attribute to Greg Biffle:
I first read Infinite Jest in 1998 when my gas-can man gave me a copy when I was a rookie in the Craftsman Truck Series, and I was immediately struck dumb by the combination of effortlessness and earnestness of his prose. Here was a writer who loved great, sprawling, brilliantly punctuated sentences that spread in a kind of textual kudzu across the page, yet in every phrase you got a sense of his yearning to relate and convey the importance of every least little thing.
Well said. Or Jimmie Johnson‘s beautiful critique of DFW’s style:
David Foster Wallace could comprehend and articulate the sadness in a luxury cruise, a state fair, a presidential campaign, anything. But empathy, humanity, and compassion so strong as to be almost incoherent ran through that same sadness like connective tissue through muscle, affirming the value of the everyday, championing the banal yet true, acknowledging the ironic as it refused to give in to irony.
And so well here we are then–an ironic piece acknowledging Wallace’s ability to acknowledge and yet resist irony in his own work. The Onion simply can’t unpack the thoroughly Wallacian conundrum that results. But what I think they do is better–they eulogize a writer I think they love in the only way the mission of their site allows. And unlike their previous jibes at Wallace, “Girlfriend Stops Reading David Foster Wallace Breakup Letter at Page 20,” and the Weekender edition pictured above, it seems that The Onion staffers are too sad to make the piece funny–which, I think, is appropriate.