Sunday, September 14, 2008

David Foster Wallace is dead- or why I'm Really F*cking Pissed

Several months ago a very good friend insisted I begin reading Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace--a true tome at 981 pages with 388 minuscule-font end notes. At that length, it's the kind of book that becomes a part of your life, a part of you, like an appendage. If you're a person who believes in the absurdity of the world, this book starts to feel like a security blanket of sorts. A world created by someone who sees the same absurdity you do, but turns it into art that lifts your mind and imagination to places it's never been before. David Foster Wallace has been called a genius. He won the MacArthur Foundation "genius grant" (whatever that is), so the claim seems to be validated somewhat. When I try to come up with words to describe his writing I want to say "genius", but that's too easy. A cop out almost. You'll just have to read it. Or try at least.

I have been reading IJ a lot today. Chip sat down next to me about 40 minutes ago to check on my page status and end note status. Then he got up, went to the computer in the kitchen and said these words:
"David Foster Wallace is dead."
"Excuse me? What?" I set IJ on the couch next to me and got up.
"It says here: David Foster Wallace, 1962-2008."
"No way. Oh my..." I had to see the headline with my own eyes to really believe it.

It seems strange to feel so affected by a "celebrity" death(I bet most of you never heard of him though, David Foster Wallace). Embarrassing almost, juvenile perhaps. I've felt it before, when Kurt Vonnegut died in April of 2007. A strange emptiness appeared. It's strange because I wasn't aware that a person I didn't even "know" occupied territory in my inner world, in my heart, at all. Maybe it's that with an author, I feel as though he's let me inside his world, inside his head, into his dark and pounding heart for a little peak around.

David Foster Wallace hung himself on Friday. His wife found him.

I still have 420 pages and 130 end notes to go in IJ. I am so f*cking pissed that for every single page, every beautiful turn of phrase, every minutely observant detail, every dizzying performance of linguistic gymnastics I read, I will be forced to think of this: that the man, David Foster Wallace, found so much pain, so much futility and so little relief in his life that instead of coming to some sort of an absurdist acceptance or making some last-ditch, desperate leap of faith, he took the suicide train right on outta here.

When someone who's writing makes you want to stand up and shout, "I'm with ya, man! I get it! I feel it too!" decides that his existential or maybe even pleasantly humanistic viewpoint has downgraded to absurdism and then to absurdism where no trace of comic or artistic relief remains and then finally to dark, hopeless nihilism ending in suicide...well, let's just say it makes me feel a little queasy in the pit of my stomach that I can see his point.

I'm pissed that for some reason I am able to see past that point and accept the absurdity but he couldn't. Why??? As a result, an amazing mind is gone forever, a human being suffered mortally intense psychic pain and no one has any better answers about how to help someone out of such pain. So far, articles about his death emphasize the loss to the literary world, to his students; the loss of a true genius. Is suicide genius?

I'm inclined to answer no, but then again, I'm no genius.

1 comment:

  1. I'm going to dodge the weightier issues you brought up...only because I can't possible be as taunt and focused with my words as you were here.

    Instead, I'm going to complement you on your wikipedia link to Absurdism. That's a great article. I don't agree with everything that it says about Absurdism, nor do I agree with every tenet of Absurdism, but I love the article. The table, especially, touches my engineering heart.

    This could possibly be your most compelling blog entry to date. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts.