My third and final DFW post

[I just can’t leave this post as I originally wrote it. But I can’t delete it entirely because the comments from blueeyedsoul are lovely. Rather than leave this angry, name-calling post as is, I’ll repost here my original reaction at DFW’s death. I feel, first and foremost, for his parents and his wife at the stomach-turning loss. And I feel deeply for the reading community. See also my first post about his death.]

posted sept. 16 here:

In grad school, the professors wouldn’t let me write my thesis on Infinite Jest because none of them had read it, and when they saw that it topped 1300 pages (I don’t have my copy to give you precise numbers, I just moved and don’t have anything in the fridge and need to go shopping and am not in the best mood, so bear with me on estimates) of densely packed text and endnotes sheer rambling genius, they balked at the workload reading both his novel and my thesis would bring to their carefully balanced lives.

I resented their laziness. Then I changed topics and vowed one day to write an erudite lit-crit analysis of the text. Especially because Wallace excelled at but distrusted literary criticism. But shite happened and I haven’t gotten around to it.

I blogged about a month ago that I felt disconnected from the world when I realized Kurt Vonnegut Jr. had been dead for three days before I knew. It was as though my sadness didn’t count any more because I had missed the window.

This time, the world rotated twice before I knew DFW died. The announcement rocked me to the core but didn’t change my day. And that, itself, saddens me because it means my life is so shifted off its base that the shockingly early death of one of my top ten creative inspirations doesn’t even rate a schedule change. The rest of my week, though, shuddered and sputtered as the implications of his death sunk in.

And I don’t know what to say. I’ve known for two days and I don’t know what to say. (Updating this weeks later, I’m still not done processing my grief.) [Updating this almost a year later, I’m still not done processing my grief.) His writing changed me. I saw him speak once (thanks MPB and SBB) and his speaking did not change me. The creepy cult curiously smarmy cadre of followers did not change me. I was rarely tempted to quit my job and run off to Pomona to be his student, because I didn’t feel any need to be connected with him personally. I didn’t want to be taught by him or to talk with him or to write for him.

I wanted to read his work.

And now there won’t be more.

I may be silly to feel his death as a weighty presence in my life. The man himself had no presence in my life. His characters, their actions, their idiosyncrasies, their seismically surreal lives had a transient presence in my life. But all I have to do is recall the cover of his weighty novel and I can again touch the intellectual dance of reading it, tender humanity of the characters, and its mind-bending importance on post-postmodern literature. I can, remembering, feel my hunger for more as I read myself bleary-eyed for the entire summer of 1997 (I was busy in the summer of 1996. I didn’t pick up IJ because of the grant. I picked it up because I wanted a book that would ensure nobody would talk to me on BART, a la The Accidental Tourist. But I loved it intensely then, and would love to reread it now.) [I am rereading it now, thanks to infinite summer.] I can feel my connection and revulsion and confusion at Wallace’s characters every time someone says his name.

And I want more. I’m angry and disappointed that there won’t be more.

I loved his lobster piece for Gourmet magazine. I love that he took the job, puzzled at the pop cultural status that brought him such tangential work, and I loved his rambling thoroughness. I loved that he came to the conclusion that it’s just not okay to boil creatures alive.

I haven’t read the obits. I don’t even know how he died. (I found out later and wrote a horrible post on this blog, of which I am embarrassed but which I will not erase.) I don’t care how he died. This is not a Jeff Buckley story or a Kurt Cobain story or a River Phoenix story. I wish I knew what kind of story this is. All I know is that the woot from Sept. 16 made me feel all too keenly that nobody will take DFW’s place.

And now all I can think is, I hope all you bastard literary canon snobs will read his work, because you missed the boat the first time. When I write my PhD dissertation on his work and one of you lazy self preserving pricks says you haven’t read it, I will produce all the contemporary fiction on the shelves and say, “well, it’s better than and worse than and different than this….And it’s all we have left.”

The Macarthur grant bit always forces the genius label. I don’t know that he was genius. I just know I really love reading his writing. I don’t even know that I love his writing itself. I love the experience of reading it. And that is the ultimate compliment for an author. I may not love your work, man. I just love what it does to my head. Your writing makes me want to work harder and smarter and be a better and more empathetic person.

We’re all going to miss you, and our minds are poorer now that yours is silent. I hope, at least, that the pain is gone.

6 thoughts on “My third and final DFW post

  1. I rarely comment to any blogs, even those of close family and dear friends, but I am compelled here to pen something to dissuade you from such thoughts as this entry suggests. Depression, notably that of the clinically severe type (that Mr. Wallace battled, according to his family, for TWO DECADES) is the true scourge here. With this in mind, note that doctors/physicians have one of the highest rates of suicide of any profession thanks to depression. I strongly suggest and Dr. Alice Flaherty’s (a neurologist who has had her own battles with mental illness) book “The Midnight Disease” on writers and why they write. While you are fully entitled to your opinion of Mr. Wallace’s choice to end his life, I submit more awareness of mental illnesses and their impact might make you think twice about such comments. I, too, enjoyed his writing, but I waited till there were informed comments about his life to form a judgment about his passing. No amount of lamenting by me will resolve one iota of what he and his family must have gone through up to and after his death. I doubt such an intelligent and literally thoughtful man truly set out to hurt those he loved in this case.

  2. I completely agree with you, Blue-Eyed Soul. I acknowledge that depression is a disease and the depths of self-loathing that would lead someone to kill themselves involve a total mental darkness that obscures reality and the people who love you. I knew when I wrote the post that he had a history of debilitating depressions, yet was still deeply angry with his actions. I knew his whole body of work was informed by his self-awareness of this disease. And I stand by my first post-DFW post, which professes that I love that he existed.

    David Foster Wallace wrote brilliantly about characters who were fighting depression, who were barely surviving in the present world. And I thought that would give him the presence of mind to keep from venturing too far into the dark side. I wanted him to keep fighting so I could read more of those characters.
    P.S. Thank you, Blue-Eyed Soul for giving me the chance to skirt my self-imposed steadfast refusal to post about him again, by leaving me space to comment. That was a gift.
    P.P.S. Here is a fabulous series of posts on his work and death.
    P.P.P.S. I really just posted my angry anti-DFW post because I felt nobody in their responses to his death acknowledged those who are still living. And we’re the ones who have to deal with his death. He got out. Do I envy him his pain? No? Do I judge him? His actions, yes, it seems so. It’s not fair, but I do. Do I mourn him? Yes. I am still reeling from the pool of quicksand it created in my soul. But do I side, for now, with his wife? You freaking betcha. She may not want to be angry with him, because she knew him. I didn’t. So I’m pissed. Even though it’s none of my business, I’m pissed.

  3. Hello,
    I was also shocked by his death, because it was unexpected. I’d always thought of him as stolid, but I didn’t know much about him except from my general impression which came from hear-say. I had never read any of his stuff, but had read about him; I’d also thumbed through one of his books at a bookstore once and hadn’t been impressed. Then after I learned about his death, I got Brief Interviews from the library, and realized how wrong I’d been at the bookstore when I’d read a paragraph of Consider the Lobster. I’ve got lots of other reading to keep me away from him, but am about half way through IJ, and every time I return to it, I just think, god damn, where have you been… Anyway good luck with your dissertation on DFW. I hope you post about it.

  4. Hello, I’m a terrible, horrible spammer who submitted a tasteless faux-comment about various web sites that have no bearing on this really intense topic. So the blog’s author has removed all my links and promotion of totally tasteless stuff to say that she loathes spammers, and woe be to you who mess with her on this particular post. Go spam some lame post, not the one with her heart and soul in it.

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