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The Lost Years & Last Days of David Foster Wallace
November 1, 2008 5:03 AM   Subscribe

The Lost Years & Last Days of David Foster Wallace, Rolling Stone (warning: long article; could make you cry)
posted by Baldons (70 comments total) 61 users marked this as a favorite

 
But why was it this paragraph that made me cry?

"Wallace's need was simpler: cheap space, for writing. He had been researching for months, haunting rehab facilities and halfway houses, taking quiet note of voices and stories, people who had fallen into the gaps like him. "I got very assertive research- and finagle-wise," he said. "I spent hundreds of hours at three halfway houses. It turned out you could just sit in the living room — nobody is as gregarious as somebody who has recently stopped using drugs.""

posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 6:11 AM on November 1, 2008 [5 favorites]


His death finally got me to finish Infinite Jest. RIP, you crazy bastard.

As one who has suffered from depression on and off since puberty, and with close family members to have suffered the same, this writeup moved me.
posted by SeanMac at 6:25 AM on November 1, 2008


With apologies to Socrates, sometimes the overexamined life is not worth living.

DFW was, without a doubt, a genius. Like not a few tortured writers before him, though, his greatest strength was his greatest weakness. The flip side of empathy is despair; lives of noble struggle are still lives of struggle.

Throw in an organic predilection to depression and suicide becomes the (almost) rational decision.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 6:35 AM on November 1, 2008 [4 favorites]


And here I was just about almost over this, I was very nearly not thinking about it every day.

Thank you anyway.
posted by penduluum at 6:35 AM on November 1, 2008


An incredibly fruitful article... anybody that reads it must take notes.
posted by JoeXIII007 at 6:39 AM on November 1, 2008


His experience with Nardil just breaks my heart all over again. It's so cruel.
posted by dog food sugar at 6:47 AM on November 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


Very sad. Society still has a long way to go in understanding depression. So many people lost because of that bloody disease and it's still treated as something you can just "get over"
posted by scarello at 6:47 AM on November 1, 2008 [6 favorites]


Wow a great article. It really helped me understand Wallace better. This pretty much sums up my Wallace experience:
Two pieces, published in Harper's, would become some of the most famous pieces of journalism of the past decade and a half. Colin Harrison, Wallace's editor at Harper's, had the idea to outfit him with a notebook and push him into perfectly American places — the Illinois State Fair, a Caribbean cruise. The cruise-ship piece ran in January 1996, a month before David's novel [Infinite Jest] was published. People photocopied it, faxed it to each other, read it over the phone. When people tell you they're fans of David Foster Wallace, what they're often telling you is that they've read the cruise-ship piece.
posted by stbalbach at 7:20 AM on November 1, 2008


Thanks for this. I had just encountered the name of david foster wallace on the blue last week, and then borrowed two books at the local library. This comes as a companion.
posted by nicolin at 7:21 AM on November 1, 2008


There was also a memorial service late last week.
posted by Doktor Zed at 7:57 AM on November 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


With apologies to Socrates, sometimes the overexamined life is not worth living.

I think you are right there, Benny. DFW made brilliant observations, but they didn't seem to settle anything for him, or the reader. It was so much thrashing. And if you, the reader, didn't want to join him in his hot, insomniac bed, you tossed the book aside, and moved on.
posted by Faze at 8:45 AM on November 1, 2008 [3 favorites]


There's another subset of people, who saw him thrashing in his hot insomniac bed, looked down at their own beds, and saw the sweatstains and torn pillowcases and recognized something.

Who, tired and darkeyed and with the taste of gritted teeth in their mouths, finally gave up on sleep for another night and asked bitterly without turning over, "You awake?" and heard a sighed "yes" and decided together to get up and go watch TV and maybe laugh a little because if rest wasn't happening tonight at least we could smirk at how tired we always were.

Some of us couldn't have tossed the book aside if we wanted to, but we never wanted to.
posted by penduluum at 8:54 AM on November 1, 2008 [9 favorites]


Some light non-fiction from Wallace's work with Harper's: Shipping Out: On the (nearly lethal) comforts of a luxury cruise. [PDF]
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:54 AM on November 1, 2008 [12 favorites]


Heck, might as well link to the other two. They're also great stuff...

Ticket to the Fair [PDF]
(Wherein our reporter gorges himself on corn dogs, gapes at terrifying rides, savors the odor of pigs, exchanges unpleasantries with tattooed carnies, and admires the loveliness of cows)

Tennis, trigonometry, tornadoes [PDF]
(A Midwestern boyhood)
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:01 AM on November 1, 2008 [8 favorites]


I always thought Wallace had an ability to get to something--an action, a feeling, a point of view--that might be common, even, but which had gone generally unexpressed such that people thought the experience was singular, individual. I always cite the Infinite Jest chapter where the guy is waiting for a weed hookup, but coming across this in the link was scary-familiar:

I go through a loop in which I notice all the ways I am self-centered and careerist and not true to standards and values that transcend my own petty interests, and feel like I'm not one of the good ones. But then I countenance the fact that at least here I am worrying about it, noticing all the ways I fall short of integrity, and I imagine that maybe people without any integrity at all don't notice or worry about it; so then I feel better about myself. It's all very confusing. I think I'm very honest and candid, but I'm also proud of how honest and candid I am — so where does that put me?
posted by troybob at 9:17 AM on November 1, 2008 [2 favorites]


Other Harper's articles:
Laughing with Kafka [PDF]. Harper's Magazine, July, 1998.
Tense Present: Democracy, English, and the wars over usage [PDF]. Harper's Magazine, April, 2001.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:25 AM on November 1, 2008 [4 favorites]


The Ticket to the Fair article is pretty apt:
A squelch of feedback on a loudspeaker brings the official press Welcome & Briefing to order. It's dull. The words "excited," "proud," and "opportunity" are used repeatedly. Ms. Illinois County Fairs, tiara bolted to the tallest coiffure I've ever seen (bun atop bun, multiple layers, a ziggurat of hair), is proudly excited to have the opportunity to present two corporate guys, sweating freely in suits, who report the excited pride of McDonalds and Wal-Mart to have the opportunity to be this year's corporate sponsors.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:35 AM on November 1, 2008


Nardil was the same medication my mom was one, they tried so hard to take her of it and every time they brought it up see would become terrified.

She knew it was the only thing keeping her alive.
posted by Mick at 9:35 AM on November 1, 2008


Some of us couldn't have tossed the book aside if we wanted to, but we never wanted to.

Infinite Jest is one of the greatest, most important books of my lifetime; however, practically every page in the first and last 300 pages or so, there was a moment where I did want to toss it aside.

The middle third was quite enjoyable. One analysis I read of the book implied that DFW intentionally paced the book like a parabola, and hence that random part right in the center of the story with the doorknob flashback.
posted by mannequito at 9:40 AM on November 1, 2008


Nardil? The MAOI? Can anyone explain to me why the article doesn't mention them having tried any modern antidepressants?

Allow me to throw in the seasonally apt The Weasel, Twelve Monkeys And The Shrub -- Seven Days In The Life Of The Late, Great John McCain, an account of the 2000 Republican primaries for Rolling Stone:
Monday, the first and only File and Feed in Michigan, is also the day of Rolling Stone's introduction to the Cellular Waltz, one of the most striking natural formations of the Trail. There's a huge empty lobbylike space you have to pass through to get from the Riverfront's side doors back to the area where the F&F and bathrooms are. It takes a long time to traverse this space, a hundred yards of nothing but flagstone walls and plaques with the sad pretentious names of the Riverfront's banquet halls and conference rooms — the Oak Room, the Windsor Room — but on return from the OTS now out here are also half a dozen different members of the F&F Room's press, each fifty feet away from any of the others, for privacy, and all walking in idle counterclockwise circles with a cell-phone to their ear. These little orbits are the Cellular Waltz, which is probably the digital equivalent of doodling or picking at yourself as you talk on a regular landline. There's something oddly lovely about the Waltz's different circles here, which are of various diameters and stride-lengths and rates of rotation but are all identically counterclockwise and telephonic. We three slow down a bit to watch; you couldn't not. From above, like if there were a mezzanine, the Waltzes would look like the cogs of some strange, diffuse machine. Frank C. says he can tell by their faces something's up. Jim C. says what's interesting is that media south of the equator do the exact same Cellular Waltz but that down there all their circles are reversed.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 9:54 AM on November 1, 2008 [2 favorites]


goodnewsfortheinsane: Nothing else worked. As I understand it.
posted by jokeefe at 10:08 AM on November 1, 2008


His death finally got me to finish Infinite Jest. RIP, you crazy bastard.

Yes, I had tried to read it and didn't "get it" a few years ago, and his death got me to pick it up again. I'm about half through and almost don't want to finish.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 10:09 AM on November 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


Heh, gnfti, that articles tone is almost 180 degrees opposite to the more recent Rolling Stone article on McCain. Just goes to show you how unknowable the truth is.
posted by jouke at 10:11 AM on November 1, 2008


One analysis I read of the book implied that DFW intentionally paced the book like a parabola

Got a link to that? Very interesting way to think about it. It felt kind of like an (intentionally) sloppily closed loop to me, but maybe a parabola's a better way to sort of conceptualize it. Planning on giving it another go during a couple quiet weeks in December, would love to read just a little (but not too much) analysis before I do.

So there's that, anyway: he did leave us a book we'll be talking about for the next hundred years, and the altered perspectives of just about anyone who reads it. Cold comfort, but it beats the void.
posted by gompa at 10:14 AM on November 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


One analysis I read of the book implied that DFW intentionally paced the book like a parabola

Hm. I can't help but think of that as a self-conscious meta-connective gesture at all the Pynchon-hype thrown at Wallace by reviewers (a parabola being, of course, 'gravity's rainbow.')
posted by aught at 10:22 AM on November 1, 2008 [2 favorites]


Before his death, I never really knew all that much about David Foster Wallace. I had heard his name a few times in passing, but I never read any of his writings or knew anything about who he was.

But just now, I read that Rolling Stone article about his life, and it left me in tears.

Thanks for posting this (along with the warning, which in my case, proved to be all too true).
posted by sabira at 10:28 AM on November 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


Wallace's death hit me sort of hard, and I had a lot of questions. Thanks to this article, some of them have been answered.
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:41 AM on November 1, 2008


I always thought Wallace had an ability to get to something--an action, a feeling, a point of view--that might be common, even, but which had gone generally unexpressed such that people thought the experience was singular, individual.

Yes, this, exactly. I remember when I picked up Infinite Jest for the first time. I wasn't fifty pages in before I was choking up because someone had finally been able to put into words a tiny bit of what I had been struggling with. It wasn't because it was sentimental or poignant or anything. It was because it was true. He was able to communicate with such stunning clarity. I don't think he was saying anything that I didn't already know. It's just that I had never been able to express these things in words. He did it for me. It was like he gave me a voice.
posted by lysistrata at 11:11 AM on November 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


Gompa: This interview (the 1996 one at the bottom) suggests that it's actually written in the form of a Sierpinsky Gasket.

I'm also finally reading IJ and don't know both if I want it to end and if it ever will.
The RS story, like this whole horrible event, is frankly terrifying.
posted by obloquy at 11:14 AM on November 1, 2008


Maybe this isn't the right place for this comment, but the article got me thinking -- maybe there's a vicious cycle between depression and over-sincerity . . . in the sense that the over-sincere person is compelled by his over-sincerity to consider his or her depression a moral failure (thus deepening the depression).

Philosophy can be really nasty in this regard. I once spent a night a mental hospital (due to panic attacks, which I didn't know were panic attacks), and had an interaction with the staff psychiatrist that floored me. We didn't talk about what I was feeling, but rather exclusively about my symptoms -- something that had never happened in any other conversation with a psychiatrist. It was incredibly impersonal, but for that reason, incredibly free of anxiety and self-blame. He said, "oh, well, your symptoms fit the diagnosis of acute depression with anxiety exactly, so I'm prescribing you something that will probably help." And it did help, quite a lot -- but the conversation helped too, in that, for the first time, it allowed me to not look at my troubles as moral failures.

A few days later, I was talking to a philosophy professor of mine about my experience, and he asked "What do you think Wittgenstein would say about anti-depressants?" (For those unfamiliar with Wittgenstein, he despised psychiatry; and keep in mind this professor knew I was studying Wittgenstein pretty intensely, and knew that I admired him a great deal.)

I wanted to punch that professor, right there in his office, and still do.
posted by treepour at 11:14 AM on November 1, 2008 [18 favorites]


Sorry; I failed to include the link
posted by obloquy at 11:28 AM on November 1, 2008


Terribly written, the writer seems to love lists of words seperated by commas. Commas, words, more, commas.
posted by fire&wings at 11:29 AM on November 1, 2008


Maybe this isn't the right place for this comment, but the article got me thinking -- maybe there's a vicious cycle between depression and over-sincerity . . . in the sense that the over-sincere person is compelled by his over-sincerity to consider his or her depression a moral failure (thus deepening the depression).

Who's to say what's over-sincere? People are exactly as sincere as they think they need to be.

I can't help but think that the rise of cases of depression in recent years are a direct result of the rise in things to be depressed about.
posted by JHarris at 11:44 AM on November 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


@goodnewsfortheinsane - yes, my understanding from the article was that they DID try modern antidepressants but none of them worked -- there is a pretty pointed comment by his sister:
"So at that point," says his sister Amy, with an edge in her voice, it was determined, 'Oh, well, gosh, we've made so much pharmaceutical progress in the last two decades that I'm sure we can find something that can knock out that pesky depression without all these side effects.' They had no idea that it was the only thing that was keeping him alive."
posted by Medieval Maven at 11:45 AM on November 1, 2008


Got a link to that? Very interesting way to think about it. It felt kind of like an (intentionally) sloppily closed loop to me, but maybe a parabola's a better way to sort of conceptualize it. Planning on giving it another go during a couple quiet weeks in December, would love to read just a little (but not too much) analysis before I do.

I've heard the parabola thing, too, although I don't have a link either. I do know that on my recent reread of Jest, I noticed that if you pay attention you can clearly see where things were manipulated to provide a really tight page-count structure, with the death of Lucien Antitoi at the exact center of the non-footnote part of the book; I'd bet money that this is why big chunks of the ETA action in the second half happens in footnotes rather than in body text. I'm also pretty sure that there's something going on with the numbering and placement of the footnotes themselves-- lots of them are essential digressions, but enough of them feel like padding (the one-liners, "[sic]"s, and occasional patent/copyright info for things mentioned in the text) for me to feel like they're put there to maintain some sort of structure or pattern. But I have no clue what that structure or pattern is yet.
posted by COBRA! at 12:02 PM on November 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


Does a suicide erase the value of his writings, or devalue them to some degree, or leave them unaffected or make them that much more interesting? If books are to save us from suicide, would an author's suicide show the mistake of his recipes?
posted by rainy at 12:17 PM on November 1, 2008


Maybe this isn't the right place for this comment, but the article got me thinking -- maybe there's a vicious cycle between depression and over-sincerity . . . in the sense that the over-sincere person is compelled by his over-sincerity to consider his or her depression a moral failure.

When you say "over-sincerity", I read "passion".
posted by rokusan at 12:19 PM on November 1, 2008


I have never read Infinite Jest. I will change that.
posted by sonic meat machine at 12:21 PM on November 1, 2008


I think this thesis is where I got the idea; it's about a third of the way through:

With the parabola as structural trope, that curve’s mathematical properties can indicate the significance of what happened to Hal .... It is the ethereal focus of the text’s parabolic curve, the thing that happened to Hal, and whatever did happen lies at the intersection of every character’s and event’s narrative vectors ...As though plotting the cross-section of a three-dimensional dish, plot picks up speed as it descends the slope of the novel’s first half, and slowly ascends the second half towards an end. The entrances and re-entrances of characters mark the vectors that mark the symmetry of these two slopes."
posted by mannequito at 12:23 PM on November 1, 2008


The DFW experience for me. Going in, I knew Infinite Jest had something happening. If the book has a theme, in fact, it's a sort of creepy something is happening, something powerful and sad and ineffable.

Throughout its 7,372 pages, there's always a twist just ahead that you don't see coming, a subtext you're not quite following, and it keeps on staying just ahead of you, like a horizon you never quite reach. The book knows this. The book plays with you. The book is doing this on purpose.

When you finally reach the end, if you're me, you read that last page, and then there's a very long pause while your brain rearranges itself to make sense of what just happened.

And then you say "Fuck, you, David Foster Wallace."

And then you flip it back to Page 1 and you start again.
posted by rokusan at 12:29 PM on November 1, 2008 [4 favorites]


I don't know if I would say it is over-sincerity as much as simply over-thinking. With Wallace's work, one of the things I love is how there are so many levels upon levels of analysis and understanding--so many that (for me, anyway) I know I'll never fully comprehend them all, which makes it all the more compelling. I can't just wrap it up and put it into the 'solved' category and forget about it.

To me that makes for a lot of fun as a reader, but if you take that same level of over-analysis and apply it to your everyday life, it can be a mess. I've gotten into that cycle (alluded to in the previous DFW quote I reproduced above) of examining my beliefs, then questioning my motives for having those beliefs and to what degree I'm fooling myself, or to what degree I actually embody those things that I despise, then questioning my own sincerity within my part of that internal argument, then assuring myself that really crazy people don't stop to think whether they are crazy or not, and thinking I'm not so bad, as how many people really stop to worry about it?

I think it can get to a point where your ability or tendency to examine your life in this moment overtakes your ability to actually live life in this moment. A spontaneous, fun experience loses its fun and spontaneity at that point when you stop to think about how fun and spontaneous it is. I find that frustrating enough when it happens, but were I half the intellectual heavyweight DFW was, I imagine I would find the depth of that distraction crushing.
posted by troybob at 12:32 PM on November 1, 2008 [2 favorites]


If books are to save us from suicide, would an author's suicide show the mistake of his recipes?

But what if books are to save us from life? Or from suffering?

What if books are to save us from us?
posted by rokusan at 12:32 PM on November 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


When you finally reach the end, if you're me, you read that last page, and then there's a very long pause while your brain rearranges itself to make sense of what just happened.

And then you say "Fuck, you, David Foster Wallace."

And then you flip it back to Page 1 and you start again.


For me the first thought was, "Hmm, that's it?"

I put it down for a bit, but something was tugging at my brain, like, "wait, that sounds familiar."

Then came the realization that, despite having finished the last page, I was really only about a third of the way through the book.
posted by spiderwire at 12:35 PM on November 1, 2008 [3 favorites]


Finished the article and finally lost it on the last sentence, falling into an abyss of sadness, gratitude, and relief.

Sadness for the suffering and death of DFW. Having experienced depression in myself and others, I have immense compassion for those in its grip.

Gratitude for the fact that I'm a realist and that the universe I experience is ordered, simple, and basically unknowable by me. Also grateful that Metafilter has broadened that universe exponentially, introducing me to the worlds of DFW and others.

Lastly relief, upon finishing the article , knowing without a doubt, that there is no way in hell that I will attempt to read Infinite Jest. (I'd already taken it out of the library but hadn't started it.)
posted by Xurando at 12:51 PM on November 1, 2008


Knowing without a doubt, that there is no way in hell that I will attempt to read Infinite Jest.

That might be smart. It might be the saddest book ever written. I have not tried again since Wallace's death, so I'm not sure how that will change the experience for me, but... well... that.

It's not a novel in the usual sense. More like a trance disguised as a book.

It's really closer to magic than literature, but not in the unicorn and fairy dust way.
posted by rokusan at 1:16 PM on November 1, 2008


Does a suicide erase the value of his writings, or devalue them to some degree...?

Yes. Suicide pretty much renders a writer's work moot. You don't want to go where a suicide's brain has been. Of course, I suppose you could read the work as a kind of roadmap of places to stay away from.
posted by Faze at 1:22 PM on November 1, 2008


He was able to communicate with such stunning clarity. I don't think he was saying anything that I didn't already know. It's just that I had never been able to express these things in words. He did it for me. It was like he gave me a voice.

I read somewhere (perhaps in the article, perhaps in some related article) that Wallace gives a convincing voice to our generation's inner thought dialogue.

The early 20th century had its direct, declarative statements. The mid-century folks get more reflective, self-aware, and exploratory. The modern age assaults our senses with information. The writing becomes more footnoted, hot-linked, parenthetical and in-jokey. Reading Wallace's digressions is like surfing the web--a page is read, tabs are opened, explored temporarily and then casually discarded when they lose the author's interest--then you're thrown back again to the original train of thought.

It's like listening to a particularly articulate person explain something to you while they're very stoned.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 2:03 PM on November 1, 2008 [6 favorites]


Perhaps in the future there will be Wellness Clinics with a focus on depression, the way Cancer Treatment Centers of America focus on cancer? I hope so. Not just one aspect of the illness but the myriad facets. Varieties of talk therapy, anger release, primal therapy, neurofeedback, nutrition, emdr, light therapy, examination of underlying-related illnesses such as thyroid, chronic fatigue, lupus, exercise and body movement, vitamins and supplementation, anti-depressants appropriate for one's biology, blood type, type of depression, age, etc., Transcranial magnetic stimulation, work-family related ongoing chronic stress issues etc.

It seems such a terrible pity that DFW could not get the help he needed, whatever that help may have been.
posted by nickyskye at 2:07 PM on November 1, 2008 [3 favorites]


I'm glad I read this, even though it made me very sad. I had a friend who switched medications and then killed himself, and his parents never really explained or understood what happened and we were all sort of left in the dark afterwards.
posted by mecran01 at 2:08 PM on November 1, 2008


The early 20th century had its direct, declarative statements. The mid-century folks get more reflective, self-aware, and exploratory. The modern age assaults our senses with information. The writing becomes more footnoted, hot-linked, parenthetical and in-jokey.

You are describing a society sliding into insanity.
posted by rokusan at 2:16 PM on November 1, 2008


Thank you for posting this. I have to take DFW (and now, his life and death) in small doses; everything is so familiar, it's unsettling. I wish I had a better word for it.

For those who wonder: it's becoming a diagnostic trend to re-consider using the "old" anti-depressants. Many of the newer ones (from Prozac forward, time-wise) are just not as effective. The problem is, many of the "older ones" (like Nardil, or the tricyclic I'm now on, Nortriptaline) have pretty hideous side effects. Much worse than the not-getting-sexually-aroused -level of side effects found with the Prozacs and the Wellbutrins and the Celexas.

There are many people who are helped by the newer drugs. But there is a growing number of people, like myself, who are not. My psychiatrist suggested Nortriptaline after a 15+ year history of unsuccessfully trying numerous "newer" antidepressants (as well as other things like talk therapy, nutrition, etc.) Nortryptaline is a completely different experience. In some ways, I'm better than I have been for over a decade. But, I also have to worry about several different kinds of toxicity, and deal with a number of problematic side-effects (not the least of which is the 20+ pounds I've inexplicably put on, which of course doesn't help with the depression/self image).

I wish there was a way to help people understand that depression is a hugely variable thing. But then again, there are a lot of things that I wish. *sigh*
posted by CitizenD at 2:30 PM on November 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


Wallace spent eight days in McLean. He was diagnosed as a clinical depressive and was prescribed a drug, called Nardil, developed in the 1950s. He would have to take it from then on. "We had a brief, maybe three-minute audience with the psychopharmacologist," his mother says. Wallace would have to quit drinking, and there was a long list of foods — certain cheeses, pickles, cured meats — he would have to stay away from.

No booze makes sense. Why no pickles or cured meats or certain cheeses?
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 3:19 PM on November 1, 2008


Those are all typically sodium-intensive foods. I'm guessing this had something to do with the tendency for people who used the drug to develop high blood pressure. People with high blood pressure are typically advised to stay away from all of the above.
posted by raysmj at 3:25 PM on November 1, 2008


Thanks, raysmj.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 3:36 PM on November 1, 2008



No booze makes sense. Why no pickles or cured meats or certain cheeses?


It's an MAOI, and those foods all have too much tyramine.
posted by dilettante at 3:52 PM on November 1, 2008 [3 favorites]


Suicide pretty much renders a writer's work moot. You don't want to go where a suicide's brain has been.

Yes! Celan, Hemingway, Kane, Kleist, Koestler, Majakovskij, Mishima, Nerval, Plath, Potocki, Woolf, Zweig - pure, unadulterated hogwash. You're right, you should never touch their books.
posted by Baldons at 4:08 PM on November 1, 2008 [4 favorites]


Suicide pretty much renders a writer's work moot. You don't want to go where a suicide's brain has been. Of course, I suppose you could read the work as a kind of roadmap of places to stay away from.

Even as a neo-retro-ironic troll, the above is so colossally stupid as to defy comment.

Anyway, I look forward to reading the Rolling Stone piece, but just wanted to chime in with a recommendation to Wallace newbies (which included me until his MeFi obit thread): Try some of the non-fiction first, sure (the brilliantly penetrating Gourmet mag essay "Consider the Lobster" [pdf] is my pick for most essential reading) , but make sure to dip into his story collection Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, too. It's got some of the most amazing fiction I've ever read, along with a few ridiculously convoluted, maddening and insane bad ideas masquerading as short stories. Sorting the one out from the other is a fascinating experience. It reminds me of a note I saw in one of his books' acknowledgments pages to one of his editors, something like:

"Thanks to Mary 'Exactly how much reader annoyance are we going for here?' Jones...

But "Death Is Not the End," "The Depressed Person," "Think" and most of the "Brief Interviews with Hideous Men" are truly brilliant stuff.

jouke: that articles tone is almost 180 degrees opposite to the more recent Rolling Stone article on McCain. Just goes to show you how unknowable the truth is.

Er, no. What the difference between DFW's 2000 piece and the latest RS article really "goes to show you" is how much John McCain has sold out his previous, nominally centrist, positions for a chance at the Presidency, as Wallace acknowledged when asked earlier this year about his previous piece. The press' year 2000 love affair with McCain has been dissected to death, most effectively, I think, by Matt Welch in this book (hint: it had very little to do with McCain's actual views and a lot to do with pushing emotional buttons), but the one thing we can certainly be sure of about the reaction of thoughtful people to McCain's evolution is that it does *not* demonstrate "how unknowable the truth is."
posted by mediareport at 4:27 PM on November 1, 2008 [3 favorites]


You better only read books written by the immortal.

Like Celan, Hemingway, Kane, Kleist, Koestler, Majakovskij, Mishima, Nerval, Plath, Potocki, Woolf, Zweig
posted by dirty lies at 4:28 PM on November 1, 2008


Perhaps in the future there will be Wellness Clinics with a focus on depression...

God that would be so great. I remember when I worked in an ER during nursing school - SO many people coming in because they were lonely, they needed to talk, they needed some attention, they scared someone, or they had just tried to harm themselves - seriously or not so much. They needed emergency mental issues addressed! All levels of mental illness came in: from the beginning of coping difficulties, to acute or chronic anxiety, to all ranges of depression, to full-blown lifetime psychiatric disorders.

And I always thought the ER was such a lacking place for their needs. It was more for immediate stabilization for medical issues. The staff sometimes did little to hide their contempt for these people. Sometimes they'd come via ambulance in the mist of a full blown yelling argument with the EMTs about who knows what. The attitude was that they were wasting everyone's time. But there was nowhere else for many of these people to go. The ER environment was so uncaring and insensitive. It was so sad in so many ways, so often.

Mental healthcare is so undervalued and tragically underfunded. Another RN and I were talking about how sad and depressing we thought the local mental hospital was the other day. We both work at a cancer hospital. You'd think that would be the depressing place, but it's not. Sorry for the rant.

.

As for the nardil - perhaps a doc or pharmD can correct me here, but it's my limited understanding that it's a 2nd or 3rd level of drugs they try only after it's certain everything on a 1st level of attack is tried and failed. So DFW may have gone through many tries with many drugs before he got to that one. Then he had to live for years avoiding many food interactions that could lead to a serious hypertensive crisis if he wasn't careful.

I'm speculating here, but I imagine DFW sought help again and again for much of his life, with intermittent success and recurrent failure. I imagine that must have become exhausting and unbearable. And damn it if this doesn't make me so sad all over again! I so enjoyed his writing for so long.

...it allowed me to not look at my troubles as moral failures.

That is such an interesting observation, treepour. I think many people have difficulty recognizing that distinction. Tragically others still see mental distress as moral failure. So in addition to trying to deal with something that confusing as all hell, people suffering mental anguish are confronted with the judgement of others who don't know any better.
posted by dog food sugar at 4:51 PM on November 1, 2008 [5 favorites]


Who's to say what's over-sincere? People are exactly as sincere as they think they need to be.

I can't help but think that the rise of cases of depression in recent years are a direct result of the rise in things to be depressed about.


No, I think there really is such a thing as over-sincerity. It's when you second-guess everything you say and do, no matter how trivial, for fear that some trace of inauthenticity or naked self-interest might have informed said action. It's the emotional equivalent of the person who washes his or her hands until they bleed.

As for the rise of things to depressed about, IMO, we live in a pretty damn amazingly wonderful period in history and place in the world, relatively speaking. When you look at the horrors of history or the lives of those in extreme poverty, there isn't nearly as much to be depressed about as we tend to think. That's not to say events can't make one depressed, but rather that serious depression is way deeper than events and circumstances. Depression is the kind of thing that would make you miserable in heaven.
posted by treepour at 8:29 PM on November 1, 2008 [6 favorites]


It's an MAOI, and those foods all have too much tyramine.

Thanks, dilettante.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 9:22 PM on November 1, 2008


Yes! Celan, Hemingway, Kane, Kleist, Koestler, Majakovskij, Mishima, Nerval, Plath, Potocki, Woolf, Zweig - pure, unadulterated hogwash. You're right, you should never touch their books.

With the exceptions of Woolf and Kleist, I'd pretty much say that this is a good list of authors to avoid. And I'm furious with both Virginia Woolf and Heinrich Kleist for having each murdered one of my favorite authors.
posted by Faze at 7:36 AM on November 2, 2008


And I'm furious with both Virginia Woolf and Heinrich Kleist for having each murdered one of my favorite authors.

What trumps ignorance? Strident ignorance!

I find this notion of dismissing all self-destructive artists out of hand so intriguing I've extended it to music and the visual arts. I spend a lot of time staring at blank walls to a soundtrack of Phil Collins and post-1970s Aerosmith and Yanni. I feel purified and righteous, but at the same time the only reason I haven't clawed my eyes and ears out is I can't decide which to start with.
posted by gompa at 8:30 AM on November 2, 2008 [4 favorites]


We didn't talk about what I was feeling, but rather exclusively about my symptoms -- something that had never happened in any other conversation with a psychiatrist. It was incredibly impersonal, but for that reason, incredibly free of anxiety and self-blame. He said, "oh, well, your symptoms fit the diagnosis of acute depression with anxiety exactly, so I'm prescribing you something that will probably help." And it did help, quite a lot -- but the conversation helped too, in that, for the first time, it allowed me to not look at my troubles as moral failures.

Yeah, that strikes a note; not for me personally, but from friends who have suffered through illnesses that trigger moral judgment. Depression's one, but I can think of a grab-bag of others: Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Bi-polar, and a parent whose kid was diagnosed with Aspergers at 7 ("It was a relief - I've spent years feeling like a crap parent because he's got all these weird, odd behaviors I can't 'fix'").

It's aggravating for me, as well, how many people get bitter hostility if medication helps them as well; not just from what I guess you might characterise as the expected "conservative" types - grumpy uncles who want someone to "pull their socks up" - but the whole lefty anti--medicine/"big pharma are evil" who seem to consider anything other than therapy and "natural remedies" as evidence of moral failing, as well; the latter irks me especially simply because of how many friends and family have found counselling and therapy as not merely unhelpful as actively counterproductive.
posted by rodgerd at 8:18 PM on November 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


Rogerd - Agreed. There's too little understanding of mental illness as an illness, not a black spot of shame or a plot by the health care industry's marketing department. Pills and therapy.

The therapy can be tricky, as there are a number of different approaches, each with their practitioners and proponents, and not everything works for everyone. What's more, not all practitioners mesh with all patients. Too many patients give up on the "talking cure" - they get the mindset that since this counselor or psychologist isn't helping, none of them can.

If you hate your shrink, try a new one... look for recommendations based on what seems to be your "issue". Some counselors are very good with motivational issues, others with obsessive fixations, and yet others with anger and control issues - they might all stem from depression, but the way the depression manifests itself will determine the best course of therapy.

Unfortunately, some practitioners are too interested in building and maintaining their practice to send business to someone else if things are going poorly with him/her. This alone is probably reason enough to go see someone else.
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:23 AM on November 3, 2008


I've never read a word he has written (to my knowledge), but reading this in my print copy of Rolling Stone made me cry and just thinking about it now is making me tear up. There's a reason I work every day to prevent people from just this outcome.

I don't care if you're a genius or not, it's a fucking waste.
posted by threeturtles at 2:45 PM on November 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


I had never read anything by him prior to his suicide and honestly I'm happy I didn't. I read his commencement speech and quotes from him in this article and it all cuts too close to the bone for me. Its almost one of those things where you feel "god I just dug out of that, do I really want to go back?" but at the same time there is this morbid curiosity to participate in a conversation with someone who has been there.. his shyness, his depression, his feelings that he was never good enough... it makes me uncomfortable sometimes. I'm in a place where all of those things feel so abstract that I wonder if I ever knew them, but he has a way of striking those emotional resonances that remind me I was there. He seems like he was an incredible person with incredible struggles. I'm sorry he lost his battle.
posted by zennoshinjou at 7:32 AM on November 5, 2008


I sometimes wish he would have just traveled more - I think he first left the country at 40 or so.

He had a disorder, to be sure, but maybe the light of Hong Kong's harbor or Holland's endless fields of tulips could have saved him from such tragic solipsism.
posted by plexi at 7:45 AM on November 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


I read this article in RS. I had not heard of DFW before reading this article. I am going to dig into some of this tragic character's work.
posted by nedkingsley at 2:06 PM on November 6, 2008


Visiting the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, I was surrounded by his glowing initials. So I posed the magazine so his pictures had nametags & took pictures. Dumb, I know.

I miss him.
posted by Pronoiac at 9:43 PM on November 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


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