With cool wind in his hair, David Foster Wallace wrote
November 29, 2016 4:55 AM   Subscribe

 
I really do need to read more David Foster Wallace. He's one of those writers that I've read more about than from, and I need to change that. I've read his essays but not his novels or shorter fiction. Every year I tell myself that this will be the year that I finally pick up IJ, but it never happens.

Thanks for sharing this essay.
posted by Fizz at 7:23 AM on November 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


DFW is the only artist whose death hit me right in the gut. I miss his mind.
posted by grumpybear69 at 7:28 AM on November 29, 2016 [10 favorites]


I feel really uncomfortable about how the literary world has wrapped DFW in lace as some insightful yet perhaps troubled darling, when really, if you read enough of his works (non-fiction aside, which I find is his strong suit personally) they belie a mind that is hyperwired for everything except life/society and what comes across as humorous (while it IS) is sourced from confusion and dread. Don't get me wrong, he has provided a lot of interesting insights, but no budding, rose-colored MFA student REALLY wants to hole themselves up in a dark room vomiting up their embellished, traumatic life experiences, daily existential angst and sensory overloads that eventually drive them to suicide. They really just want the end product, which they find genius and clever because it is so foreign to them.
posted by Young Kullervo at 7:53 AM on November 29, 2016 [10 favorites]


IJ now more than ever.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:53 AM on November 29, 2016 [3 favorites]


> Starting with Infinite Jest is diving into the deep end of Wallace's work. If you haven't read much, I highly recommend on of this nonfiction anthologies such as Consider the Lobster or A supposedly fun thing I will never do again. (The later contains an article on one of the top 100 ranked tennis players in the world and is one of the best pieces of sports writing I've ever read.)

His power of observation is so acute that it really immerses you in whatever he's writing about. You're seeing the world through his eyes without the awkward observations about a person's appearance or home you often see when reading interviews or profiles.
posted by Jacks Dented Yugo at 8:11 AM on November 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


I like the portrayal of my stomping grounds (I'm from Bloomington, went to Illinois State, then U of I for graduate school), although the Coffeehouse wasn't in downtown Normal in 1985; I graduated in '86 and would have killed for a decent coffee shop near the campus.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:19 AM on November 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


Starting with Infinite Jest is diving into the deep end of Wallace's work.

I recommend Brief Interviews With Hideous Men for the n00b. If they don't like Wallace, they will know soon.
posted by thelonius at 8:28 AM on November 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


DFW is down by law but man, what is it with Times writers and overwrought metaphors?
posted by Bob Regular at 8:59 AM on November 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


I was one of his students at Illinois State and spent some formative years in the "grimy" "downtown" Normal (as it was called then). Glad the author is not overselling Central Illlinois, it's exactly as insipid as you would expect. I would not recommend this tour if you're looking to have some kind of DFW revelation. When he lived there the town basically ignored him which was probably for the best.

It's curious that NYT doesn't mention the rather large IRS processing center in Bloomington...I always just assumed that DFW hung out there working on his last novel.
posted by Locobot at 10:22 AM on November 29, 2016 [4 favorites]


if you read enough of his works (non-fiction aside, which I find is his strong suit personally) they belie a mind that is hyperwired for everything except life/society and what comes across as humorous (while it IS) is sourced from confusion and dread.

I haven't read a lot of DFW but what I have read is very obviously the work of someone who is mentally ill. But I have MDD myself. One of the things that helped me understand there really were deep differences between my brain and the brain of someone without MDD was the realization that healthy people didn't necessarily recognize the screaming klaxon horns I saw interwoven in DFW's work. Well, that and the fact that someone could read "The Depressed Person" and find it disturbing for its subject matter and not its intimate familiarity.
posted by schroedinger at 10:57 AM on November 29, 2016 [3 favorites]


Worth noting the author does not consider the possibility that his fondness for Illinois could also be based in the fervent hope that the familiar and repetitive could provide some ritualistic protection against falling into the pit. When you're struggling in the dark it's easy to ascribe deep import to familiar and childhood locales in the hope that by returning them you could channel time periods that you remember as simpler and happier (even though they probably weren't).
posted by schroedinger at 11:06 AM on November 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


someone could read "The Depressed Person" and find it disturbing for its subject matter and not its intimate familiarity.

"The Depressed Person" ran in Harper's and they indeed got a lot of outraged letters from readers who were offended by what they saw as its exploitative or superior tone. It was basically a long diary entry, though. :(
posted by thelonius at 11:07 AM on November 29, 2016


"... exactly as insipid as you would expect."
"... familiar and repetitive..."

My family moved to Champaign, Illinois when I was nine years old from Toronto; central Illinois is my home, more than anywhere else. I grew up feeling this tension between how most people experience central Illinois plains, flat, boring, insipid -- so blank a space between Chicago, Indianapolis, and St. Louis that you're surprised it even exists -- and how beautiful I found them.

A stark sky in winter when the sunlight is sharp.
A storm front stretching over the horizon, the clouds growing, towering over, and crushing you with sheets of rain.
The green tide that swamps brown fields every year.

Beautiful.

Central Illinois is not tourist country. That is certainly true. But it is beautiful - even if DFW found it comforting and familiar. Even if my older brother mourned the loss of the mountains every damn time we came back from vacation in Vermont.
posted by TemporaryTurtle at 11:39 AM on November 29, 2016 [5 favorites]


It is beautiful...at times strikingly so--that early summer emerald sea. On average though it's either gray skies and barren fields or stifling summer humidity. In his 9/11 essay, (which is mostly about Bloomington/Normal) he remarks on what an oddly clear day it was for Illinois.
posted by Locobot at 12:03 PM on November 29, 2016


A travel piece to do the DFW tour?
Go to the coffeehouse he used to go to? the bookstore?
That sounds like it belongs in A Supposedly Fun Thing...
posted by MtDewd at 2:29 PM on November 29, 2016


I grew up feeling this tension between how most people experience central Illinois plains, flat, boring, insipid -- so blank a space between Chicago, Indianapolis, and St. Louis that you're surprised it even exists -- and how beautiful I found them.

To clarify: when I say "familiar and repetitive" I wasn't referring to the appearance of Illinois. "The familiar and repetitive" referred to any place where one has lived a long time and has become accustomed to. It was a general statement, not one specific to DFW's home.
posted by schroedinger at 2:52 PM on November 29, 2016


It was basically a long diary entry, though. :(

Yeah, I don't think I have read a piece that better captures the reality of depression, what a depressed person thinks is the reality of depression, and the way all-consuming self-loathing shapes the latter--and through it, the former.
posted by schroedinger at 2:56 PM on November 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


I went to UIUC, and subsequently lived for five years just outside of Kankakee. I found that during that five years my standard for what I consider natural beauty got drastically lowered. We would drive to the forest preserves in the southwest suburbs of Chicago and marvel at the trees - so much nicer than alternating corn and soybeans. I remember once on a drive from Kankakee to Champaign in the early spring, we drove past a field ready to be planted and my husband said to me, "Wow, look at that black dirt." There were two real sources of natural beauty where we lived - the sky which had absolutely epic sunrises and sunsets and pretty decent stargazing. The other source was the railroad berm behind our house - the City of New Orleans as well as many freight trains ran through our backyard - which was overgrown with weeds and wildflowers. In the summer it was colonized by what must have been tens of thousands of fireflies and it was truly a sight to see them all sparkling at once.
posted by Daily Alice at 8:17 PM on November 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


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