September 13, 2008 5:34 PM   Subscribe

This, like many clichés, so lame and unexciting on the surface, actually expresses a great and terrible truth. It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with firearms almost always shoot themselves in: the head. They shoot the terrible master. And the truth is that most of these suicides are actually dead long before they pull the trigger. And I submit that this is what the real, no bullshit value of your liberal arts education is supposed to be about: how to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone day in and day out. That may sound like hyperbole, or abstract nonsense. Let's get concrete. The plain fact is that you graduating seniors do not yet have any clue what "day in day out" really means. There happen to be whole, large parts of adult American life that nobody talks about in commencement speeches. One such part involves boredom, routine, and petty frustration. The parents and older folks here will know all too well what I'm talking about. First reported by an anonymous tip to a blog, the Los Angeles Times has confirmed that David Foster Wallace has hung himself.
posted by gerryblog (481 comments total) 133 users marked this as a favorite
posted by maudlin at 5:36 PM on September 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

oh my god.
posted by LobsterMitten at 5:37 PM on September 13, 2008

holy shit
posted by norabarnacl3 at 5:37 PM on September 13, 2008

posted by one_bean at 5:38 PM on September 13, 2008

posted by naju at 5:39 PM on September 13, 2008

posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:40 PM on September 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

I was just about to post this. I don't know how to react yet, what the whole story is, but I am devastated. I have a lot of personal stories about what his writing personally means to me, about the times I have met him and interacted with him, why I named my son after him, what I owe him writingwise, etc., but I don't even have the wherewithal to summon them right now. Just shock.
posted by mattbucher at 5:40 PM on September 13, 2008

posted by mattbucher at 5:40 PM on September 13, 2008

posted by icathing at 5:41 PM on September 13, 2008


I'll bet he left one hell of a note.
posted by adamrice at 5:41 PM on September 13, 2008 [14 favorites]

Sad for his family and friends.

And heavenly days, that Kenyon commencement address was pretty disturbing. I'm so sorry he felt that way about life, and that he couldn't find a way out of it other than ending it. I can't imagine anyone being in such tough shape that they would write a speech like that, and yet white-knuckling it enough to be able to deliver it.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:42 PM on September 13, 2008

Jesus, what the fuck.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 5:43 PM on September 13, 2008

1 .
posted by No-sword at 5:43 PM on September 13, 2008 [29 favorites]

When I read Consider the Lobster I wrote with some frustration about the slowness of his literary output over the last few years, a fact which seems, in light of this, to take on a much more transcendent importance. Consider the Lobster, released in 2005, didn't have an essay written after 2001; his last book, McCain's Promise, was an expanded version of his McCain essay from 2000.

I wonder if he was working on anything, and if we'll ever get to see it now, and if it could tell us anything about what's happened.

posted by gerryblog at 5:44 PM on September 13, 2008

posted by casarkos at 5:44 PM on September 13, 2008


My sympathies especially to his wife, no one should have "discover the body left after a loved one's suicide" on their list of "things I've done in this life."
posted by maxwelton at 5:44 PM on September 13, 2008 [7 favorites]

posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 5:45 PM on September 13, 2008

posted by Homeskillet Freshy Fresh at 5:47 PM on September 13, 2008

He was one of my wife's favorite authors. I have to admit I could never read more than 20 pages of Infinite Jest without falling asleep.

A supposedly fun thing I'll never do again was brilliant though. I guess now he really never will take a cruise again.

posted by localroger at 5:47 PM on September 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

I feel ill.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 5:48 PM on September 13, 2008

posted by bustmakeupleave at 5:49 PM on September 13, 2008

posted by magicbus at 5:49 PM on September 13, 2008

his last book, McCain's Promise, was an expanded version of his McCain essay from 2000.

No, it's just the essay he wrote at the time (2000), uncut. The version that ran in Rolling Stone in 2000 was severely cut down, and the book restores the stuff that was in it originally. I don't think he added anything except a very short preface. (I.e., the publication of the book doesn't tell us that he has been writing recently)
posted by LobsterMitten at 5:50 PM on September 13, 2008

He was working on several things that he'd share at readings. I think there's an excerpt somewhere in these 2006 readings he did in Italy.
posted by mattbucher at 5:51 PM on September 13, 2008 [2 favorites]

"." doesn't quite seem to convey what I want right now.
posted by SansPoint at 5:52 PM on September 13, 2008

This is shitty, shitty news. As a teen I loved Infinite Jest like a fat kid loves Heinlein. And A Supposedly Fun Thing made me actually consider a cruise. Awful.¹

[1] I refuse to let him go out with a dot, so here's a footnote.
posted by bonaldi at 5:53 PM on September 13, 2008 [22 favorites]


posted by R. Mutt at 5:53 PM on September 13, 2008

Jesus. I knew from his writing that he was a tormented guy, but what a waste of talent and brilliance, and judging from his work, compassion. I met him briefly at a signing at the Union Square B&N. I was just going to have him sign my copy of his latest book, but I was wearing a fatigue jacket that had been signed by two members of Metallica years earlier and she suggested I have him sign it. When he saw it, he chuckled, looked vaguely perturbed and said "I wish I liked Metallica," and wrote 'David Foster Wallace..on zither'.

I read and reread Infinite Jest and his other work numerous times and he, along with making me laugh and think, crystallized a lot of ideas that were running through my head, which is something the best writers can do. His work also revealed that he was definitely a guy with demons, but his loss is not just one for the future of literature, but a personal one for his fans as well.

Sad to see you go, DFW.
posted by jonmc at 5:53 PM on September 13, 2008 [17 favorites]

Though, somehow, not completely surprised.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:54 PM on September 13, 2008

I mention the thing about the McCain book because I have a copy of it, bought by my dad who didn't know who DFW was and just wanted to read a book about McCain. Well, the book has hardly anything about McCain in it at all - not even an interview. It concerns the nature of modern political coverage more than anything else. But the cover pretty much says that it's a book about McCain, with "insights" into McCain himself.

This strikes me as so obviously a publishing house -mandated repackaging and re-release, to fake out the generic political bookbuying public, and I had been wondering why DFW allowed it.
posted by LobsterMitten at 5:54 PM on September 13, 2008

Oh. My. God.

Just... shock. This is not the final footnote I wanted to read.

minor grammatical quibble, which I make only given Wallace's profession: when referring to the method of death, it's "hanged," not "hung."
posted by scody at 5:54 PM on September 13, 2008

posted by runincircles at 5:54 PM on September 13, 2008

posted by BaxterG4 at 5:55 PM on September 13, 2008

Jesus fucking .

Although I never decided if I actually liked Infinite Jest or not, there's no doubt that some of his ideas and even individual sentences marked my brain like it was soft clay. I'm so sorry to hear this.
posted by Countess Elena at 5:57 PM on September 13, 2008 [2 favorites]


posted by sugarfish at 5:59 PM on September 13, 2008

This is the first time I have gasped involuntarily reading of a death on Mefi. Just shocked.

In 1997 I had the pleasure of seeing him at an author reading in Austin. It was a big part of the reason I even bothered stopping in Austin to visit a friend on my way back to Denver.

I never made it to Denver. I'm still here, 11 years later.

I remember quite awhile back I laboriously typed in his essay, "E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction" to share with people, I loved it so much.

Now I'm going to have to go back and read his stuff again, and check out the things he's written that I hadn't read yet.

posted by marble at 5:59 PM on September 13, 2008 [4 favorites]

Oh shit. Damn, that's sad.
posted by homunculus at 6:00 PM on September 13, 2008

Moment of silence...? I seem incapable of offering it to him right now, even though I know well how life can feel like a terminal illness in and of itself. So conflicted.

I do want to give his widow all of the comfort and soft words she can stand.

So, for her, a moment of silence. A moment of silence full of love and hope, not the silence of a too quiet home with horrific implications.


selfish thought: Living with/around people who feel the same way he does did makes me worry even more about coming home to someone who has decided ennui, inertia, and the drain of human interaction (i.e., angst) was too much to bear anymore.
posted by batmonkey at 6:01 PM on September 13, 2008 [2 favorites]

Oh my fucking god. Good Old Neon.

Goddamn it. I didn't know you, David - I thought of driving to Pomona and sneaking into one of your first classes, before you figured out I was a lit nerd drop-out. But I never went, and I never even so much as wrote you a letter, because I thought you'd be with us for a long time, that your whole career was ahead of you. I thought I'd get a few more novels, maybe five or six more essay collections at least. I thought I'd get to watch you become an cantankerous old man.

You made me think about compassion and weakness and addiction and love when I was a selfish kid, and I owe you so much that now I'll never be to repay. I'm sorry I never thanked you.

Rest in peace.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 6:01 PM on September 13, 2008 [10 favorites]

He did write very well on the AA experience, based on what I saw accompanying my dad to meetings as a kid and how my dad described the experience. Beyond that, though, I didn't think of his writing as 'tormented'. Maybe I'm not just remembering the correct parts. Is there something in particular I should re-read? Reading something about his torment (besides the Kenyon commencement) might help now.

Goes to look for my copy of Signifying Rappers.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 6:05 PM on September 13, 2008

not to needlessly politicize this, but Dr Tannenbaum should check the access logs of, as Wallace's suicide corresponds with when McCain flipped to 270 . . .
posted by troy at 6:06 PM on September 13, 2008

posted by willpie at 6:07 PM on September 13, 2008

Well goddamn. As others have pointed out, it's not terribly surprising.

But... goddamn.
posted by lekvar at 6:09 PM on September 13, 2008

I've actually never heard of the guy, so when I saw "RIP, DFW" pop up in the feed, I thought the shoe chain had gone out of business.
posted by cmgonzalez at 6:09 PM on September 13, 2008 [2 favorites]

Wow. Infinite Jest is the reason that some of my girlfriends and I refer to telling someone that you love them the first time as 'showing them the face'.

He saw so many things more clearly than I could even dream.

posted by Alison at 6:10 PM on September 13, 2008

Holy crap.
posted by coizero at 6:10 PM on September 13, 2008

The shoe chain is DSW, oops.
posted by cmgonzalez at 6:11 PM on September 13, 2008

posted by Sailormom at 6:11 PM on September 13, 2008

Incarnations of Burned Children

posted by dixie flatline at 6:12 PM on September 13, 2008 [4 favorites]


I haven't read Infinite Jest, but it's sitting on my shame shelf glaring at me. RIP.
posted by graventy at 6:12 PM on September 13, 2008 [5 favorites]

posted by konolia at 6:13 PM on September 13, 2008


posted by einzelsprachlich at 6:14 PM on September 13, 2008

there are no words. . .

posted by katie at 6:15 PM on September 13, 2008

posted by nvly at 6:15 PM on September 13, 2008

ah fuck no!

Infinite Jest literally stopped me from committing suicide.
posted by Espoo2 at 6:16 PM on September 13, 2008 [9 favorites]

Good People.
posted by mattbucher at 6:16 PM on September 13, 2008

so thanks, David.
posted by Espoo2 at 6:16 PM on September 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

This Atlantic article was the only David Foster Wallace I'd read, but I was impressed.
posted by Jahaza at 6:16 PM on September 13, 2008

. . .
posted by saulgoodman at 6:17 PM on September 13, 2008

Many people, including me and evidently the Rolling Stone editor who gave him the 2000 McCain gig, considered him this generation's Hunter S. Thompson. Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck.
posted by gsteff at 6:18 PM on September 13, 2008

you are loved.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:19 PM on September 13, 2008 [7 favorites]

Holy shit. This sucks.
posted by cortex at 6:21 PM on September 13, 2008

video of 1997 interview with Charlie Rose
posted by LobsterMitten at 6:21 PM on September 13, 2008 [4 favorites]

. 2

2 The all too abrupt end of a sentence so lovely we didn't want to finish reading it so soon.
posted by louche mustachio at 6:21 PM on September 13, 2008 [17 favorites]

1999 Salon article about him
posted by LobsterMitten at 6:22 PM on September 13, 2008

posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 6:23 PM on September 13, 2008

Damn it. I'm sorry it became too much for him to bear.
posted by ltracey at 6:23 PM on September 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

Salon article's description of the Charlie Rose interview:
"What makes Wallace such a good/bad talk show guest and profile subject is that he attempts to answer fully and in nuanced ways the questions he's asked. The publicity machine can artfully photograph around him, they can catch the near-blondness while largely obscuring the monastic agonies and fanatical intensity marking his face, but they have trouble with the quotes. On "Charlie Rose," Wallace was like a giant combine moving through a field of wheat when he was supposed to be posing with a cute donkey and an old leather plow in front of the family barn. "
posted by LobsterMitten at 6:24 PM on September 13, 2008 [12 favorites]

Fuck. I live near him and never said hello. Goddamn. I think infinite jest is one of the most wonderful books ever written. Goddamn. Goddamn. Such a waste. Fuck.
posted by lalochezia at 6:25 PM on September 13, 2008

I'm actually 850 pages into my second reading of Infinite Jest as I write this, just as Himself's ghost explains the impetus behind the entertainment. Hal's final state, the end of the novel, is going to take on an entirely new gravitas, given this news.

What horrible, horrible news.
posted by songfromme at 6:26 PM on September 13, 2008

Goddamnit. I have that terrible, terrible _urgency_ you get when someone you care about dies. Like this need to do something, anything, right fucking now. At the one moment you can do nothing to help at all.
Infinite Jest changed my life when I was 19. Dropped out of business school, got a lit degree, learned to listen to people, and read the world around me. Things just didn't happen anymore. There were causes and reasons and hidden codes. "It strikes me that EXIT signs would look to a native speaker of Latin like red-lit signs that say HE LEAVES". Just telling someone the other night, over too much gin, how beautiful, how horrible the opening chapter in Infinite Jest is, with Hal on the floor, so still yet awfully alive, articulating how hard it is for people who think to deal with people who just think they do. "... and to you, who use whomsoever as a subject".
I still shiver.
posted by cascando at 6:27 PM on September 13, 2008 [10 favorites]

There aren't many people who were heroes of mine when I was sixteen, and still are. He's one.
posted by escabeche at 6:31 PM on September 13, 2008

Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.

and art is one of the most precarious and dangerous things we can worship

how sad
posted by pyramid termite at 6:31 PM on September 13, 2008 [2 favorites]

posted by plastic_animals at 6:32 PM on September 13, 2008

3 - Fuck. Fucking, fuckity, fuck, fuck, fuck. Fuck.
posted by dejah420 at 6:34 PM on September 13, 2008

posted by amrangaye at 6:34 PM on September 13, 2008

From the same Kenyon address:

"It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive in the adult world day in and day out."

posted by jed at 6:34 PM on September 13, 2008 [12 favorites]

Okay, I'm in.


Plowing my way through IJ, just reaching the point where it's catching fire for me -- and but now suddenly here I am reading a book by a dead guy. Shit. Phooey. Argh.
posted by tspae at 6:35 PM on September 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

posted by Heatwole at 6:36 PM on September 13, 2008

This is only the non-family death at which I've immediately burst into tears upon learning.

Neon. Kenyon Speech. General vibe. Not surprising.

But earth-shattering-- a light gone out.
posted by minnesotaj at 6:36 PM on September 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm been thumbing through my DFW books and what hits me right now are his words on Kafka:

"[T]he horrific struggle to establish a human self results in a self whose humanity is inseparable from that horrific struggle. That our endless and impossible journey toward home is in fact our home. ... [E]nvision us approaching and pounding on this door, increasingly hard, pounding and pounding, not just wanting admission but needing it; we don't know what it is but we can feel it, this total desperation to enter, pounding and ramming and kicking. That, finally, the door opens...and it opens outward -- we've been inside what we wanted all along. Das ist komisch."
posted by icathing at 6:37 PM on September 13, 2008 [43 favorites]

Condolences to his widow. What an awful thing to come home to.
posted by purephase at 6:37 PM on September 13, 2008

posted by generalist at 6:40 PM on September 13, 2008

Oh sad sad sad. I'm not sure I've ever felt so intimate with another person than when reading some of the passages he wrote. It's not fair that the best of us, the thoughtful, kind, sensitive ones, have to suffer and be taken from us.
posted by cytherea at 6:40 PM on September 13, 2008

Well, shit. I remember being introduced to DFW when I was 14, and Infinite Jest had just come out and there was press being made about how freaking big the novel was. So I picked it up more because I figured it would be a single book that could keep me reading all summer at summer camp, and I'm glad my idiot teenage mind at the time introduced me to him, because I got lot more out of it than just a summers worth of reading.


23 - Fuck.
posted by mrzarquon at 6:40 PM on September 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

A Not Very Fun Thing He'll Never Do Again.


posted by crossoverman at 6:41 PM on September 13, 2008

Sad. Here's one of my favourites, which is a bit idiosyncratic: DFW on Roger Federer as Religious Experience from the New York Times circa 2006.
posted by myopicman at 6:43 PM on September 13, 2008 [3 favorites]

He's been number one on my mental list of authors I'm ashamed I haven't read. How utterly horrible that this will be the reason I get started.
posted by billypilgrim at 6:44 PM on September 13, 2008 [6 favorites]


Goddamn. They all do this.
posted by OrangeDrink at 6:45 PM on September 13, 2008

posted by Jubal Kessler at 6:46 PM on September 13, 2008

Oh god, oh no.
posted by The Whelk at 6:47 PM on September 13, 2008

Oh no, oh no. This is awful. I'm absolutely heart broken over this. :(
posted by vito90 at 6:48 PM on September 13, 2008

posted by grrarrgh00 at 6:51 PM on September 13, 2008

I hate to say it but, I'd never heard of him until this thread

Liked the commencement speech but somehow it reminded me that those who live 24/7 in the their own truth, like Sam Kennison, Lenny Bruce, DFW, and others find out that living this way is unsustainable and come to an early and untimely end. This is the same end waiting for those of the dreary, self centered, and also unsustainable lives he writes about in the commencement speech.

May we all die in peace rather than torment.
posted by Xurando at 6:51 PM on September 13, 2008 [4 favorites]

I hate this.
posted by OrangeDrink at 6:52 PM on September 13, 2008

posted by voidcontext at 6:55 PM on September 13, 2008

This is only the non-family death at which I've immediately burst into tears upon learning.

It took a while for me to start balling my eyes out, but I actually did. And I was never even a huge fan (meaning I didn't make an effort to read everything he wrote or anything). But I always thought highly of what I had read. And the line "You are loved" that abruptly ended Westward the Course of the Empire Takes Its Way in Girl With Curious Hair, in a metaphorical way, saved my life, because it came at just the right time and somehow seemed pointed at everyone in particular in a way that seemed so compassionate and... This just sucks.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:55 PM on September 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

God. I'm so fucking sad about this. Today has been hell for me. This news is simply crushing. I don't know how to express how sad I feel about this. He's one of my favorate writers for so long. I'm so sad.
posted by dog food sugar at 7:01 PM on September 13, 2008

Wow..He's mega sharp. Brand new person for me. I plan to read everything of his. RIP. I'm watching the Charlie Rose interview now.
posted by Flex1970 at 7:01 PM on September 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

posted by pwicks at 7:02 PM on September 13, 2008

Dammit, we still needed him.

posted by availablelight at 7:02 PM on September 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm with Xurando... apparently I DO live under a rock, as I've never heard of him either. I'm always saddened by a senseless death, but I'm glad he made such a differences in what appears to be the lives of many.

I'll go download 'Infinite Jest' onto my Kindle now and give it a read.
posted by matty at 7:02 PM on September 13, 2008

I plan to read everything of his.

Put some coffee on. His work is amazingly insightful (and suprisingly accessible and laugh-out-loud funny often) but it's not easy reading.
posted by jonmc at 7:04 PM on September 13, 2008 [2 favorites]

i don't know what to do with this. i'm so sad.
posted by tits mcgee at 7:04 PM on September 13, 2008

posted by brundlefly at 7:05 PM on September 13, 2008

words fail. And suicide is an entirely personal matter.
posted by hooptycritter at 7:07 PM on September 13, 2008

I am finding this oddly affecting for me, I who have never read any of his work. It's very sad.

I just read the commencement speech and found it really mesmerizing. I'd like to pick up one of his books tomorrow--can anyone recommend where to start in his work? IJ seems like the logical place, but if anyone has any other advice, I'd be glad to hear it.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:07 PM on September 13, 2008

Infinite Jest isn't available via the Kindle store... I guess I'll have to buy a REAL book for once.
posted by matty at 7:08 PM on September 13, 2008

Today of all days. Thanks for the help through the hard times.

posted by Samuel Farrow at 7:09 PM on September 13, 2008

I'd suggest starting with something lighter than infinite jest, like the short stories collected in "Girl With Curious Hair."
posted by saulgoodman at 7:09 PM on September 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

Rest in peace, David Foster Wallace. For me you were the greatest living writer.

posted by FrauMaschine at 7:10 PM on September 13, 2008

He was my favorite author.

posted by pemulis at 7:10 PM on September 13, 2008

From Good Old Neon (in Oblivion).

The reality is that dying isn't bad, but it takes forever. And that forever is no time at all. I know that sounds like a contradiction, or maybe just wordplay. What it really is, it turns out, is a matter of perspective. The big picture, as they say, in which the fact is that this whole seemingly endless back-and-forth between us has come and gone and come again in the very same instant that Fern stirs a boiling pot for dinner, and your stepfather packs some pipe tobacco down with his thumb, and Angela Mead uses an ingenious little catalogue tool to roll cat hair off her blouse, and Melissa Betts inhales to respond to something she thinks her husband just said, and David Wallace blinks in the midst of idly scanning class photos from his 1980 Aurora West H.S. yearbook and seeing my photo and trying, through the tiny little keyhold of himself, to imagine what all must have happened to lead up to my death in the fiery single-car accident he'd read about in 1991, like what sorts of pain or problems might have driven the guy to get in his electric-blue Corvette and try to drive with all that O.T.C. medication in his bloodstream — David Wallace happening to have a huge and totally unorganizable set of inner thoughts, feelings, memories and impressions of this little photo's guy a year ahead of him in school with the seemingly almost neon aura around him all the time of scholastic and athletic excellence and popularity and success with the ladies, as well as of every last cutting remark or even tiny disgusted gesture or expression on this guy's part whenever David Wallace struck out looking in Legion ball or said something lame at a party, and of how impressive and authentically at ease in the world the guy always seemed, like an actual living person instead of the dithering, pathetically self-conscious outline or ghost of a person David Wallace knew himself back then to be. Verily a fair-haried, fast-track guy, whom in the very best human tradition David Wallace had back then imagined as happy and unreflective and wholly unhaunted by voices telling him that there was something deeply wrong with him that wasn't wrong with anybody else and that he had to spend all of his time and energy trying to figure out what to do and say in order to impersonate an even marginally normal or acceptable U.S. male, all this stuff clanging around in David Wallace '81's head every second and moving so fast that he never got a chance to catch hold and try to fight or argue against it or even really feel it except as a knot in his stomach as he stood in his real parents' kitchen ironing his uniform and thinking of all the ways he could screw up and strike out looking or drop balls out in right and reveal his true pathetic essence in front of this .418 hitter and his witchily pretty sister and everyone else in the audience in lawn chairs in the grass along the sides of the Legion field (all of whom already probably saw through the sham from the outset anyway, he was pretty sure) — in other words David Wallace trying, if only in the second his lids are down, to somehow reconcile what this luminous guy had seemed like from the outside with whatever on the interior must have driven him to kill himself in such a dramatic and doubtlessly painful way — with David Wallace also fully aware that the cliché that you can't ever truly know what's going on inside somebody else is hoary and insipid and yet at the same time trying very conciously to prohibit that awareness from mocking the attempt or sending the whole line of thought into the sort of inbent spiral that keeps you from ever getting anywhere (considerable time having passed since 1981, of course, and David Wallace having emerged from years of literally indescribable war against himself with quite a bit more firepower than he'd had at Aurora West), the realer, more enduring and sentimental part of him commanding that other part to be silent as if looking it levelly in the eye and saying, almost aloud, 'Not another word.'
posted by mattbucher at 7:11 PM on September 13, 2008 [35 favorites]

IJ seems like the logical place, but if anyone has any other advice, I'd be glad to hear it.

His essay 'A Supposedly Fun Thing I'l Never Do Again' in the anthology of the same title is brilliantly hilarious and the essay "E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction" is one of those moments where he crystallized brilliantly something that was in my own head, especially the last few paragraphs.
posted by jonmc at 7:12 PM on September 13, 2008 [2 favorites]

There are times when I really wish there was an afterlife of some sort—not the traditional notion of Heaven, more just a sort of infinite social gathering where all the folks you knew, or wish you knew, gather and reflect on the past, present, and future. Now is one of those times. I want, deep down, to know I will one day meet those people I never met, but will get to share with them the impact they had on my life. Sadly, it will never be, and David Foster Wallace and I will never get to share anything that wasn't already communicated on a page. Even more tragic is that he never will put anything else on a page for us.

There was something posted about two years ago, an excerpt from a longer work in progress (and titled something like "An Excerpt From a Longer Work in Progress"), presumably part of his follow-up to Infinite Jest. I can't find the link, unfortunately. Is it finished? Is it even close to finished? I may never know.

I think what's choking me up about this more than the death of any other beloved writer is both the suddenness, and that it was self-inflicted. The only two people I had a similar feeling about were Douglas Adams—though he died young, his was a tragic accident, and Kurt Vonnegut who had a long life behind him. It doesn't help that I inferred a bit of myself into DFW's work. I'm beginning to become afraid of what might happen to me down the road, if I'll be able to "...stay conscious and alive in the adult world day in and day out." It's frightening.

At least I'm not alone on this. It's been amazing reading this thread, as well as some comments from other internet people who have been touched by his work. The great majority of us have been rendered speechless. Even after writing this multi-paragraph MetaFilter comment, it still feels woefully inadequate. Maybe I should sleep on it. Right now, I just want to read "Forever Overhead,"—my favorite DFW story—or "Good Old Neon," or "The Soul is Not a Smithy," or any page of Infinite Jest. I want to finally get around to reading Consider the Lobster, but all my books are in a box in a storage shed, and I can't get to them.

This is going to be a long, dark night.
posted by SansPoint at 7:13 PM on September 13, 2008 [8 favorites]

Thank you for helping me articulate why I wasn't wasting my life.

posted by Medieval Maven at 7:16 PM on September 13, 2008 [3 favorites]

posted by /\/\/\/ at 7:17 PM on September 13, 2008

No no no... :-(
posted by londontube at 7:17 PM on September 13, 2008

Oh man.
posted by Staggering Jack at 7:17 PM on September 13, 2008

I remember starting Infinite Jest when I locked myself out of my apartment in the middle of a blizzard and couldn't think of any place to go but the bookstore.

God, what is it with writers and suicide? Nothing, I guess, I guess just confirmation bias and their visibility as compared to all the people who kill themselves with no one to notice but their own circles, but it's enough to drive one to despair. As if the human condition is something out of H.P. Lovecraft and you can't look too deeply into it before you start to go mad.
posted by Jeanne at 7:19 PM on September 13, 2008 [3 favorites]

Fuck. Y'know, just: fuck.
posted by holgate at 7:20 PM on September 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

I read this on the blue and jumped in my chair. I'm one of the many that picked up Infinite Jest with the best of intentions, and god, I was loving it, and then spring break ended and shit came up and I just never made it through. Despite not having finished it, I respect him deeply as an author for having put together the several hundred pages I did read. The man wrote sentences every other page that I would want to underline with a big "YES!!" in the margin and eventually I got clued in that if I was going to keep doing that I was never going to finish.

He was a guy I could have had a beer with, goddamnit. He had so much left to say. This is a really crushing loss.
posted by crinklebat at 7:20 PM on September 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

posted by Max McCarty at 7:22 PM on September 13, 2008

This is only the non-family death at which I've immediately burst into tears upon learning.

Me too.

Besides his Kenyon commencement and "Good Old Neon," I can't help but think of his essay "How Tracy Austin Broke My Heart." The obsessions that were the engine of his genius were also his ruin. Can I even, looking back now, selfishly be grateful for the very thing that killed him?
posted by Optimus Chyme at 7:22 PM on September 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh my god. Damn it!
posted by Auden at 7:22 PM on September 13, 2008

I've loved DFW's writing for long enough now that it's become part of who I am. IJ changed by life for the better when it was going terribly wrong and everything he's written since has been a bright point.

I'm so crushed by this that I don't even know what to do with it. I want more beautiful work. I want a followup to Infinite Jest. I want more sharply written essays about things I know nothing about.

I want to believe that someone so talented and gifted would choose not to end it all. That they might find some way of living that made their pain less painful while allowing them to do the work that they want to do and which the rest of us so desperately need.

posted by bshort at 7:24 PM on September 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

He was a guy I could have had a beer with, goddamnit.

Except that he was in AA and didn't drink.
posted by mattbucher at 7:24 PM on September 13, 2008

Wow. I just dropped my computer and called a friend. I also encourage people to start with Girl with Curious Hair (over IJ)... just one of my favorite titles, let alone books.
posted by armacy at 7:24 PM on September 13, 2008

Sad. Just sad.

posted by Crabby Appleton at 7:25 PM on September 13, 2008

It sort of pisses me off that someone with such a gift . . .

I guess that's inappropriate, but it's all I got. I thought I "knew" him through his writing and did not expect this, contrary to the "saw it coming" comments above. His essay about 9/11, for example, had him appreciating his church-going elderly neighbors in a way that did not strike me as tortured-writer-guy.

Oh well.
posted by Mid at 7:25 PM on September 13, 2008 [2 favorites]

posted by tristeza at 7:26 PM on September 13, 2008

I think about my heroes. Sometimes. My writer heroes. The people that I aspire to be like, only myself, but like them too. And they kill themselves a lot. Or poison themselves without definitely trying to kill themselves but the killing themselves probably has something to do with it too. I've never read infinite jest. I'm intimidated by its length. Its heft. I think in the back of my mind I'm concerned that title will be too apt. I flip through it though and I read from it and I am amazed by it. I remember this one foot note. It's terrific stuff. And again I'm sad. But not so good as to worry about all that much.
posted by I Foody at 7:26 PM on September 13, 2008

"A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again"

First chapter.
posted by inigo2 at 7:31 PM on September 13, 2008

Goddamn it.

posted by BitterOldPunk at 7:34 PM on September 13, 2008

I'm one of the millions who isn't tough enough to pick up the copy of Infinite Jest I've had sitting on my shelf for five years. But still, reading DFW's short stories, and reportage, always made me feel like I do when I listen to Elliot Smith - like somebody gets it and somehow is able to both write clearly and say what needs to be said. The Elliot comparison meets up in another way: both he and DFW had a way of expressing deep sadness without so much as a hint of anger. Always touching, always penetrating, but never angry. Neither seemed to want to waste their time on that. And tonight I feel like I did when Elliot died - like I'm about to finally get something about DFW's writing that I never did before because I took it for granted that it'd always be there.
posted by dskinner at 7:36 PM on September 13, 2008 [5 favorites]

Oh fuck. dammit. Dammit.
posted by 31d1 at 7:36 PM on September 13, 2008

Very, very sad.

posted by dbiedny at 7:37 PM on September 13, 2008

“Hi have you heard the news.”
“No, what?”
“David Foster Wallace is dead.”
Silence for about ten or fifteen seconds.
“How did it happen.”
“He hung himself. It was in the LA Times, and on Metafilter. That's how I heard about it.”
Silence for about ten or fifteen seconds.
“I know.”
Silence for about ten or fifteen seconds.
My phone beeps.
Then again.
“My battery's about to die I'm going to hang up now.”

I take the phone away from my ear and look at the display and think I should thank him for calling to tell me and for a second he hasn't hung up and I'm a little surprised and somewhat relieved that he hasn't done so yet and I'm about to bring the phone back to my ear but while I'm doing that while the display is still in my visual field I see that he's hung up.

You can't experience that which you create. David Foster Wallace was the only English reader alive who could not experience David Foster Wallace.

My door was just installed with a new lock and I've just locked it for the first time.

David Foster Wallace changed my life. David Foster Wallace was probably the most important person to me in my life. This includes the woman who I will probably marry and who I consider the love of my life and my soulmate and who I have known for almost ten years now and who I am closer than than anyone and with whom I share a greater understanding than I think probably most people experience with anyone in their lifetimes. This includes the man who called me who is the other half of that phone conversation at the start who is probably my best friend; this includes the man I was obsessed with for years. This includes everyone in my family.

I dropped out of university halfway through my third year and got a job teaching in China. My parents came to visit me after I'd been there for eight months. When they asked me if I wanted them to bring anything from Canada I said only one thing: Infinite Jest. I told them they could find a copy in any bookstore. They looked around and couldn't find one. The day before they left I sent them an email telling them to make sure to bring that book, it was the only important thing. If they couldn't find a copy in a store I told them to go to the house of a friend of mine and get his copy, he would be willing to lend it to me in China. They did that. They brought it and I read it and I had been languishing unemployed in a small apartment in Kunming shared with a Slovenian girl who didn't like me and whom I didn't like. I had enough money so that I didn't have to do anything at all ever. I lay in bed and did nothing until Infinite Jest arrived, at which point I read it all day every day until I forgot it on the ledge of a railing of the back deck of a hostel from which three travelling Brits whisked me for a mountain-hiking donkey-riding trip. I had been about 700 pages in. When I returned a week later the owner of the hostel, a friendly middle-aged woman, told me she'd thought it was the property of the hostel and had lent it to a girl who had been on her way to Thailand. I ran around the hostel asking everyone if they knew that girl. Someone did. She gave me her email address. I emailed her and gave her my address at the hostel. Months passed. I moved out of the hostel into a new place. New Year's arrived and I went to a party at that hostel. I arrived early and had dinner by myself at a table. The middle-aged woman owner approached me after I had been served. She had a big sky-blue book in her hand. I couldn't believe it. She said “Merry Christmas.” It had come in the mail from the girl who had left for Thailand. It was the best Christmas present I'd ever got, by far by far by far. I finished the last 400 pages in two days.

David Foster Wallace changed my life.

He said Fuck You to the idea that using obscure words is a bad way to make fiction art.

He also said Fuck You to obscurity, to every artist that tries to pass off mystical obscurity as profundity. Every time I looked up a word I didn't know that David Foster Wallace used, which in Infinite Jest was on average twice per page, the sentence became crystal clear. The sentences weren't obscure because they had no meaning; they were obscure because I didn't know their meaning. But there was a method for me to discover their meaning: the dictionary. This is like that Chomsky quote about why he doesn't like postmodernism.

David Foster Wallace said Fuck You to people who don't understand postmodernism, to the idea that just because something is tricky and intractibly complex and ultimately resistant to clear classification it's necessarily useless to think or talk about. He also said Fuck You to postmodernism, as he defined and understood it as a discrete and coherent movement of art in fiction from the 1960s to the 1980s. Everyone knows this. Everyone knows he was post-postmodern. Everyone wrote about it, called him the harbinger of the post-scientific age.

Holy shit. I just went to MeFi and just remembered what was going through my mind 25 minutes ago.

I always meant to write him. I'm going to write that now.

But first, I always intended to meet him. I intended to meet him after I became a famous writer. I told a friend less than a week ago: “I really believe I'll meet him. I think we'll get along. I think I understand now all the ways that I'm different from him enough so that I won't be discouraged by the fact that he is smarter than I'll ever be. I think we'll get along really well.”

I can't tell you how many times I've thought of writing him.

The first thing that came to my mind when I heard he was dead was that I should have written him. Maybe if I'd written him he wouldn't have died. I was going to write:

I know you probably have a lot of confidence now as a successful writer, and I know you don't know me and so what I say may not mean much to you, but I also can imagine the position you're in having published Infinite Jest, and feeling the pressure of having to follow that up. I just want to tell you, that in case you feel at all concerned about the critics that say you aren't emotional enough, that I really hope you don't listen to them.

I can't remember everything I wanted to say.

I just read “this generation's Hunter S. Thompson.” I don't give a shit about pissing matches but I think that will seen to be laughable. The only writer I have ever read that I consider David Foster Wallace's equal is Tolstoy. I think the only reason Wallace hasn't been deified to the stature of a Tolstoy is because of Tall Poppy Syndrome of contemporaries, and because it's simply so difficult.

I just read “with Hal on the floor.”

Fuck everyone that says not surprising.

I have been depressed all day. I have been depressed all day because of bullshit. I was was writing this ten minutes before I got that phone call:

“'Men and women are treated differently.'
“'By who?'
“'If I'm going to have to explain that whole thing, and the whole history of that oppression, that's not a conversation I'm interested in having, I don't want to do that.'
“And suddenly I felt like I was wrong and I was lazy and an asshole and everyone knew it and always thought I was an asshole. I became afraid to say anything at all because I thought anything I said would sound annoying and self-indulgent or else totally transparently fake and gratingly annoying, just empty barking of sound to try to call attention to myself to try to not seem like a silent loser, or else self-indulgent and disgustingly icky and sticky fly-trap emotional garbage that no one wanted to hear because they didn't care because they weren't my real friends and I hadn't had a real friend since I was a child or maybe even never, maybe my sister had been a real friend but she was gone or maybe she hadn't even been very close to me, but now that she was gone I idealized that relationship to make myself feel like such a thing was possible to compensate for the chronically unsatisfying and half-assed and barely-there friendships I've made and been too lazy or self-involved to work on the whole rest of my life since.
“The last thing I remember is lying face down on my bed with my head to one side and seeing a black thing on my forearm that I thought might be a bug but when I followed it with my eyes moving down and up my arm and didn't feel anything I noticed it was the shadow of a piece of dust that was caught in my fan which was rotating on its axis back and forth between me and the light on the other side of the room.”

Then I put clothes on and got an umbrella because it's raining right now here in Toronto and I was going to go buy a bean salad at the corner store and I was responding to a text message my roommate had sent me that just said “Unlearn” because that's a funny word or at least is to us in the context of our friendship because I had told him I was depressed, and I was writing him a funny text message back and I was starting to feel okay and I was standing in front of my house in the rain with the umbrella over my head and one hand typing that text message when I got that phone call, and after that phone call I didn't know what to do because I felt so strongly. I didn't know where to walk, I walked into the street, I thought about killing myself, I stood still on the sidewalk behind the apartment complex for a long time in the rain with my uncool clothes on I had put on just to walk to the corner. I cried. Then I stopped and came inside.

Oh my God David Foster Wallace I love you. The world is a very different place without you. My whole life is different now. Life is a very different thing now. My problems are different. The rest of my life as I currently understand it is different.

Sorry if this is bullshit. If mods want to delete it that's fine. David Foster Wallace, I love you. Oh my God.
posted by skwt at 7:37 PM on September 13, 2008 [85 favorites]


posted by ericb at 7:39 PM on September 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


I suppose this isn't quite the most personally affecting death I've read about on MeFi (Joey Ramone "wins", also probably Douglas Adams) and David Foster Wallace did write one of the most incisive descriptions of depression I've read in Infinite Jest – I have another book, The Noonday Demon, that's entirely about the thing, but it's the passage about Kate Gompert and the remoras and the maws and the sharks that sticks – so, to the point now, I guess I can't be totally surprised, but great, the U.S. intellectual-to-idiot ratio just dropped by a chunk I'm afraid to estimate and I have to concentrate on shit tonight. Ugh. Fucking world. Lurking now. Hopefully somebody good gets his Spiderman cap if it's not in tatters by now.
posted by furiousthought at 7:44 PM on September 13, 2008

fuck all

posted by gyusan at 7:45 PM on September 13, 2008

Was he actually an alcoholic? I thought he was just a good sponge of the experience of going to meetings.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 7:45 PM on September 13, 2008

Was he actually an alcoholic? I thought he was just a good sponge of the experience of going to meetings.

I seem to remember an interview where he talked about having serious substance abuse problems.
posted by jonmc at 7:46 PM on September 13, 2008

A conversation with David Foster Wallace, Jonathan Franzen, and Mark Leyner, Charlie Rose, 05/17/1996/. A conversation about the future of fiction in the information age with David Foster Wallace, author of "Jest", Jonathan Franzen, author of "Strong", and Mark Leyner, author of "Tooth Imprints on a Corn Dog".

An interview with David Foster Wallace, Charlie Rose, 03/27/1997. Author David Foster Wallace talks about his collection of essays, "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again".
posted by Dave Faris at 7:48 PM on September 13, 2008 [10 favorites]

Incredible author.. his book on infinity was too much for me, but I toughed through as far as I could bear. Brief Interviews is probably his best book, but Inifnite Jest is the one most worth reading. I can't believe this.
posted by ChickenringNYC at 7:50 PM on September 13, 2008

posted by futility closet at 7:52 PM on September 13, 2008

I think his essay "The view from Mrs. Thompson's" is one of the best essays I've ever read, and easily the best essay I've ever read about 9/11. The fact that he came out with it so soon after 9/11 - and managed to utterly avoid all the pitfalls that every other essay that came out in that time period fell into - is completely awe inspiring.

If you haven't read it, its about America and its social fabric and how that got disrupted on 9/11 a lot more than it is about terrorism - but by the end, you realize that the disruption of the social fabric IS terrorism. When Mrs. Thompson, who is always a gracious polite host, doesn't make sure he has coffee as she would normally, he realizes how deep it has hit into America; even though Mrs. Thompson had never been to New York and probably didn't even know anyone there, she was so shocked and disturbed that she was acting like a completely different person. Suddenly, all the cynical people in the room were the only ones who felt like they knew what was going on. The essay manages to be about the things that Americans think of as our core values and how those things got affected by the fear and the uncertainty and the dread, without going so overboard that its portrait of small town life feels jingoistic or that its portrait of 'common' Americans feels reductive. In all of literature, I can't think of a better mixture of a clear headed look at the big picture and a first person account of an emotional crisis at the same time, and thats really saying something.

If you're looking for an introduction to his work, thats my suggestion. Its in "Consider the Lobster", which has several other excellent essays as well.
posted by Kiablokirk at 7:58 PM on September 13, 2008 [3 favorites]

posted by ardgedee at 7:59 PM on September 13, 2008

FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK. I just read this in the news and came here, utterly in shock.

posted by melixxa600 at 7:59 PM on September 13, 2008

posted by teferi at 8:00 PM on September 13, 2008

. and damn it to hell, this wan't supposed to happen.
posted by pjern at 8:00 PM on September 13, 2008

What the fuck David?! We were supposed to grow old together...dammit.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:00 PM on September 13, 2008

posted by sad_otter at 8:01 PM on September 13, 2008

It sort of pisses me off that someone with such a gift . . .

I'm with you, Mid. I know depression is as painful as a physical ailment sometimes, but shit. Seems like such a pussy way to go out, if you're not already dying. Same for Thompson, and Cobain, et al.

Well, at least he got to write the Great American Novel. Nobody I know ever will.
posted by fungible at 8:03 PM on September 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

He just happened to be doing a reading at my local B&N the very same day I finished Infinite Jest (which was highly unlikely, given the amount of days it took me to read that masterpiece). I had been reading a borrowed copy, but I bought a brand-new one for him to sign, and explained my purchase to him. He signed it, "in admiration of your fortitude." When I opened the book tonight, I realized for the first time that he had crossed his name out on the title page, next to his inscription.
posted by ericbop at 8:04 PM on September 13, 2008 [7 favorites]

jonmc: When he saw it, he chuckled, looked vaguely perturbed and said "I wish I liked Metallica," and wrote 'David Foster Wallace..on zither'.

The other day I was passing through a bookstore and saw the bright orange spine of Infinite Jest. I read two-thirds of that book and hated it and quit. But looking at it I thought: "Well, so many people I know and respect love this book, one day I'll have to give it a second chance." I wish I had liked Infinite Jest on the first read, an aesthetic fault of mine, I am sure. I also wish that the only essay of his I had read wasn't "Tense Present," his long rant about how people don't talk or write properly anymore. People, those self-same people I mentioned before who love the writing of David Foster Wallace tell me that it's very non-representative of his other essays, and now I wish I had read some of them before. Not to say that all of my experiences with David Foster Wallace have been bad. He's often appeared in The Onion and each time it's been one of my favorite articles: Onion Magazine coverboy, Girlfriend Stops Reading David Foster Wallace Breakup Letter At Page 20 and Novelists Strike Fails To Affect Nation Whatsoever.
posted by Kattullus at 8:07 PM on September 13, 2008 [2 favorites]

He had a reading scheduled for next February in Indianapolis.
posted by mattbucher at 8:08 PM on September 13, 2008

posted by aerotive at 8:10 PM on September 13, 2008


I'm terribly sorry, Mrs. Wallace.

My favorite DFW piece which I've never been able to find reproduced was one he did for Esquire in the early nineties. He trailed and interviewed and played with the 100th ranked tennis player in the world. Apparently DFW was quite a good tennis player when he was younger, and the disparity between his skill level (he thought he was darn good) and #100 was huge, but the difference between #100 and Pete Sampras was just as large. And the point of the article was that Pete didn't play his way into every tournament on Monday and Tuesday like Mr. 100 did. So by the time Pete played his first round on Wednesday or Thursday Mr. 100 had already played two or three. Fascinating article.

Your husband meant great things to many people, me included. Again, I'm sorry.
posted by MarvinTheCat at 8:12 PM on September 13, 2008

Well, crap.

posted by YoBananaBoy at 8:13 PM on September 13, 2008

He trailed and interviewed and played with the 100th ranked tennis player in the world.
I think you're referring to Michael Joyce. That's reproduced in the book A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again as "Tennis Player Michael Joyce's Professional Artistry as a Paradigm for Certain Stuff about Choice, Freedom, Discipline, Joy, Grotesquerie, and Human Completeness."
posted by mattbucher at 8:15 PM on September 13, 2008

El Perro Negro has eaten another life.

When I started to write this, no one had yet mentioned why Wallace took his life in such an unpleasant way: depression, the Black Dog. Persuaded--ultimately--by the evil spirit that death was preferable to a life without apparent meaning or value, Wallace gave in to the seductive, diseased voice of despair. I'm sure he had no idea that strangers would weep at his passing. Would that knowledge have compelled him to stay his hand?

Only those who walk the ebon canine daily know how often he invites one to "make his quietus with a bare bodkin." Or that the only thing that one can do is refuse the invitation. It is tragic that Wallace, who must have been tormented by the Dog since childhood (as so many are), could not refuse just once more. It is always a matter of one day at a time.

I hope none here in the Blue is tempted to emulate this violation of "the canon 'gainst self-slaughter." Please think of poor Mrs. Wallace--and your own loved ones--whenever the voice of the Black Dog counsels despair.
posted by rdone at 8:16 PM on September 13, 2008 [21 favorites]

posted by space2k at 8:17 PM on September 13, 2008

posted by themadjuggler at 8:18 PM on September 13, 2008

posted by vibrotronica at 8:19 PM on September 13, 2008

If there was a different end waiting for his story, would he have written everything leading up to it so well? Tough to say. I do believe writers can have interesting things to say without having broken ways of dealing with reality, but often they don't have the drive to get them out. Good luck to whoever comes next...
posted by hellinskira at 8:20 PM on September 13, 2008

5. I was introduced to his work in graduate school when we read "My Appearance" for a class. Afterwards, I immediately ran out and bought The Girl with Curious Hair. I have to buy another copy as I end up loaning them out and not getting them back. I don't mind the missing loaners as it means, hopefully, that new people ware discovering and enjoying his work. So many different ideas from his work have influenced and inspired me through the years that I almost feel like I've been kicked in the chest. Sadly, now I'm glad I didn't make it through all of his work as now I still have some essays and stories to look forward to reading.
posted by miss-lapin at 8:20 PM on September 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

You Cant Always Get What You Want just started on Pandora right when I opened the obit.

posted by captainsohler at 8:21 PM on September 13, 2008

God damn you DFW. Somehow you were my author and you were me.
posted by fleacircus at 8:25 PM on September 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

he was the best writer we had. what a terrible loss. I was long a fan of his non-fiction work, and like many of you, I had a copy of infinite jest mocking my from my failure shelf for quite awhile. one day I got a message from a friend who managed events at a bookstore letting me know that he was coming to town and I could meet him. there was no way I was meeting the man without reading that book, so I made a schedule with deadlines and set in... anyway, I didn't end up needing the deadlines - once you get started it's a terrific read - a great novel in every sense. DFW didn't look like other writers - they guy was built like a bodybuilder - he was terribly sweaty and awfully polite.

I wouldn't recommend starting with IJ (or any of his fiction, although it's all wonderful...) Your best bet is to pick up "consider the lobster" or "a supposedly fun thing" as soon as you can. Much of his work is available online, but given the necessity of flipping between text and footnote, it's easier and more pleasurable to read a printed version.

I'm just so angry and sad.
posted by moxiedoll at 8:27 PM on September 13, 2008

You Cant Always Get What You Want just started on Pandora right when I opened the obit.


You may be trapped in a Robert Zemeckis film.

/apologies to Patton
posted by Senor Cardgage at 8:27 PM on September 13, 2008

Apparently James Woods is very harsh on Wallace in his recent book about good fiction:

"[Certain novelists eg Henry James are good.] Conversely, the folks who spoil the experiment are David Foster Wallace types who let themselves be distracted and overwhelmed by the roar of the streets, the voices of the crowd. Wallace, to whom Wood grants the dubious honor of being one of his book’s few aesthetic villains, is accused of “obliterating” his characters’ voices in an unpleasing, “hideously ugly” attempt to channel cultural chaos rather than filter, manipulate or muffle it. For the vicarish Wood, sequestered in his chamber, part of the fiction writer’s true vocation appears to be acoustic regulation — the engineering of a mental space in which literary whispers can be heard." - NYT, Aug 17, 2008, Walter Kirn
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:33 PM on September 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

I just read “this generation's Hunter S. Thompson.” I don't give a shit about pissing matches but I think that will seen to be laughable.

Quite possibly. I only mentioned that because of the tragedy of losing them both to suicide within a few years.
posted by gsteff at 8:33 PM on September 13, 2008

David Foster Wallace's writing also changed my life. And I don't like any of the ways that never being able to read another word that he will write are going to change my life in the days and decades to come. I already know I don't like those changes.

David: fuck, man. Dammit. I have a thousand things I want to say and I don't know what to say. I want to cry, I want to call my friends but I don't have any friends who care about what he wrote the way I did. I felt this way, exactly this way, when I heard about Kurt Vonnegut. Fuck, I just gave somebody (a 19 year old college freshman I work with) the Kenyon address to read last week.

He absolutely changed my life. I'm sorry I am taking up so much space but I feel like I must say something and keep saying things or I will rupture. Or stumble. I read all of his books and essays dozens of times, I tracked down obscure stuff. I once randomly found, on a rack in a gas station in rural Florida on a road trip, a copy of Brief Interviews with Hideous Men on tape, read by the author. I played it until it popped, but all I can think of right now is his voice reading Forever Overhead, soft and generous and confidential and protective and oddly adenoidal and distinctively Midwestern, saying "but they should clean the board, anybody who thought about it for even a second would see that they should clean the board ..."

There's been time this whole time. You can't kill time with your heart. Everything takes time. Bees have to move very fast to stay still.


The square tank is a cold blue sheet. Cold is just a kind of hard. A kind of blind. You have been taken off guard. Happy Birthday. Did you think it over. Yes and no. Hey kid.

Two black spots, violence, and disappear into a well of time. Height is not the problem. It all changes when you get back down. When you hit, with your weight.

So which is the lie? Hard or soft? Silence or time?

The lie is that it’s one or the other. a still, floating bee is moving faster than it can think. From overheard the sweetness drives it crazy.

The board will nod and you will go, and eyes of skin can cross blind into a cloud-blotched sky, punctured light emptying behind sharp stone that is forever. That is forever. Step into the skin and disappear.

posted by penduluum at 8:34 PM on September 13, 2008 [5 favorites]

Here's a very short piece of fiction, for those who want to get a sense of his writing.
posted by moxiedoll at 8:35 PM on September 13, 2008

FUCK. fuck. PISS. Shit. FUCK. This is really awful news.
posted by tula at 8:38 PM on September 13, 2008

posted by Quietgal at 8:38 PM on September 13, 2008

I feel as if I can't believe this.
posted by washburn at 8:38 PM on September 13, 2008

"The truth will set you free. But not until it is finished with you." ~DFW
posted by dawson at 8:40 PM on September 13, 2008 [16 favorites]


*sitting here saddened*
posted by axltea at 8:43 PM on September 13, 2008

Wow. Shocked. I could never get through Infinite Jest, but I think I've read all of his essays, short stories, short pieces. His work is so original and hilarious and challenging and interesting. I really think he changed the way people write and think about writing.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 8:53 PM on September 13, 2008

I interviewed Wallace back in 1997, and we spent the better part of the day together after the interview. He was a hell of a guy, smart, of course, and talked more or less as he wrote, in long, convoluted sentences that tumbled over each other in perfectly logical sequence to an eventual, thoroughly satisfying conclusion.

We stayed in touch for a couple of years, and he was kind enough to critique some of my writing and to share some of his. It was with his guidance that I realized I wanted to be a writer but—I wanted only to write, not necessarily to be published. That there were some things so intensely personal, so real and so intimate, that writing them was enough and the world was not worthy of them.

The same could be said in many respects of David. He was enough, and the world was not worthy of him.
posted by bradlands at 8:58 PM on September 13, 2008 [5 favorites]

Just double posted this story.

What an incredible shock this is. God, he was such a great writer, so enjoyed.
posted by nickyskye at 9:01 PM on September 13, 2008

posted by brevator at 9:01 PM on September 13, 2008

"And when he came back to, he was flat on his back on the beach in the freezing sand, and it was raining out of a low sky, and the tide was way out."

posted by kyrademon at 9:02 PM on September 13, 2008

posted by bitterpants at 9:02 PM on September 13, 2008

Now having read the Kenyon address, I'm actually kind of confused. How could a guy who wrote that address, which so perfectly captures the ideas of the Bigger Picture and seeing outside yourself and thinking differently about the people and situations around you, have committed suicide? Someone earlier said that suicide is a personal act, well... it's also kind of a selfish one, if you're not thinking about the consequences of your actions.

Perhaps he forgot to remind himself about the water.
posted by fungible at 9:04 PM on September 13, 2008 [7 favorites]

...Oh man. Though I found him arrogant and pompous, I feel so sorry for his wife and family.
posted by applemeat at 9:04 PM on September 13, 2008

I was reading him yesterday. I'm very sad.
posted by bigschmoove at 9:04 PM on September 13, 2008

It may seem like a small thing... but the Lynch article in Premiere (which came out, and I read, when I was 16) was an important moment for me - an important moment in solidifying something in my way of thinking, about how I might go about what I might go about. I regret not having read more of his work, despite the urging of my friends, and despite the importance of the one thing I had read, but I'll make sure I don't regret it for long.
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 9:07 PM on September 13, 2008

David Foster Wallace, 46, Writer, Dies.
posted by swift at 9:07 PM on September 13, 2008

I can't begin to describe how completely saddened I am to read this news. He was one of my favorite living writers. I loved and got so much out of his writing, especially all of his brilliant essays -- his 2000 piece on John McCain, which was recently published as a book with the great title McCain's Promise: Aboard the Straight Talk Express with John McCain and a Whole Bunch of Actual Reporters, Thinking About Hope, was one of the great pieces of political writing of the last ten or twenty years. I'm struck dumb with despair. I hope he's able to meet Montaigne and Samuel Johnson and Jonathan Swift out there in the ether.
posted by blucevalo at 9:08 PM on September 13, 2008


I didn't see this coming in the year of the Oreo.
posted by Smedleyman at 9:09 PM on September 13, 2008 [7 favorites]

many years have passed and still i wonder why the worst of men must fight and the best of men must die.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:09 PM on September 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

I actually happened to pick up a copy of his book "Consider the Lobster" in the bargain bin of a megabookstore just this afternoon, and was a bit puzzled to see it there, along with the Koontz and the other stuff churned out by lesser authors. What was it doing there? This stack of his books must have been put there by mistake... but they were listed with the deep discount prices that the other books also had. Some incredibly huge mistake, I thought. Nevertheless, I didn't buy a copy because I have too many other books I've only half read -- Infinite Jest among them. Now I'm sorry I didn't.
posted by Dave Faris at 9:12 PM on September 13, 2008

The longer I think about this, the worse I feel. As with many other people here, IJ changed my life, deep down in ways I would never even try to explain to anyone else. I read it shortly after it came out. In fact as soon as I finished it I re-read it. Even though I could barely pick the damned thing up because of its weight, in then end it wasn't long enough. I've been hoping he was slowly writing another full-length work all these years, and it would suddenly appear one day.

Fuck. This feels awful.

posted by mpemulis at 9:14 PM on September 13, 2008

posted by painquale at 9:16 PM on September 13, 2008

posted by ryanhealy at 9:17 PM on September 13, 2008

posted by smich at 9:18 PM on September 13, 2008

posted by krautland at 9:19 PM on September 13, 2008

Jesus fuck doesn't begin to cover it. I need to coin a fucking phrase or find one in an outdated dictionary or something. Maybe he'd've liked that, if liking things was something he could, you know, do. At this stage.

There are about a dozen sort of signal events in your lifetime. There's puberty and the first time, certain kinds of drug experience, marriage, your first kid and so forth. Reading Inifinite Jest is and forever will be on that list for me, and it's making me kind of ache that the mind that could produce something that beautiful could have churned out such pain. (I can't say it completely surprises me, somehow the two things connect more often than you'd like to think they do. Still.)

Anyway. I read most of it on a train traveling from Toronto to Vancouver. It's a three-day ride. I had a summer job for Via Rail, and I'd finagled free passage in First Class as part of the job. I've always said if nothing else that summer job for Via gave me the time and wherewithal to read Infinite Jest. I don't even know what "favourite book" means, how you'd rank such profound experiences on a scale, but it was the most important book to my own life then, and probably still is. I've written two of my own, and both of them feature long quotes from Wallace toward the end (from "E Unibus Pluram" and the Kenyon commencement speech, for what it's worth). Because he could say so many things so much better than you possibly could, and as a writer you couldn't even be envious of him, he was just on a whole other plane of existence, of skill.

So yeah, jesus fuck.

And skwt, if it helps, the work is not the guy. Take solace in the work, do not look for meaning or nobility in how the guy decided to stop doing it.

And whether it's relevant or not, my two all-time favourite most influential writers I wish I'd been able to write just exactly like are Wallace and the good Dr. Thompson. They were, to my mind, exploring the same idiom from sort of opposite ends of a kaleidoscope or something.
posted by gompa at 9:21 PM on September 13, 2008 [2 favorites]

I'm so sad. I loved the way he wrote, how he struggled to always write in good faith. His unbearable honesty. He will be missed.
posted by jlbartosa at 9:22 PM on September 13, 2008

I just mispelled Infinite. What would The Moms think? My excuse, anyway, is that my vision is severely blurred . . .
posted by gompa at 9:23 PM on September 13, 2008

posted by spacewrench at 9:27 PM on September 13, 2008

posted by juv3nal at 9:32 PM on September 13, 2008

If he can do. I can do it.
posted by parmanparman at 9:32 PM on September 13, 2008

Whoops! If he can do *it*. I can do it.
posted by parmanparman at 9:33 PM on September 13, 2008

I don’t think I’ve ever read a MetaFilter thread that used the exclamation FUCK quite so much.

Possibly bathetic personal anecdote: We’re trying to finish the PDF accessibility spec. We don’t have a solution yet for footnotes and endnotes. I keep telling them, “This only works if it can handle David Foster Wallace.”

That was my little contribution. And, also without irony, I appreciate what he did for the lobsters.
posted by joeclark at 9:34 PM on September 13, 2008 [2 favorites]

I take the phone away from my ear and look at the display and think I should thank him for calling to tell me and for a second he hasn't hung up and I'm a little surprised and somewhat relieved that he hasn't done so yet and I'm about to bring the phone back to my ear but while I'm doing that while the display is still in my visual field I see that he's hung up.

Note to everyone: Call me, but don't call me to tell me death. Anymore. Ever again. Thank you.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
posted by humannaire at 9:35 PM on September 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

This is terrible. It's terrible that anyone feels so much pain that they choose to hang themselves. I started to read the start of the post and thought, "Who wrote this? It so describes how I feel right now at 42." Then the revelation that he had killed himself. I saw a copy of "Broom of the System" at the thrift store last week and left it on the shelf, thinking that someone else would get to it before I could. I have friends at work who are going to be seriously hurt by this loss.
posted by mecran01 at 9:37 PM on September 13, 2008

Though I haven't, and before I die most likely won't have, finished Infinite Jest1, I've loved all of the shorter work by Wallace that I've come across. He was certainly one of America's greatest modern writers.


1. Sorry, I just found it tedious.
posted by eyeballkid at 9:37 PM on September 13, 2008

I'm sorry knowing that he's not here any longer, that we're not going to get anything else off his hand. A brilliant man.

I'm glad he's no longer in the kind of pain and confusion that would lead him to suicide.

posted by dancestoblue at 9:38 PM on September 13, 2008

posted by Tesseractive at 9:44 PM on September 13, 2008

When Douglas Adams died it felt like a long stretch of my childhood had been torn away; Adams taught me how to laugh at books, how to write long sentences, how to say nasty things about other planets, how to take things less seriously. And several friendships were forged over copies of his books and radio shows. Late in his life he spoke at MIT and I realized that everyone in the room, screaming and crying and laughing, felt the same way. Like he had fathered us in some way.

When he died I cried among friends for a past we shared and could go find again, together. Or look for in any case, and so deepen our friendship if nothing else.

Tonight it feels like I've lost some slice of life I haven't had a chance to live yet. He was to have irritated me for decades more, to have been the object of my envy and admiration and love. I was to have been jealous of him, or no one. Because who else, for Christ's sake?

God damn it. Damn fool. To get out of this without answering all my questions.

He was a great one. May he find his way to the other shore.
posted by waxbanks at 9:52 PM on September 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm incredibly, incredibly sad over this news.

posted by dontoine at 9:52 PM on September 13, 2008


posted by Vidiot at 9:53 PM on September 13, 2008

posted by Solon and Thanks at 9:56 PM on September 13, 2008

I hope we learn, at some point in the future, why he demapped himself. I hope they publish everything he left half-written...
posted by pemulis at 9:57 PM on September 13, 2008

it sucks he ran out of reasons to remain "conscious."
posted by squasha at 9:57 PM on September 13, 2008


For our honeymoon, my husband and I took a cross-country roadtrip. I drove; my husband sat in the passenger seat and read Infinite Jest out loud, in its entirety. We drove from New York to California and looped back around to Nevada before finishing around Elko. I can't think of the story without also thinking of America's entire landscape, which seems fitting.

He was probably the only author to print an entire short story on a magazine's spine, in this case McSweeney's:

Another Example of the Porousness of Various Borders (VI): Projected But Not Improbable Transcript of Author's Parents' Marriage's End, 1971.

'Don't love you no more.'

'Right back at you.'

'I want a divorce.'

'Suits me.'

'What about the doublewide.'

'I get the truck is all I know.'

'You're saying I get the doublewide you get the truck.'

'Alls I'm saying is that truck out there's mine.'

'Then what about the boy.'

"For the truck you mean?'

'You mean you'd want him?'

'You mean otherwise?'

'I'm asking if you're saying you'd want him.'

'You're saying you want him?'

'Look, I get the doublewide you get the truck we flip for the boy.'

'That's what you're saying?'

'Right here and now we flip for him.'

'Let's see it.'

'For Christ's sake it's just a quarter.'

'Just let's see it.'

'Jesus here then.'

'All right then.'

'I flip you call.'

'How about you flip I call?'

'Quite screwing around.'

posted by lisa g at 9:58 PM on September 13, 2008 [7 favorites]

So damn sad.
posted by donovan at 9:59 PM on September 13, 2008

Oh holy crap. I spend all afternoon at a friend's house, just socializing. At one point I pick up a copy of Best American Essays: 2007 she had lying on her coffee-table. I become engrossed in DFW's introduction, read the whole thing, come home, fix the damn dying laptop once again, and log in to find this news. Oh holy shit.

From that introduction, via the Amazon page for the book:

many of these essays are valuable simply as exhibits of what a first-rate artistic mind can make of particular fact-sets -- whether these involve the 17-kHz ring tones of some kids' cell phones, the language of movement as parsed by dogs, the near-infinity of ways to experience and describe an earthquake, the existential synecdoche of stagefright, or the revelation that most of what you've believed and revered turns out to be self-indulgent crap.

Emphasis mine.

posted by trip and a half at 10:09 PM on September 13, 2008


Infinite Jest is one of those books I've always meant to read but never did. I'm sorry I never did, and I'm sorry it takes this to remind me to read it, and his other works. I'll hold the Kenyon commencement address close to my heart.

It sort of pisses me off that someone with such a gift . . .

I'm with you, Mid. I know depression is as painful as a physical ailment sometimes, but shit. Seems like such a pussy way to go out, if you're not already dying. Same for Thompson, and Cobain, et al.

Someone earlier said that suicide is a personal act, well... it's also kind of a selfish one, if you're not thinking about the consequences of your actions.

You would not, I hope, say the same thing, if a person who was schizophrenic had killed themselves. Why is depression different? It is, we think, a severely distorted way of seeing and experiencing themselves and the world. With all our medical advances, we're still struggling to understand it. There is no act in the world more desperate, more final, than someone ending his or her own life - can they not have your benefit of the doubt, be free of your judgement, even then?

It pisses you off that someone with such a gift would end his life like this? Why - because others who want to do what he does, have the success he's had - does he owe them? Does he owe the world? People with gifts do not owe the world anything. The gifts are for them. (I want to say everyone has gifts, but no doubt someone would shout me down on that one.)

Every time someone dies like this - gifted or not depending on your perspective - shouldn't we consider it a failure of society? We're waving our goddamn flags, singing anthems, telling ourselves what great countries and civilisations we have - and we can't even protect such a well-known, well-loved writer from feeling like ending his life was the only way. And every time something like this happens, we mourn and talk about the tortured artist, sometimes scornfully, and what a great loss it is - and then we move on, and we use their work for our own purpose. Meanwhile, so many more people not so famous, not with such an obvious gift perhaps, slip through the cracks every day - with one occasionally getting angry enough to take some others with them in a school, or a shopping mall, or an airplane.

Or we talk about how it's always "the thoughtful, kind, sensitive ones", the ones who "who live 24/7 in their own truth" - whatever that means - but do we build a society that encourage these people to flourish? Do we allow people to be fragile, to break - and tell them, We've got you. We know it's hard, but it's okay. We're with you. We're in this together. I'm aware that you can't save them all, maybe - but are we trying nearly enough?

I'm sorry if I don't seem to have a point - I just feel angry about this. So many people are lost - but we only mourn the most famous ones, and then we move on, living the same. The world breaks people - and we say well, life sucks, and those who don't make it are the weak ones. But the world doesn't suck - natural disasters and illnesses aside, most of the shit that breaks people are entirely manmade, created by us, perpetuated by us. I said earlier that depression is a severely distorted way of seeing the world - and it is - but there's enough shit in the world to break anyone. That most of us survive is maybe testiment to the human spirit, and maybe the biological need to survive and pass on our genes. But there's enough shit there, and most of that shit is us, we make it every day in the way we live and treat each other, and it doesn't take much distortion for it to become overwhelming, to tip us over the edge. I'm not saying life isn't worthwhile - the very existence of something like the Kenyon commencement address makes it worthwhile. People's kindness makes it worthwhile, make it worth fighting despite all the shit that surrounds us, to push back. But so much of that shit is made by us. When we do all this mourning, do we consider how to stop it from happening again to the next David Foster Wallace coming up? Do we consider, even for a moment, a shift of priorities in our society, so that we are more nurturing than competitive, more empathic than judgemental? Do we consider being kinder to the people around us, because we don't know who around us may be breaking inside? Do we consider teaching kids in school less about how to pass exams, and more about things like empathy and self-acceptance and kindness, and perhaps the cognitive distortions that are the cornerstones of cognitive behavioural therapy and the cause of so much pain in the world?

I realise I've veered wildly off topic maybe, but I feel angry - the mourning in this thread, while valuable and important and nothing I want to disparage in any way, is all about what David Foster Wallace has done for us. Which is important. But after these events, I never get the sense that there is much reflection, of how to stop the next David Foster Wallace from feeling like there is nothing here for them.
posted by Ira_ at 10:10 PM on September 13, 2008 [50 favorites]

posted by eateneye at 10:14 PM on September 13, 2008

posted by bobo123 at 10:15 PM on September 13, 2008

I remember I was living in a five bedroom apartment in Hyde Park and still an undergrad at Chicago when Infinite Jest first came out. I got all my roommates to read it and then we all got our girlfriends/boyfriends to read it and we would have these marathon sessions where everyone was sitting around the living room with their copy in their lap, arguing about every last detail of it, from cover to cover. We had lit kids, psych kids, philosophy kids, math kids, everything in that little group. It was positively exhilarating, the first time I felt like I was experiencing a major literary event in real time. That was so awesome.
posted by The Straightener at 10:17 PM on September 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


Now having read the Kenyon address, I'm actually kind of confused. How could a guy who wrote that address, which so perfectly captures the ideas of the Bigger Picture and seeing outside yourself and thinking differently about the people and situations around you, have committed suicide? Someone earlier said that suicide is a personal act, well... it's also kind of a selfish one, if you're not thinking about the consequences of your actions.

At least one of the major points of the Kenyon address, as far as I can make out, is not to judge people so easily, because we don't know what's going on in their lives, what hardships they have to bear, what's going on inside them. Which makes your comment almost funny.
posted by Ira_ at 10:20 PM on September 13, 2008

posted by bshort at 10:22 PM on September 13, 2008

Just yesterday, for no reason at all, the word otiose entered my consciousness, and I was trying to remember exactly where DFW used it (um, and its definition).

I've lost track of how much of my point of view was shaped by DFW and how much I simply encountered, with strange familiarity, in his work. In Infinite Jest he wrote page after page describing a guy waiting for his weed dealer, and I couldn't believe someone could so well put on paper the way the mind works as we experience it.

I read E Pluribus Unum in the bathtub at least twice a year. I've stolen from it shamelessly, probably even on these pages.

And I've posted it before, but DFW did the best chapter title ever:


The answer, in a kind of trivalent nutshell, is: (1) emotional stress, (2) physi­cal vanity, (3) a certain queer kind of self-obliterating logic in the micro­economics of consumer high-tech...

posted by troybob at 10:23 PM on September 13, 2008


After several tries, i still haven't finished Infinite Jest, but I love his other stuff that I've read, and I definitely consider him one of my favorite writers. Like a lot of other people in here, I always kind of hoped I would meet him somehow.

I'm pretty sure there is at least one MeFite who is Kenyon Class of '05. Thoughts if you're out there...?
posted by naoko at 10:23 PM on September 13, 2008

Infinite sadness.
posted by grounded at 10:26 PM on September 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


I don’t want to read too much into a stranger’s suicide, especially through their work. But I can’t help but think about “The Depressed Person”, a story he wrote for Harper’s a few years back. It was a sort of very portrait of a depressed woman, and it seemed to me at the time that the author of the story seemed pretty angry at this depressed person. I found the story sort of disturbing at the time, and more so now. You can read it on the Harpers site if you have a subscription. And I was able to find a sort of messy copy on the wayback machine.
posted by ManInSuit at 10:28 PM on September 13, 2008 [3 favorites]

posted by readery at 10:31 PM on September 13, 2008

Startling and strangely understandable all at once. Truly sad on top of all. As someone whose senior year in high school was largely defined by reading I.J., and then everything thereafter (with the exception of his non fiction mathematics book on inifinity), I'm reeling.
posted by momus at 10:32 PM on September 13, 2008

Early this evening I had the thought - "Hey, Fall is coming. Quit obsessing about the election, get a shitload of firewood delivered and read Infinite Jest."


I hate knowing that this kind of unrelenting darkness exists.
posted by readery at 10:37 PM on September 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

The Awakening of My Interest in Annular Systems was the first DFW story I read, and it blew my mind. Infinite Jest, I am sad to say, defeated me. For one thing, it was too big to lug around (I remember taking with me on an overnight stay in Las Vegas, and it took up more space than the rest of my belongings combined), and those fucking footnotes really really irritated me. And its length - better to call the book Infinite Read. The most frustrating thing is that his writing style is usually accessible, so I wish I had read the book, but I never will.

Shitty news, though.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:37 PM on September 13, 2008

FYI, if you read that story, you read part of Infinite Jest -- it was an excerpt.
posted by mattbucher at 10:39 PM on September 13, 2008

Jesus Christ. I don't know how to describe this. I, too, never actually met David Foster Wallce, but his writing has not ony informed much of my life, but is personally integrated into my life as well. hat's not to say that I love everything he did - I think he was one of the greatest literary geniuses of our time, and if anything was too keenly aware of that fact in a way which left him free from a lot of editorial guidance which may have helped him - but he was a Giant of our age.

Still, for my thesis film (or the closest I had to a thesis film) at NYU, I adapted five of the segements from "Brief Interviews with Hideous Men." I didn't change a word, aside from adding in the "exised" prompts from the unseen interviewer.

The first segment was of the Copralalia bit, where a guy talks about whenver he's with a woman and orgasms, he can't help but shout out "Victory for the forces of democratic freedom!" It started the film off on a comedic note, until the actor, John Lavelle, who will end up being an honest-to-god movie star pretty soon, goes into how the women make the point to try to understand that it's just a tic, and that he starts to hate them for their condescension. It was an amazing performance.

The second part was the bit about the guy who talks shit about all of the buys who keep score by how well they were able to make women come, saying that what women really want is to know that the man came like he never did before. That one didn't play as well as I'd hoped, but it wasn't bad.

I honestly can't remember what the third segment was about (this was seven years ago, and I haven't been able to watch it since) except that I had the actor conducting his interview from the bathtub, so I was mainly focused on dealing with a pseudo-nude scene while the guy was trying to act with nothing but a washcloth over his crotch, and six people in the room. For free. I look back on it and realize what it must be like to be an actor in New York.

The fourth segment was about the one-armed man, and if you've read "Brief Interviews" you know what I'm talking about. The premise is that this guy has a deformed, disgusting arm that he generally keeps hidden, but which allows him to elicit enough sympathy that he guilt-trips women into sleeping with him. In the interview, he's bragging about his technique, repeatedly using the phrase "more pussy than a toilet seat." It's probably the most horrifying chapter in a very disturbing book, and the actor (who had one arm belted behind his back) absolutely nailed it. The reverse shot clearly shows the woman playing the interviewer genuinely frightened, with tears in her eyes. I didn't notice it at the tiem, and in the editing room, I honestly felt guilty about putting her through it all.

The last segment acted as the denoument, but was probably the best performance of them all, off a normal working class guy admitting that he knew he'd found the lve of his life because she's already had kids and "it didn't blow her body out." It took probably ten takes before he stopped pathologically stuttering over parts of it, but I got what I wanted: I good guy who was honest and loved his wife, and was judging her on completely fucked-up standards.

If I had the movie on video, I'd upload it somewhere and link, but I just have the film, and the memory of people doing so much with what Wallace had written.

THis is just one of a million instances where the man had unintentionally affected my life. I don't want to bore you with any more.

posted by Navelgazer at 10:41 PM on September 13, 2008 [7 favorites]

posted by Malachi H. at 10:42 PM on September 13, 2008

I feel so awful for his wife.

[NOT HERMITOSIS-IST] gave me Broom of the System when I was a senior in high school and it was completely unlike anything I'd ever read before. I flipped for it and was so excited to start Infinite Jest. I was particularly thrilled that it was so long because I was greedy for more of that writing. I worked as an electrician's assistant that summer before college and instead of going out for lunch with the guys, I would go to the nearby public library, wolf down a sandwich I'd brought from home in the parking lot, and then go and read Infinite Jest in the library, one hour at a time. Even now when I look at the copy up on my shelf I can taste those sandwiches and smell the dust from the job site on my clothes and skin and remember the feeling that this was the world I was inheriting in adulthood. I went off to school in New York in fall of 2001 and Vonnegut's Welcome to the Monkey House and Girl with Curious Hair were two of the books I brought along to read. They helped settle me down after the rather unpleasant transition of moving here. I've read Brief Interviews With Hideous Men and many of his essays, but I've hoped ever since that I'd get another novel of his to read.

I found this news extremely upsetting.
posted by Nathaniel W at 10:43 PM on September 13, 2008 [2 favorites]


As you can probably tell from my username, DFW meant a great deal to me. There's so much I wish I could put into words, and so much that others have said that I want to second, but...

Just, fuck.
posted by hal incandenza at 11:18 PM on September 13, 2008


Another giant gone.
posted by ontic at 11:20 PM on September 13, 2008

Enough to give one a case of the howling fantods.
posted by ontic at 11:22 PM on September 13, 2008

Funny*, hal, I was wondering how long it would take you to show up.

*for some values of "funny."
posted by lekvar at 11:27 PM on September 13, 2008

Most unwelcome news. I was just re-reading the essays in Consider the Lobster this past week, chuckling to myself and often being forced to pause and think over what I'd just read. I think I'll read "Good Old Neon" tonight before bed. Again.

posted by pantagrool at 11:32 PM on September 13, 2008

It's been like six hours now. I went for a run, cooked some dinner, had a couple of drinks. I still just can't fucking process this. I don't know what to do with it.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:46 PM on September 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've only read a handful of his essays and found them very impressive. And his Kenyon commencement speech is great. RIP.
posted by Devils Slide at 11:53 PM on September 13, 2008

This is really terrible.


Also, Infinite Jest has endnotes, not footnotes, a distinction DFW probably would have made.
posted by whir at 11:54 PM on September 13, 2008

I'm shocked and brokenhearted, and angry at him for taking himself away from us, the world, so selfishly. Sometimes I adored his work, some of it made me pissed off. I always felt he was a defining writer of my generation. I can't believe he won't be making any more footnotes.
posted by matildaben at 11:54 PM on September 13, 2008

I love IJ (that scene where the tennis academy kids play the nuclear war game [Echelon?] is immaculate), and I love his short stories, but DFW's non-fiction works are among the very dearest things in the world to my heart. I was just reading through A Supposedly Fun Thing... again earlier today, for the innumerable-eth time, thinking today would be approximately any other...

It is so sad to hear that he's gone, not least because of my selfish sense of entitlement to a couple more great novels and essay collections.

There are links to a lot of his shorter works collected here, though the funny is all bittersweet now:
posted by moift at 11:58 PM on September 13, 2008

Sad, sad news. I'll cop to thinking that DFW was a wee bit over-rated at times, but I enjoyed his shorter pieces of journalism and many of his short stories. Saw him read the "cruise" piece back in DC in 97 or 98. Funny guy, nervous guy.

Still haven't read IJ, but I'm going to scour the English-language sections of Korean bookstores until I find one. I think he might appreciate that a little.
posted by bardic at 12:03 AM on September 14, 2008

There's a passage about suicide in Infinite Jest that is always the first thing to pop into my mind when the topic of suicide comes up. Needless to say reading this news was both sad and surreal. Despite the density and difficulty of that book, there are so many concepts and ideas and insights in it that are so piercingly simple and crystal clear.
posted by billyfleetwood at 12:03 AM on September 14, 2008

Today is not a good day.
posted by ook at 12:09 AM on September 14, 2008

Is it selfish to perform the only available act that will allow you to avoid crushing emotional pain and despair? It's important to remember that when you're that far down into the well of blackness, you aren't doing it primarily to hurt your loved ones (although you most certainly will) you're doing it because it's the only option. I hurt, I am in pain, and suicide is the only viable option for getting away from that overwhelming hurt and pain.

I don't think it's fair to say DFW or other suicides are selfish. That's like saying they really had another choice in the matter. And no, you don't get to say "Well why didn't he try harder to remember how wonderful life can be, amidst all the bitter darkness? Why didn't he go talk to a friend or something?" Because that was no longer an option. It's horrible, but true -- a person can get to the point where there's only one path remaining.

posted by bardic at 12:12 AM on September 14, 2008 [8 favorites]


My best friend in University hung himself a few years after I graduated. My mother had some excellent advice; she said that depression is a disease and you cannot take a suicide as some sort of existential comment on the world, you have to think of it like someone dying of a heart attack; people, even great writers or thinkers, aren't making some coherent statement when they kill themselves, they're just in great pain and looking for a quick end to it.

It's very clear to me at least why writers kill themselves over other artists (who are generally not so good on the mental stability).

The difficulty is the white page - you made it work before but then you get stuck. I have this problem as a composer but actually playing an instrument gives you something to do; you can just "fiddle" with your fingers and if you love the instrument things will come. Painters tell me the same thing, if they don't have any ideas they just start brush strokes.

Typewriters don't do that. You can't just type finger exercises and suddenly prose will spring out. If you're caught by the white page, you can't do anything but suffer till something springs out. And I fear DFW got caught in that trap.

:-( Very very sad.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 12:19 AM on September 14, 2008 [10 favorites]

(yes, I know it's hanged. sorry...)
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 12:21 AM on September 14, 2008

deep sadness
posted by exlotuseater at 12:43 AM on September 14, 2008

I do NOT buy the conventional wisdom that suicide is "selfish". My brother committed suicide after battling schizo-affective disorder for four years. He'd been trapped in his own paranoid delusions for too long, and the medications weren't helping him. I bear him no ill will, but simply love and miss the happy, skateboarding, guitar-slinging kid he was before everything fell apart.

Who's to say what personal hell David Foster Wallace was stuck in?
posted by tantrumthecat at 12:50 AM on September 14, 2008 [5 favorites]

from Infinite Jest....

The so-called 'psychotically depressed' person who tries to kill herself doesn't do so out of quote 'hopelessness' or any abstract conviction that life's assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire's flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It's not desiring the fall; it's terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling 'Don't!' and 'Hang on!', can understand the jump. Not really. You'd have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.
posted by moxiedoll at 12:53 AM on September 14, 2008 [83 favorites]

David Foster Wallace was an intensity around an emptiness. Above all, he feared exposure as a solipsistic fraud, and that’s what he was, at least as a writer. He wrote too many words about too many things, pretending an interest in the world, a love of the world, that he simply didn’t have. Philip Larkin, a good writer, admitted that he experienced this life as mainly boredom and fear. Perhaps if DFW had admitted that he felt the same, he might have spared himself the playacting of his thinly garrulous novels and essays. It must be a very sour thing to hear again and again that one is a “genius” and a “great writer” when one is obviously neither.
posted by donotcant at 1:27 AM on September 14, 2008 [4 favorites]

Crushed. Dismayed. Anguished. But not surprised.

I remember photocopying scores of pages of Infinite Jest so I could surreptitiously read it at work. It was engrossing, and I was hooked. I've read everything he has published. DFW has kept a lot of people going through darkly gut-wrenching times, not just through his writing, but through his very surviving despite himself.

The fact that he couldn't make it ... induces despair.
posted by crythecry at 1:27 AM on September 14, 2008

It must be a very sour thing to hear again and again that one is a “genius” and a “great writer” when one is obviously neither.

This is what you signed up for? David Foster Wallace's death, and MeFi's subsequent outpouring, finally outraged you enough to fork over five bucks? Or were you just too cowardly to post under your regular name? Whatever.

It's strange that something so obvious hasn't even seemed to occur to the over 200 other people who have commented on his death in this thread. Or, you know, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur. I generally ignore trolls, but you, my friend, are nuts.
posted by one_bean at 1:42 AM on September 14, 2008 [11 favorites]

Indeed, one_beam. Someone who signs up solely to shit in a thread where hundreds have expressed their grief and the myriad ways in which someone's art has moved them must surely know more than they care to admit about living a sour, small life.
posted by scody at 1:49 AM on September 14, 2008

not to mention one_bean.
posted by scody at 1:50 AM on September 14, 2008

posted by darkripper at 1:52 AM on September 14, 2008

dontcant: Dick move. People far smarter and more insightful than yourself have called him a "genius" and he touched many peoples lives. Your petty little criticism is out of place here.
posted by lattiboy at 1:54 AM on September 14, 2008

also, dontcant = Westboro Baptist Church of literature.
posted by lattiboy at 1:56 AM on September 14, 2008

he feared exposure as a solipsistic fraud

c.f. Impostor Syndrome. Of course, I know a couple of actual geniuses who suffer from this...

It's weird that you used the word "solipsistic", though. He always struck me as quite the compassionate humanist, whatever you might think of his style. In fact, it doesn't make sense that a solipsist could fear exposure as a fraud. Kind of diametrically opposed world views, no?

Or do you mean that he was fraudulently solipsistic? Like too cool for school?
posted by mr_roboto at 2:23 AM on September 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Like many, I'm in shock... So much shock I completely missed this post and numbly went through the motions of making my own, confused as to how this wasn't on MeFi 2 seconds after it hit the newswire.

His Charlie Rose appearance from 1997 is one of my favorite interviews that Charlie Rose has ever done.

I'll, uh. I'll be sitting over there, stewing, if anyone needs me.
posted by sparkletone at 2:31 AM on September 14, 2008

posted by rumposinc at 2:38 AM on September 14, 2008

Please pardon the length of this...I've shortened a few different ways, but I'm still left with all of this. I hope also that these words don't someday get used against me, but I guess we'll see....

My experience with suicide led me to conclude long ago that it's usually not about selfishness. While having other people tell me I had to stick around for some important event in their lives made the struggle worse for me, it wasn't because I didn't want to do what other people wanted me to do or wanted to punish anyone. I was just so worn down, tired, intrinsically alone, horrified, and humiliated. Having my only use be for the service of others and their dreams seemed impossibly cruel when stranded on the sandbar of suicidal depression. Letting one thing be my choice when so little else had been - it seemed like a paradise, a balm, the cure to all that ailed me and would remove me as a burden from the lives of those who had been forced to endure my presence for so long.

One of my stepdads killed himself (second attempt - first left him paralysed, which is how he met Mom) a few months after they married, and a lot of people told us he was selfish. I didn't gather that from it, even as an over-conscious 8 year old. I think it was self-oriented, true, but people make self-oriented choices all day long in bringing a new life into the world or not using wealth to make things better for more people or buying things that endanger others or even being cruel in order to get a laugh and on and on. If the rest are ultimately permissible, it surely seems possible choosing when to go when one has control over so little else can be forgivable. After all - we don't choose when we're born. Why not take our hard won sentience and choose when we die? Suicidal logic is 3-D.

Of the several friends and acquaintances who tried and succeeded, I only know of one who did it solely out of childish spite. The rest were reacting to the terminal effect of being aware and open in a world intent upon staying ignorant and closed. Same goes for all those I know who have attempted or strongly considered it. They were/are nearly all incredibly intelligent, creative, sensitive, complicated people for whom the world just became too much.

Whether it was one too many experiences with assholes, or an unexpected setback, or trying to break out of the trap of depression and having someone throw it all back in one'sface...or just seeing yet another mountain of work and effort with absolutely no promise that anything would ever get better no matter how hard one tried, they felt the world was driving them away. As far as they were concerned, there was no logical reason not to do it - for some, clearly, not even the trauma for those left behind was a barrier.

Those who have resisted...I wish I could come up with a pat list of things they've done differently. Mindfulness and dropping their ego whenever possible seems to be a common thread, but then I know some who did the same thing and still chose to bow out. Certainly, a strong drive to just see if this one extra thing might make things more bearable or at least worth it or perhaps more interesting for a while does seem to be a differentiator, but that's obvious, isn't it? It works until it doesn't.

We're like a star and a black hole in the same space - constantly creating and ripping apart, genesis and apocalypse one moment after another. It's exhausting and dehumanising. You spend a lot of time on your knees begging existence to prove, somehow, that the whole horrible thing is worth it on some (any) level.

We have no idea what Mr. Wallace was going through up until and at the moment he made his decision. I can only go by what I have read from his works. I believe he understood the basic underpinnings of the compulsions of depression extraordinarily well (as most intelligent people who endure that dreadful siren call do), and he had the inimitable, admirable, and rare talent in being able to describe the struggle.

I also think he allowed himself a luxury by giving in. It is a luxury to choose that, I contend, and this is what makes people claim it is a selfish act - if they felt they could get away with it free and clear, they would do it, too. "We're all in this together, you bastard, and now I'm all alone!" seems to be the common cry.

My position - the one that keeps me alive on a daily basis - is that we have a responsibility as the incredibly unlikely organisms we are to go as far as we possibly can, until there is absolutely nothing else we can possibly resolve or discover or record or build or fix or comfort or...anything. Should that plan ever fail to deliver the necessary motivation, I then have a list of conditions that must be met in order to leave as little pain and trouble behind as possible. It includes not harming those who have loved me by having them discover me.

None of that takes into account the 'snap' - that moment wherein it doesn't matter what's been planned or decided or promised. It's just over. I think we all hope we've built enough into our lives and support networks to prevent that from happening. I've got some fail safes, myself, things I believe I can do at any cost to at least call for help. Maybe Mr. Wallace had the same, maybe he didn't. None of us know. All I know is that we've lost one more brilliant mind to hopelessness, and it is both tragic and regrettable.

At this point, it seems a fitting memorial and righteous mission for all those affected by this type of needless loss to work as hard as possible to make the world a less painful, evil, ugly, stupid place to exist. Can we do it? Can we be a force in making the world easier to bear for the David Foster Wallaces of the world? I don't know. I'd really like to be part of a group giving it a go, though.
posted by batmonkey at 2:55 AM on September 14, 2008 [38 favorites]

(This thread turning into a shitfight about writing, honesty and whether David Foster Wallace was a "solipsistic fraud" would be really, really weird.)
posted by spiril at 3:00 AM on September 14, 2008

No outrage, and no trollery. I wrote what I think about DFW. He was a public figure and his writing is meant to be considered as closely as possible. I characterize him as a fraud because he pretended a wide and various interest, but in truth, did not love the world upon which he lavished so many words.

DFW wrote:

“Am I a good person? Deep down, do I even really want to be a good person, or do I only want to seem like a good person so that people (including myself) will approve of me? Is there a difference? How do I ever actually know whether I'm bullshitting myself, morally speaking?”

I think he sees himself more clearly than his admirers do, and that’s to his credit. I don’t “shit” on his memory by writing what I think. If you think he was unaware of his radical selfishness, and the dangers for a writer of not owning up to this basic defect, than you haven’t read him closely.

DFW wrote:

“Is the real point of my life simply to undergo as little pain and as much pleasure as possible? My behavior sure seems to indicate that this is what I believe, at least a lot of the time. But isn't this kind of a selfish way to live? Forget selfish—isn't it awful lonely?”

I think his writing is beloved because so many intelligent people of a certain type share his instinctive nihilism. He looks upon life with the gaze of someone fundamentally repulsed.
posted by donotcant at 3:14 AM on September 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

Wow. Drunk, high, ten hours later, still fucking terribly sad. And as an adult, you think its only right to feel how you don't really need anyone. Fuck you. Don't go. Fuck you. Don't go.
posted by cascando at 3:21 AM on September 14, 2008 [3 favorites]

Sometimes, like with Thompson, you can understand. And sometimes you can't. Who's left? Fuck.
posted by Football Bat at 3:23 AM on September 14, 2008

posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 3:36 AM on September 14, 2008

Ah jesus, moxiegirl's post. For a while, I was convinced that was the best description of suicide I'd ever heard. I don't know, I couldn't say, but I still haven't heard one better.
posted by Football Bat at 3:42 AM on September 14, 2008


(but I cannot help noticing that metafilter has had several front-page posts and 280 mostly on-topic comments on the original post from people who seem to really care a lot, digg has nothing on the front page, and reddit has an item at rank 10 with nine comments, most of them arguing over whether "suicided" is a proper word.)
posted by effbot at 3:55 AM on September 14, 2008

I have problems with hating, with this sort of fascistic automatic negativity that is a sort of soul sickness and that I truly fear will destroy me one day. David Foster Wallace was a popular target of this negativity for some reason. Someone would post a link to say "Consider the Lobster" and the hate would go "Pfft. David Foster Wallace." Then I end up shouting back (at myself) "Dude, what the fuck, you loved Infinite Jest, where does 'Pfft. David Foster Wallace' come from? Why are you in here you ugly thing and why can't I ever get rid of you?" Then I just end up feeling shame and embarrassment and deep self-loathing.

Not really sure how relevant that was to share, but I guess it's about David Foster Wallace. I'm very sorry he's dead. He was a terrific writer.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 3:59 AM on September 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

posted by monocot at 4:21 AM on September 14, 2008

posted by DenOfSizer at 4:22 AM on September 14, 2008

oh shit
posted by gleuschk at 4:23 AM on September 14, 2008

I love that David Foster Wallace has inspired so many words in eulogizing him. As much as I love the "." if anyone deserved eloquence at his passing, it was Wallace. And so many people have been moved and touched by his works. Sometimes I thought I was alone in my appreciation for him. Seems not.
posted by crossoverman at 4:45 AM on September 14, 2008


Apart from everything mentioned above, I'm very grateful for Everything and More, his book about infinity.
posted by Grangousier at 4:46 AM on September 14, 2008

God FUCKING dammit.

Now off to open up the bookshop. Fuck.

posted by Kinbote at 4:53 AM on September 14, 2008

posted by sveskemus at 5:15 AM on September 14, 2008

I don't think it's fair to say DFW or other suicides are selfish.

I agree. Of course I wish he'd tried to get some help rather than deprive the literary world of a great talent and his friends and family of their loved one, but we don't know what drove him to it and how much he was suffering, so we don't have the right to judge him. My only problem, however, is with the manner in which he went about it. I can't imagine his wife's pain and anguish at not only losing her husband, but coming home to find his corpse dangling in front of her. That's an image that will undoubtedly haunt her for the rest of her life. If I ever get to such a bleak point in my life that I go about killing myself, I'd make sure to do it somewhere where my loved ones wouldn't be the ones to discover my body.
posted by Devils Slide at 5:16 AM on September 14, 2008

donotcant you are quoting him out of context there. That is from an essay about Dostoevsky and those parenthetical remarks are read not as the author's own personal viewpoints but hypothetical questions. Presenting them here as DFW's personal point-of-view is misleading.
posted by mattbucher at 5:26 AM on September 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Last night I read a comment on his obit over at the LA Times that went something like "What's wrong with us, that we couldn't keep this guy alive?" And that's precisely how I feel this morning. Like part of an enormous, collective, skull-crushing failure. That we, who should ensure that the best and brightest among us *stay among us*, failed this incredible person who could have still given so much to the world. I know that's irrational, but even consciously knowing that I can't help but feel somehow implicated. As a writer and one-time English academic (and, of course, as a fan of his monumental work), it's all a bit close to home.

posted by sweetney at 5:39 AM on September 14, 2008 [6 favorites]

Infinite Jest is my favorite book of all time. I'm positive-to-neutral on the essays and such, but IJ is the only book that for me accurately captured the internal monologue of a broken world. And did it with anger and empathy. It was like he was writing for me.

I don't have a copy right now, I don't think. I tend to give them away to people who haven't read it. There was a period of time in the mid-90s where copies were remaindered at Powell's for like 4 dollars apiece and I would go buy a couple at a time, just to be prepared to give a copy to someone who had never read it. Sort of like a Jesus freak I guess, with extra Bibles.

posted by miss tea at 5:40 AM on September 14, 2008 [3 favorites]

I heard this last night and was in shock. I still don't have the words to express it, other than to say that Infinite Jest moved me like no contemporary work of literature had when I first read it at 23. I didn't think it was a perfect work; in fact, I thought it was deeply flawed. But, oh, how he tried. You could see the heart poured into it.

And I thought the essays in A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again were thoughtful, witty, and hilariously self-denigrating. At the time, they gave me an idea of a writing style that I wanted to emulate. It was the first time that I felt I could identify with a writer's voice, with his worldview.

In an odd and unfortunate coincidence, I'm teaching "Little Expressionless Animals" to my Freshman Composition class was already on the syllabus. It's the first time I've taught the course using my own syllabus rather than the standardized one provided by the university, and hence the first time I've taught this story. I'm going to round up a bunch of links from here (thanks to everyone who's providing these) and send my students an email. It's going to be hard to discuss his work with the gravitas deserved but without choking up.
posted by signalandnoise at 5:40 AM on September 14, 2008

oh man! no NO. fuck
posted by swapspace at 6:21 AM on September 14, 2008

posted by kcds at 6:25 AM on September 14, 2008

In the 1997 Charlie Rose interview, when asked about his writing habits, he said he spends an hour a day writing, and 8 hours a day worrying about not writing. Not worrying about what to write, but worried that he is not writing. Combine this with his lack of literary output over the past 4 or 5 years and he must have spent a lot of time worrying. In the same interview he says teaching (professors at undergrad colleges) is a boring job and most teachers don't care about their students and are just going through the motions. These things take on larger meaning in the wake.
posted by stbalbach at 6:25 AM on September 14, 2008

DFW's writing never spoke to me, and he is not on my personal list of great writers. But this thread is surprisingly moving — his writing clearly meant a lot to many people here, in a very deep way.

Whenever I read about a suicide like this, I think about the article I read a while back (perhaps in the New Yorker?) about bridge-jumpers, and how survivors who were interviewed described regretting jumping the moment they stepped over the edge. What a sad phenomenon.
posted by Forktine at 6:33 AM on September 14, 2008

And just as the crane's cab's blond reaches for his lever and the crowd mightily inhales, just then, I lose my nerve, in my very last moment at the Fair - I recall my childhood's serial nightmare of being swung or whipped in an arc that threatens to come full circle - and I decline to be part of this, even as witness - and I find, again, in extremis, access to childhood's other worst nightmare, the only sure way to obliterate all; and the sun and sky and plummeting Yuppie go out like a light.

posted by Remy at 6:40 AM on September 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

I used to work the Bookmobile at my local public library, and one of my stops was the regional jail. Saturday mornings I would roll in with a cartload of random selections and stuff the detainees had requested the week before. A lot of historical fiction, romances (for the women's block), and bestsellers. They were good readers, and the jail even let the dudes in 23-hour lockdown (the scary convicted murderers on their way to prison) out to pick a book, albeit in shackles.

There was always some bookish guy in there doing a short leg for dealing (the men were all in on drug convictions; the women were mostly in for fraud), going out of his mind because they were only allowed one book a week, and he'd finish it in one or two days. "Ah," I would say. "I have the just the thing." And I'd reach down to the bottom shelf and come up with Infinite Jest. "You'll read it twice before I'm back."
posted by steef at 6:43 AM on September 14, 2008 [13 favorites]

posted by Ike_Arumba at 6:47 AM on September 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

posted by mustard seeds at 7:06 AM on September 14, 2008

If ever there was a time someone deserved more than just a dot, it's not. Come on peolpe, let's be inspired by DFW and get a little verbose with this shit.
posted by ChickenringNYC at 7:15 AM on September 14, 2008


Yes, deserves more than a dot, but I can't yet. Oh god.
posted by longtime_lurker at 7:17 AM on September 14, 2008

Oh my god, I am so sorry to know this. I was stunned before; now I feel overwhelmed by grief.

From "Good Old Neon": years of literally indescribable war against himself

Again and forever: Requiescat in pace, DFW.
posted by FrauMaschine at 7:24 AM on September 14, 2008

Many people, including me and evidently the Rolling Stone editor who gave him the 2000 McCain gig, considered him this generation's Hunter S. Thompson.

This is insulting to both great men.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 7:32 AM on September 14, 2008

posted by shoepal at 7:35 AM on September 14, 2008

Jesus fucking fuck.

Fuck. Fuck.
posted by flashboy at 7:50 AM on September 14, 2008

I'm still pretty shaken up about this. I was introduced to him by a co-worker who attended AA meetings with him in Bloomingon-Normal IL. We talked for a while on a sunny afternoon and he encouraged me to quit my job at a crappy Central Illinois newspaper because he knew his friend and I complained about it so much. He handed me a copy of 'Infinite Jest' from the box of books he just got from the publisher. I saw him read at a local bookstore, and later once again in Chicago after I split from that crappy job. His writing was flat-out superb. I enjoyed 'Jest' so much and I really believe it opened sleeping corners of my mind. I'm sad for his family. I'm sad that the world has lost such a great writer. Man I'm sad today - it's raining - how appropriate. Godspeed DFW.
posted by mctsonic at 7:59 AM on September 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

The Atlantic article remains one of my favorite pieces of writing.

posted by josher71 at 8:03 AM on September 14, 2008

David Foster Wallace was an intensity around an emptiness. Above all, he feared exposure as a solipsistic fraud, and that’s what he was, at least as a writer. He wrote too many words about too many things, pretending an interest in the world, a love of the world, that he simply didn’t have. Philip Larkin, a good writer, admitted that he experienced this life as mainly boredom and fear. Perhaps if DFW had admitted that he felt the same, he might have spared himself the playacting of his thinly garrulous novels and essays. It must be a very sour thing to hear again and again that one is a “genius” and a “great writer” when one is obviously neither.
posted by donotcant at 1:27 AM on September 14

You're missing the point.

Way back way before "Good Old Neon" was published, I wrote a mediocre short story, the first sentence of which was "Pretty much my whole life I've been a fraud." It went downhill from there, but stay with me. This was in response to some pretty serious positive attention from one of my professors and his wife, both of whom thought I had what it took, upstairs, to succeed as a writer. This is not to brag or to make you give a shit about what I think, by the way. But the whole time I'd been submitting work to the professor I was feeling like a fraud because fraud is at the heart of the fiction writer's game. You make up stories. And then you release them into the world and you find out if you are a talentless goober or that maybe you are pretty good or, in Wallace's case, holy shit look at this kid go he's gonna be a star! Because once you let them out, you don't get to decide. That's up to everyone else. Now imagine that you are 22 years old and you're writing Broom of the System and everyone just about shits their pants reading it. But inside you're still a 22 year-old kid. And the nature of writers is to be introspective and critical of their internal voices, to look at situations from different points of view. And I, after the professor's early praise, couldn't help but think "oh man, I don't think he knows that I suck, and what happens when he finds out?" And it was hard.

So I drop the whole thing out of terror and fear of that discovery. And a few years pass and I pick up an anthology at the bookstore, and in it is "Good Old Neon," the first line of which is "Pretty much my whole life I've been a fraud." And I realize that Wallace gets it, or gets me, or gets himself - it doesn't matter which. If you see that fear in Wallace's work - and I do - you understand that the fear, the "solipsism" you hate so much, isn't because you aren't involved in the world, or because you don't care about the world - it's because you wonder if you are good enough for the world. Wallace was a genuinely empathetic guy, and it shows in his work. In the way that he, in the grips of the black, manages to tell the kids at Kenyon about that empathy, that understanding, all the while wondering if tonight will be the night that he kills the terrible master. In the way that he turns angry self-loathing kids into compassionate adults. And if you don't see that, the problem isn't with Wallace. It's with you.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:09 AM on September 14, 2008 [34 favorites]

Fuck fuck fuck. I loved him.
posted by callmejay at 8:12 AM on September 14, 2008

Who will sponsor this
The very worst year
The very worst year we've had?
What corporate name
Will we place here
As we leave the Year of the Glad?
Tracy Austin broke your heart
And you've done the same
To all us.
What footnote can
Contain the works
Of David Foster Wallace?
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:17 AM on September 14, 2008 [6 favorites]

So sad. Best wishes to his wife, family and friends.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 8:35 AM on September 14, 2008

donotcant - it's the wrong place and the wrong time... with all the places to post that shit, do you really think this RIP thread is it? go blog yourself sick and throw your "reading" out there with Kakutani and the rest of the didn't-quite-get-its, couldn't see the fire for the fireworks.

He made it obvious in _Everything and More_, which wasn't about mathematics but about our strange psyches, capable of so much and still baffled, insignificant but unable to ignore the matter of the world at its highest and most disorderly levels.

The world was too fucking much with Wallace. It wasn't "not caring," it was caring too much and knowing that in the end words are one of the few things we can really *have* and they aren't much. He loved humanity-- the brilliant green growth of it through the cracks of the black rock and concrete of apathy and bullshit and shallow irony-- while struggling with humans. There's nothing more disappointing, not least because there are so few ways not to be one.
posted by fncll at 8:35 AM on September 14, 2008 [5 favorites]

posted by Superfrankenstein at 8:38 AM on September 14, 2008

Oh shit. Goddammit. FUCK

posted by shakespeherian at 8:42 AM on September 14, 2008

Die Zeit: Sometimes it can be horrible - in your collection "Brief Interviews with hideous men" there's this story about how the mind of a depressed person sounds like. This sound makes one almost suicidal.

DFW: This story was the most painful thing I ever wrote. It's about narcissism, which is a part of depression. The character has traits of myself. I really lost friends while writing on that story, I became ugly and unhappy and just yelled at people. The cruel thing with depression is that it's such a self-centered illness - Dostoevsky shows that pretty good in his "Notes from Underground". The depression is painful, you're sapped/consumed by yourself; the worse the depression, the more you just think about yourself and the stranger and repellent you appear to others.

I urge anyone here with depression to GET HELP NOW.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 8:44 AM on September 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

(This thread turning into a shitfight about writing, honesty and whether David Foster Wallace was a "solipsistic fraud" would be really, really weird.)

Eh, not really. He seems to be a magnet for haterz.

I'm surprised it took this long. A lot of people on MeFi really, really hate him.

I've only read his essays, and even when I disagree with him (I think he massively over-rates David Lynch), I find them so immensely worthwhile -- I'm just left with the impression that I've read someone who gives a shit about being understood, and saying something honest. That's so rare. Everything I've ever read of his, everything that was based on actualy personal knowledge of him, and all the video I've ever seen, leaves me with the impression of a genuinely earnest man. That's rare, too, and not commonly valued in modern Pan-Americanist culture (for lack of a better term). We seem to want people to be ironist and earnest at once. We can't handle it when someone turns out to be genuinely earnest, so we project all our fears and inadequacies into them.

I have to think mr roboto may have it pretty much nailed, and that dontnotcant has come closer to the truth than s/he/it intended: Maybe DFW couldn't get the thought out of his head that it was all about nothing and he was a pathetic failure. Maybe his whole literary career had been an attempt to convince himself that it was worth keeping on. If so, to me, that only makes it more fascinating and tragic that he should end this way.

OTOH, having given more than passing thought to the long dark night more times than I like to remember, I also have to wonder whether anxiety might have been the main driver. The quote about the "twin terrors", the fire versus the fall -- that's what I remember it feeling like, as I thought about which would be worse, having to go on feeling the way I did, or someone having to clean up after the mess I made.
posted by lodurr at 8:46 AM on September 14, 2008

A bit of comic relief that David himself might appreciate... my friend saw the mournful "RIP DFW" on my desktop, and immediately shouted, "OH NOOO.... what's happened to Dallas-Fort Worth???"
posted by naju at 8:50 AM on September 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Four years' worth of David Foster Wallace postings from my blogs. I'm still broken up about this.
posted by gerryblog at 8:57 AM on September 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

I wanted to clarify this comment I made - I was angry and ended the comment more prematurely and perhaps more aggressively than I intended. I was trying to point out the irony of using the Kenyon address to accuse him of selfishness, when one of its main messages as far as I could see was to try not to so easily leap to judgement of people because we do not know what is going on in their lives, inside them, and what they have had to go through. I also walked away to try to think of a good explanation or a metaphor to explain why it is ridiculous to think of an act so desperate as suicide as selfish - I couldn't, but I see that moxiedoll has posted one from David Foster Wallace himself, that perhaps explain things better than I could.

posted by Ira_ at 9:00 AM on September 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Sweetney, that's exactly how I felt. When you are suicidal, you think you are *doing other people a favor* by killing yourself, not being selfish. that's one of the most awful things about it.

The results seem selfish-- and when there are children left behind (Did he have kids?) it's very hard not to be judgmental. But I think it's right to see it as a death from disease.
posted by Maias at 9:05 AM on September 14, 2008

Ira, you were angry because someone you care about (whether you knew him or not isn't the point) had killed himself. That's OK. It's clear you weren't trying to shit on people's expressions of respect.
posted by lodurr at 9:06 AM on September 14, 2008

The New York Times has a proper obitituary up:

"Over the years, he threw off the heavy influence of Mr. Pynchon that was all too apparent in “The Broom of the System” (1987) — which like “The Crying of Lot 49” used Joycean word games and literary parody to recount the story of a woman’s quest for knowledge and identity — to find a more elastic voice of his own in “Infinite Jest.” That novel used three storylines — involving a tortured tennis prodigy, a former Demerol addict and Canadian terrorists who want to get their hands on a movie reputed to be so entertaining it causes anyone who sees it to die of pleasure — to depict a depressing, toxic and completely commercialized post-millennial America. Although that novel suffered from a lack of discipline and a willful repudiation of closure, it showcased Mr. Wallace’s virtuosity and announced his arrival as one of his generation’s preeminent talents."

"Two later collections of stories — “Brief Interviews With Hideous Men” (1999) and “Oblivion” (2004), which both featured whiny, narcissistic characters — suggested a falling off of ambition and a claustrophobic solipsism of the sort Mr. Wallace himself once decried. But his ventures into nonfiction, “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again” (1997) and “Consider the Lobster” (2005), grounded his proclivity for meandering, stream of consciousness musings in sharp magazine assignments and reportorial subjects, and they evinced the same sort of weird telling details and philosophical depth of field as his most powerful fiction. They reminded the reader of Mr. Wallace’s copious gifts as a writer and his keen sense of the metastasizing absurdities of life in America at a precarious hinge moment in time."
posted by plexi at 9:09 AM on September 14, 2008

I am bereft.
posted by carmicha at 9:24 AM on September 14, 2008

(Did he have kids?)

He had a stepson (about 18 years old, I think). He had only been married about three years.
posted by mattbucher at 9:26 AM on September 14, 2008

posted by Lutoslawski at 9:58 AM on September 14, 2008

and but so .
posted by fatllama at 10:03 AM on September 14, 2008

I characterize him as a fraud because he pretended a wide and various interest, but in truth, did not love the world upon which he lavished so many words.

You don't get this brand of response from your readership when you do not love the world. You don't get his talent for uncannily reflecting life as it is thought and experienced by not loving the world. Most of all, you don't show up at this time, in this place, and deliver some worn rant that you likely repeatedly used--and with any justice, failed--to try to get laid at school parties and then try to claim the ability to know who loves what.
posted by troybob at 10:07 AM on September 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

posted by condour75 at 10:08 AM on September 14, 2008

Does there exist, as far as we're aware, an audio file of that incredibly moving Kenyon Commencement speech he delivered back in 'o5? I'd love to actually HEAR him as he signs off with "I wish you l way more than luck"
posted by Wrick at 10:19 AM on September 14, 2008

I've often wondered if DFW was felt as strongly by other people as he was by me. Between this thread and the messages pouring out of the hearts of those subscribed to Wallace-l, now I know for sure.

I've never felt this bad about the loss of someone I never met. It's confusing and difficult and I'm not sure what to make of it. But it helps to know there are others out there feeling the same thing.

RIP DFW. That brick of yours saved a lot of people's lives, including mine. But as a Wallace-l member put it in response to the question, "Will we ever know what devils he fought?"

"We did know, having read his books. The worst part of this awful thing is that we thought he had those demons, at least in part, exorcised, for himself and for all of us. Apparently he had not, and now we are scared."
posted by ryanhealy at 10:29 AM on September 14, 2008

this is so horrible.
posted by supermedusa at 10:36 AM on September 14, 2008

posted by From Bklyn at 10:43 AM on September 14, 2008

Here is a picture of him with his wife.
posted by mattbucher at 10:51 AM on September 14, 2008

I read Infinite Jest the summer I was 23. It was 1997, I was living at my parents' house while doing a summer internship, and I had no friends in the area. Instead of a social life I had that book.

I would tote two things together around the house: my paperback copy of Infinite Jest and my hardcover, jacketless copy of Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary. I wasn't reading a novel; I was tackling a summer project. I couldn't read the book anywhere but at home, because I didn't dare take it someplace without the dictionary by my side.

I wrote a lot in my journal that summer. David Foster Wallace unleashed me. He was the first writer I read whose voice worked his way into my prose. Infinite Jest has been criticized for its logorrhea, but that's what cut me loose. I embraced the verbosity, the meandering, breathless sentences that Wallace had imbued with just enough centripetal force not to break apart.

I was drawn to Wallace because he seemed like an overthinker, like me. His thoughts flew too fast to remain neatly organized, and they overflowed in his prose. His mind often seemed to be thinking about itself, picking itself apart, getting in the way of itself, just like mine did. If he was allowed to write like that, then so was I.

I fancied that my writing was as good as Wallace's, but of course it wasn't. He was far funnier and far more heartbreaking and culturally incisive. Just because you write long recursive sentences and use lots of footnotes, doesn't mean you can write like Wallace.

Sometimes I thought about writing him a letter. But I knew that I would be doing so only in part to praise him; I really wanted to show him that I was as talented as he was. If I wrote to him about my own discursive and recursive thoughts, he would see that I was just like him! He would notice me and we would totally bond!

And then I decided that no, he would see right through me, that hundreds or perhaps thousands of other people had probably already written him letters in faux-Wallacian style, letters filled with rambling sentences and quirky use of conjunctions and footnotes inside footnotes, attempting to attract Wallace with his own pheromone, just like I wanted to do. I also felt like Wallace existed on a higher plane. Almost literally. That if I wrote him a letter from within the twisted labyrinth of my thoughts, he would be there overhead, piloting some biplane or hot air balloon, and he could actually see the labyrinth from above, and describe my own thoughts far better than I could, and he would see that instead of hedges the labyrinth was all just made out of plywood. That I could see two dimensions but he could see three. Or four or five. That as witty as I might feel, he would always outwit me. That I could try to engage him on his own level, but I'd never be able to.

Someone joked upthread that Wallace must have left a hell of a suicide note. I wonder if his entire body of work was that note. But that sounds trite.

I want to say to him, fuck you for hanging yourself and depriving us of everything else you had left to write. And then I want to apologize to him for that.

I always hoped that someday he'd write another enormous novel, something just as groundbreaking. I hope that there's something he'd been working on and that someday we'll be able to read it.
posted by Tin Man at 10:52 AM on September 14, 2008 [10 favorites]

DFW would be the last person who'd want a lock-step sappy obit thread, IMO. He was a complicated writer, and there are a lot of reasons to think his fiction reached for something he never quite achieved. (You could say this about a lot of great writers who eschewed He-man epical "statement" lit as well.)

So sure, no snarky pooping please. But no knee-jerk hagiography either. No attempts to silence those who might not agree with you every waking day and cloudy night.

I've been re-reading the Kenyon address. There's some truth there. And I'm remembering how he cracked up a room of jaded DC-types, myself included, back when I saw him read in '98 with his amazing take on cruises and the people who take cruises.

I dunno. Peace.
posted by bardic at 11:10 AM on September 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

posted by Divine_Wino at 11:13 AM on September 14, 2008

posted by Heminator at 11:14 AM on September 14, 2008

I have never been a fan of DFW's work, but his death has gotten me reflecting about his writing. What was great about Wallace was that he had a style that was instantly recognizable and interesting. He was excellent at capturing the absurd, the superficial, the hypercommercialized, efficiency-driven, profit-directed lingo and therapeutic jargon of these times. It was amazing how he could "inhabit" a contemporary manner of thinking/speaking/communicating, and do two things at once: (1) wink at the reader about the silliness of that manner of thinking/speaking/communicating, and (2) at the same time reveal, with empathy, a human depth and feeling beneath that mode of thought/communication.

I don't know his work well enough to communicate any specific examples, but I think of him as being able to write a story in deadpan managerial or therapeutic jargon that would be absolutely hilarious --- and hilarious because people actually do speak that way in the real world; Wallace's sendup of the jargon would be astonishingly on-target, comical, and poignant in the way it reveals the dimension of feeling and emotion underneath the language. What was refreshing about his work was the combination of empathy, humor, and anthropological accuracy. His work showed he was an extraordinary observer of human life around him, not at all a solipsist.

I think something of Wallace's talent is traceable to his philosophy training; underlying his joyful exposure of the absurdity of modern life and language was a very rigorous analytical/logical mind that relished identifying logical absurdity and contradictions in the ways we think and speak. Wallace's fixation on how people use jargon and management-speak recalls Wittgenstein's observation that "philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of intelligence by the means of language." And I think that Wallace had a somewhat Wittgensteinian understanding of language; his work reminds me of Wittgenstein's observation in the Philosophical Investigations that a language is like a city, with the oldest part being made up of little streets, alleys, and squares, surrounded by new suburbs laid out with logic and precision. In his writing Wallace embraced both parts of language. Wallace liked to show how there was a degree of insanity in the orderly and logical vocabularies we create.

I happened to be at the Claremont Colleges a few months ago, and saw Pomona College, one of the colleges that make up the Claremont group. It was a beautiful day, and the Claremont Colleges seemed to be a really pleasant place with clear blue skies, cool weather, lush green lawns, and a very intimate atmosphere. I remember thinking, when I saw Pomona, "David Foster Wallace teaches there; what a great life he must have."
posted by jayder at 11:22 AM on September 14, 2008 [8 favorites]


I just don't know what to think. So sad. I'm finding it strange that I heard about this today (14th) when yesterday I began considering reading Infinite Jest a 4th time.
posted by Constant Reader at 11:25 AM on September 14, 2008

posted by Iridic at 11:37 AM on September 14, 2008

It does seem that David Foster Wallace did torment himself with the question of whether or not he deserved the accolades he received. (My perspective on this is a bit odd, because I knew him very slightly when he was a graduate student in philosophy, which is a general prescription for self-torment for almost everybody, and had written one well-received but not well-selling novel, which is another.)

But it seems, from his writing and interviews, that that dilemma continued for him. And how sad is that? Imagine working that hard, reaching that many people, and still beating yourself up about whether or not what you'd done was worth it.

Self-doubt is rarely a sign of incompetence, and perhaps the suicide of so many astonishingly talented people shows where the lethal-dose levels of the Dunning-Kruger effect kick in.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:42 AM on September 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

So sure, no snarky pooping please. But no knee-jerk hagiography either. No attempts to silence those who might not agree with you every waking day and cloudy night.

Thanks for saying this better than I could have. Wallace himself, it seems to me, was consistently uncomfortable with the kind of hero-worship, exaggeration of his "greatness" by reputation, and concomitant defensiveness that is (perhaps understandably) in evidence here. I deeply dislike his work, but I am still sorry to see him gone, and I've enjoyed reading here about others' very different experiences of reading his work. I just wish it didn't have to come wrapped in such ire at any difference of opinion about his work's quality as literature. An honest and serious critical discussion of his work, if it could happen alongside the kinds of personal testimonials that are happening here without anyone assuming it was meant to tread on their raw feelings, would only make the thread a more fitting memorial. Perhaps that will have to wait for another time, though.
posted by RogerB at 11:45 AM on September 14, 2008

I read Infinite Jest in my mid 20s, sometime around 2001. I got it as a gift and remember when I started reading it, during lunch break outside of my university lab building on the grass on a summer day. When I got to the part, early on, about Hal eating the mold, I knew I was going to love it. I don't know why, but I love the simple line "I ate this." and the image conjured up by the scene. I devoured the book and was really sad to have to leave it when I finished it. I've since read just about everything else he's ever written, and, well, I guess that's all.

It's frustrating because I just don't understand suicide. I'm sorry that he was in such pain and feel very bad for his wife.

posted by statolith at 11:51 AM on September 14, 2008

Just woke up to this, still incoherent but have to say something. Reading the thread and thinking about his death brought tears to my eyes. I've never cried about a death before. With his final act he still managed to engage. The world is a far, far emptier place.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 11:55 AM on September 14, 2008

Sweet Jesus. I was offline yesterday, and came up to a cafe for coffee and wireless and read the news and turned to the girl was was studying next to me and said "David Foster Wallace is dead" and she said "Who?" and I'm utterly shocked-- by the suicide, not that she didn't know who he was-- and I feel quite speechless. Fucking hell.
posted by jokeefe at 12:14 PM on September 14, 2008

Death is explaining that Death happens over and over, you have many lives, and at the end of each one (meaning life) is a woman who kills you and releases you into the next life…. Death says that this certain woman that kills you is always your next life's mother. This is how it works: didn't he know? …This is why Moms are so obsessively loving… they're trying to make amends for a murder neither of you quite remember, except maybe in dreams. As Death's explanation goes on…, the more unfocused and wobbly becomes his vision of the Death's Joelle…, until near the end it's as if he's seeing her through a kind of cloud of light, a milky filter that's the same as the wobbly blur through which a baby sees a parental face bending over its crib, and he begins to cry in a way that hurts his chest, and asks Death to set him free and be his mother, and Joelle either shakes or nods her lovely unfocused head and says: Wait. (IJ 850-51)
posted by speicus at 12:16 PM on September 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again is one of my favorite books ever.

Can I just say, since this thread hasn't really highlighted it-- dude was funny. He had a great capacity for making me laugh, at least in that book. I remember vividly scenes like him playing chess with the little girl on the cruise, or the carnie at the State Fair muttering "fuckutalkinbout."

Fuck, why'd you hang yourself. R.I.P.
posted by jcruelty at 12:20 PM on September 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Since I don't have my copy with me, could someone put down here the passage near the end of IJ with the priests who make a wager about the decency of humanity, and one of the priests stands on street corners asking people to touch him, please, just touch his hand, and passersby won't look at him, let alone touch him, but they give him money, and soon all the beggars in town are asking for instead of spare change for people to touch them, because it's more lucrative, and the priest spends months doing this and becomes a vagrant until finally one day Mario takes his hand?
posted by shakespeherian at 12:30 PM on September 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

posted by NucleophilicAttack at 12:36 PM on September 14, 2008

posted by micradigitalis at 12:38 PM on September 14, 2008

Infinite Jest was amazing. It was moving & intricate & it had big thoughts that I had to read theses on, to even start to wrap my mind around.

Damn. RIP.
posted by Pronoiac at 12:38 PM on September 14, 2008

posted by qmh at 12:43 PM on September 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

One summer I dropped by a Barnes and Noble waiting for a friend looking for air conditioning and found a copy of Infinite Jest for $10. Looking at the size of the book I thought in jest (heh), 'what a low page-per-cent density', and started flipping through it. I had heard of Infinite Jest from a friend a few years back, but never really started reading it.

This edition had a foreword by Dave Eggers, and having nothing to do (and this friend hadn't arrived yet) I started reading it. And this is the passage that grasped me:

...And yet the time spent in this book, in this world of language, is absolutely rewarded. When you exit these pages after that month of reading you are a better person, It's insane, but also hard to deny. Your brain is stronger because it's been given a monthlong workout, and more importantly, your heart is sturdier, for there has scarcely been written a more moving account of desperation, depression, addiction, generational stasis and yearning, or the obsession with human expectations, with artistic and athletic and intellectual possibility.

And right then I knew I had to get it.


You know, sometimes I regret reading Infinite Jest. Yes, regret. Not regret as in: "I wish I could read the book for the first time again", or "I'd like to know that I have such a wonderful piece of literature to read ahead of me". Regret as in: This book changed part of me so much, that I'm frightened by it at times.

After I finished it that summer, on the subway, bus, going downtown on the express A, holding this tome and not thinking of anything but the Incandenzas and the Samizdat and dear Don Gately -- after I finished it that summer I couldn't think of anything else. You know how you fall in love with someone and then you think of them all the time, at least once every day? That was like this for me -- for half an year I couldn't go a single day without thinking about it. Every single day. IJ opened the floodgates of some hidden emotion and made me jubilant and nostalgic and beautiful but also frightened and sad, sad, sad. Once in a while I'd read the start of the book, where Hal opens his mouth and nothing comes out but gibberish, and the hairs on the back of my metaphorical neck would stand up straight, but because Hal is so rich and complete and solid, and the workings of his future starts there when he's five, when his mother screams about in panic and you understand heartbreakingly...

Right after Infinite Jest, I read Confederacy of Dunces and was frightened, completely freaked out because I felt that the book was John Kennedy O'Toole's absolute masterpiece of self-loathing and despair, of a scathing portrayal of himself -- or what he felt himself was like. The hyperintelligent artist who finds everyone celebrating a distorted and altogether ugly version of himself.

Just now I read an interview he had done with Salon. In there he says: There's something particularly sad about it, something that doesn't have very much to do with physical circumstances, or the economy, or any of the stuff that gets talked about in the news. It's more like a stomach-level sadness. I see it in myself and my friends in different ways. It manifests itself as a kind of lostness. Whether it's unique to our generation I really don't know.

Here's to you, David Foster Wallace. You did exactly what you set out to do, and more. You were my summer that year, and more. I, too, used to pronounce "epitome" dactylic. Your work and your words are embedded in my mind and heart, somewhere down there. Rest in peace.
posted by suedehead at 12:52 PM on September 14, 2008 [6 favorites]

I woke this morning reflecting on a passage in Infinite Jest that had me laughing uncontrollably the first time I read it. I always wanted to write just like Steeply. apologies for the length, but worth it...hyphens (and lack thereof) reproduced hopefully accurately


Moment Magazine has learned that the tragic fate of the second North American citizen to receive a Jarvik IX Artificial Heart has, sadly, been kept from the North American people. The woman, a 46-year-old Boston accountant with irreversible restenosis of the heart, responded so well to the replacement of her defective heart with a Jarvik IX Artificial Heart that within weeks she was able to resume the active lifestyle she had so enjoyed before stricken, pursuing her active schedule with the extraordinary prosthesis portably installed in a stylish Etienne Aigner purse. The heart's ventricular tubes ran up to shunts in the woman's arms and ferried life-giving blood back and forth between her living, active body and the extraordinary heart in her purse.

Her tragic, untimely, and, some might say, cruelly ironic fate, however, has been the subject of the all too frequent silence needless tragedies are buried beneath when they cast the callous misunderstanding of public official in the negative light of public knowledge. It took the sort of searching and fearless journalistic doggedness readers have come to respect in Moment to unearth the tragically negative facts of her fate.

The 46-year-old recipient of the Jarvik IX Exterior Artificial Heart was actively window shopping in Cambridge, Massachusetts' fashionable Harvard Square when a transvestite purse snatcher, a drug addict with a criminal record all too well know to public officials, bizarrely outfitted in a strapless cocktail dress, spike heels, tattered feather boa, and auburn wig, brutally tore the life sustaining purse from the woman's unwitting grasp.

The active, alert woman gave chase to the purse snatching 'woman' for as long as she could, plaintively shouting to passers by the words 'Stop her! She stole my heart!' on the fashionable sidewalk crowded with shoppers, reportedly shouting repeatedly, 'She stole my heart, stop her!' In response to her plaintive calls, tragically, misunderstanding shoppers and passers by merely shook their heads at one another, smiling knowingly at what they ignorantly presumed to be yet another alternative lifestyle's relationship gone sour. A duo of Cambridge, Massachusetts, patrolmen, whose names are being withheld from Moment's dogged queries, were publicly heard to passively quip, 'Happens all the time,' as the victimized woman staggered frantically past in the wake of the fleet transvestite, shouting for help for her stolen heart.

That the prosthetic crime victim gave spirited chase for over four blocks before collapsing onto her empty chest is testimony to the impressive capacity of the Jarvik IX replacement procedure, was the anonymous comment of a public medical official reacher for comment by Moment.

The drug crazed purse snatcher, informed officials passively speculated, may have found even his hardened conscience moved by the life saving prosthesis the ill gotten woman's Aigner purse revealed, which runs on the same rechargeable power cell as an electric man's razor, and may well have continued to beat and bleed for a period of time in the rudely disconnected purse. The purse snatcher's response to this conscience appears to have been cruelly striking the Jarvik IX Exterior Artificial Heart repeatedly with a stone or small hammer-like tool, where its remains were found some hours later behind the historic Boston Public Library in fashionable Copley square.

Is medical science's awe inspiring march forward, however, always doomed to include such tragic incidents of ignorance and callous loss, one might ask. Such seems to be the stance of North American officials. If indeed so, the victims' fate is frequently kept from the light of public knowledge.

And the facts of the case's outcome? The 46-year-old deceased woman's formerly active, alert brain was removed and dissected six weeks later by a Brigham and Women's City of Boston Hospital medical student reportedly so moved by her terse toe tag's account of the victim's heartless fate that he confessed to Moment a temporary inability to physically wield the power saw of his assigned task.
posted by troybob at 1:01 PM on September 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Okay. Fine. You know what I want to do now? I have a paper due and a review to finish and a deadline upcoming. I'm going to go home and write. Fuck you, oblivion. I'm not by any means DFW, but I'm going to send up my own small skyrocket against the immensity of death and depression and the inevitable end of all things. *logs out*
posted by jokeefe at 1:07 PM on September 14, 2008 [6 favorites]

That commencement speech was brilliant. I try to be that way. It's a shame that kind of pleasant recognition of an idea in someone else has to be followed with what it lead him to.
posted by phrontist at 1:08 PM on September 14, 2008

I really enjoyed Broom of the System, although I haven't read anything by his after that.

I spent a year nursing a friend back from the brink who'd all but lost her mind when she came home from work one day to find that her boyfriend had shot himself. He had a pretty bad narcotics addiction, and also struggled with depression. He and my friend had even discussed the possibility of suicide before. So one would imagine that she shouldn't have been surprised.

Well, she was devastated. For the next year and a half, I stayed on her couch more nights than not, took her late night phone calls, her late night visits, destroyed the heroin she started buying from her ex-boyfriend's dealer in order to dull the pain. She never fully recovered, and the last I heard she was dealing with her own personal hell, going on a little over 10 years now. I can't even imagine what his family went through.

So with all due respect for David Foster Wallace, his literary legacy, and his personal demons, my thoughts are with the people close to him, who have to carry on now. Whether his suicide selfish or akin to jumping from a burning building isn't really much of an issue to me. The end result is, the suicide's existence ends, and the torment of everyone around him begins, possibly without end.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:25 PM on September 14, 2008 [3 favorites]

What deep, peculiar sadness, to find myself searching the words of a beloved writer for wisdom to help me deal with loss - of him.

I will miss his voice.

If you haven't read it before (or lately), below is DFW's "Everything is Green", straight from Girl With Curious Hair. Yes it's ostensibly about a relationship. But it also speaks of life and loss in a way that I find strangely comforting at this moment...

She says I do not care if you believe me or not, it is the truth, go on and believe what you want to. So it is for sure that she is lying. When it is the truth she will go crazy trying to get you to believe her. So I feel like I know.

She lights up and looks off away from me, looking sly with her cigarette in light through a wet window, and I can not feel what to say.

I say Mayfly I can not feel what to do or say or believe you any more. But there is things I know. I know I am older and you are not. And I give to you all I got to give you, with my hands and my heart both. Every thing that is inside me I have gave you. I have been keeping it together and working steady every day. I have made you the reason I got for what I always do. I have tried to make a home to give to you, for you to be in, and for it to be nice.
I light up myself and I throw the match in the sink with other matches and dishes and a sponge and such things.

I say Mayfly my heart has been down the road and back for you but I am forty-eight years old. It is time I have got to not let things just carry me by any more. I got to use some time that is still mine to try to make everything feel right. I got to try to feel how I need to. In me there is needs which you can not even see any more, because there is too many needs in you that are in the way.

She does not say any thing and I look at her window and I can feel that she knows I know about it, and she shifts her self on my sofa lounger. She brings her legs up underneath her in some shorts.

I say it really does not matter what I seen or what I think I seen. That is not it any more. I know I am older and you are not. But now I am feeling like there is all of me going in to you and nothing of you is coming back any more.

Her hair is up with a barret and pins and her chin is in her hand, it’s early, she looks like she is dreaming out at the clean light through the wet window over my sofa lounger.

Everything is green she says. Look how green it all is Mitch. How can you say the things you say you feel like when everything outside is green like it is.

The window over the sink of my kitchenette is cleaned off from the hard rain last night and it is a morning with the sun, it is still early, and there is a mess of green out. The trees are green and some grass out past the speed bumps is green and slicked down. But every thing is not green. The other trailers are not green and my card table out with puddles in lines and beer cans and butts floating in the ash trays is not green, or my truck, or the gravel of the lot, or the big wheel toy that is on its side under the clothes line without clothes on it by the next trailer, where the guy has got him some kids.

Everything is green she is saying. She is whispering it and the whisper not to me no more I know.

I chuck my smoke and turn hard from the morning with the taste of something true in my mouth. I turn hard toward her in the light on the sofa lounger.

She is looking outside, from where she is sitting, and I look at her, and there is something in me that can not close up, in that looking. Mayfly has a body. And she is my morning. Say her name.
posted by marlys at 1:27 PM on September 14, 2008 [3 favorites]

I've long loved the MeFi tradition of the dot. But you're right, those of you who suggested this merited more or other than a dot.

I'd blogged about DFW just yesterday morning, after I discovered this set of DFW-related motivational posters in Wednesday's edition of Things Magazine.

It was actually peculiar that I had blogged that item. A little history: I overdosed on Infinite Jest back in 2003; I use that verb deliberately. During the months that I was reading it, and for several months afterwards, it was as though passages from that book had wrapped themselves around all the thoughts in my mind. I could not carry on a conversation without referencing it. I hated this. The references would escape my mouth before I could repress them, and even as I knew I sounded like some pretentious acolyte of postmodernism parading around the proof of his having read a "difficult" book, I couldn't stop. It resembled a deep and troubling marijuana trip — the barriers between regions of my thinking having been removed, and the book having been placed at the center of that thinking, so all my insights led me cruelly back to Infinite Jest.

Infinite Jest considers many, many things. For me, it is a book about addiction, all the more effective because completing it seems to require some level of addiction to it.

The principal victim of my addiction at that time in 2003 was my co-blogger Robin. So from the time we started the blog together in November of that year, you'll find no overt Infinite Jest references in its pages.1 Yesterday's post was about as close as I came to referencing IJ on my blog, an end to a five-year-long embargo.

And then I discovered that Mr. Wallace had died.

In his spirit, I'll allow myself more space than I ordinarily would. His death and your reactions to it have provoked in me a maelstrom of thoughts.

It seems I often come to MetaFilter to grieve. And that is remarkable. I joined this site two weeks after 9/11, part of an influx of new members that just might have marked MeFi's own Eternal September. But I was here on 9/11, reading my blue computer screen, grieving in this space with all of you whom I did not and do not know. You are a collection of perfect strangers — not even — symbols of strangers, abstract screenname representations of potential people whose histories and motivations I can't even begin to imagine. But here I am, finding solace and vigor and insight in your words, as I often have before. And as I said, that is remarkable.

I think the central beauty of human existence is our capacity to experience empathy. And I think the central tragedy of our existence is the limitation on that capacity.

As much as we may try, we will never be able to see the world the same way. I will never know how the world looks through someone else's eyes. When I say "green" or "spoon" or "lightbulb," these common words will conjure images for me that I cannot know if anyone else can see. You and I may look at the same object, and the images reflected on our retinas could be entirely distinct. And probably are. And this makes us each unique. But it also makes us powerfully lonely.

I think of love and art and science and religion as different attempts at transcending our own experience to find a common ground on which to understand the world. Each seeks something beyond the surface of the world that we may connect to or agree on or experience together.

There is a fundamental tension in art between universality and depth. Art that evokes familiar emotions in everyone who experiences it is cheapened by that accessibility. If a work makes everyone who sees it feel the same thing, then it expresses only the superficial — only a vague and ephemeral notion of happiness or melancholy. But a work so obscure and idiosyncratic that I find it speaking only to myself is just as cheap. It bespeaks a failure to connect with much beyond myself, leaving me right where I began, alone.

What I find myself seeking is art robust and faceted and true enough to disrupt that fundamental tension. Art that speaks so specifically to my experience that I am sure the artist and I have grasped a similar lens upon the world, but that also encompasses an expression so large that many others find connections as deep in other aspects of the work.

I had never felt addicted to anything before I read Infinite Jest, and I never felt I understood addiction until then. But the book expressed something that resonated deeply and specifically enough that I felt a self-transcendent connection with the experience. And the beauty of this thread is the discovery that many of you have also transcended your selves to find deeper connections in this author's work. You and I may conjure two divergent images of a lightbulb, but we somehow share a deeper understanding of the world. And that is astonishing.

If it was the inherent loneliness of our crippled human empathy that led Mr. Wallace to take his life, I hope moments like this help to overcome that loneliness for all of you. He created something larger than himself, and that is magnificent. I and some of you can find a specific yet common understanding in his work, and that is remarkable. Our imperfect empathy is strong enough that I can attempt to share my grief with even the symbols of strangers on a glowing blue screen.

But what is most reassuring and most beautiful is that we try. Is that we continue to try.


1 Although in the comments, you'll encounter one allusion to my compulsion, posted by another person who had to deal with me during that period. And I did link to the Kenyon speech.
posted by grrarrgh00 at 1:27 PM on September 14, 2008 [8 favorites]

plexi: "The New York Times has a proper obituary up:

Improper. No substance, faux-Wallace style. A Michiko Kakutani piece ("She has been known to write reviews in the voice of movie or book characters"). I hope someone with more knowledge writes a better obit.
posted by stbalbach at 1:35 PM on September 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'd be thrilled to hear from people in this thread who don't like DFW's work, and why. But signing up for an account to call him a hack and obviously not a genius is cruel and pointless. I'd be interested in hearing actual criticism.
posted by one_bean at 1:45 PM on September 14, 2008

one_bean, I don't think this is the appropriate thread for a discussion of Wallace's literary merits and demerits.

Seriously, that's just not a good idea right now.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:50 PM on September 14, 2008

I hope someone with more knowledge writes a better obit.

Michiko Kakutani knows more about books than almost anyone in the United States of America. Seriously, whether you like her writing or not, and whether you agree with her opinions or not, you cannot fault the woman for a lack of knowledge.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:51 PM on September 14, 2008

Found out last night by text message. Was freaked out, but, then, it's kind of a freaky time for me right now so everything seems freaky. Woke up this morning convinced that I'd dreamed it, because what the fuck? But no. True. Jesus, this is turning out to be a bad year.

After hundreds of comments, it's hard to say anything that hasn't been said before. Like a bunch of other people said, his stuff helped me through some very bad times and rearranged my mental furniture considerably. One of the reasons I quit freelance writing was that I realized that the only articles of mine that I liked were very transparent attempts to capture the Wallace mojo.

Most of all, the thing that hits me about this-- and I'm sure this has been said-- is just how subjective mental health is. From the outside, it's easy to believe that being such an absolute fucking once-in-generation master at something would be a key to happiness. And that's just so manifestly not true.

Vonnegut and Mailer and (especially) Thompson were hard, but hey, at least those guys had lived out their full lives. This. Jesus.

A couple of years ago, my band recorded a song I'd written about an imagined conversation between Mike Pemulis and an ex-girlfriend of mine wherein he tried to explain the point of drugs.
posted by COBRA! at 1:55 PM on September 14, 2008

It's days like today that make me realize I love MetaFilter.
posted by callmejay at 2:00 PM on September 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

Wallace, in the interview that Dave Faris linked above on "McCain's Promise," remarks:

McCain himself has obviously changed [since "McCain's Promise" was written]; his flipperoos and weaselings on Roe v. Wade, campaign finance, the toxicity of lobbyists, Iraq timetables, etc. are just some of what make him a less interesting, more depressing political figure now—for me, at least. It's all understandable, of course—he's the GOP nominee now, not an insurgent maverick. Understandable, but depressing. As part of the essay talks about, there's an enormous difference between running an insurgent Hail-Mary-type longshot campaign and being a viable candidate (it was right around New Hampshire in 2000 that McCain began to change from the former to the latter), and there are some deep, really rather troubling questions about whether serious honor and candor and principle remain possible for someone who wants to really maybe win

This passage is deeply troubling to me, because now I can't shake the fear that the commentator who wrote the following was on to something:

Wallace is never sure if McCain is "truly 'for real.' " But such doubts, repeatedly expressed, merely reveal the larger cultural assumption Wallace is working with: that some fixed essence — the real McCain — lies beyond the wilderness of signifiers unleashed by the spin doctors and the media, and that somewhere out there this all-American hero still exists, untouched by the compromises and expediencies of everyday politicking, and busily realizing the countercultural ideal of "authenticity."

My fear is that, seeing the latest evidence of the McCain camp's moral shortcomings, Wallace finally made up his mind. God I hope it wasn't something as pointless as that. We've lost too much to all this partisanship and petty culture war nonsense already.
posted by saulgoodman at 2:07 PM on September 14, 2008

My own spontaneous obituary of David Foster Wallace, with much thanks to moxiedoll and Greg Nog for posting the two excerpts of Infinite Jest which I also quoted in my piece.
posted by Rev. Syung Myung Me at 2:09 PM on September 14, 2008

Sidhedevil: "Michiko Kakutani knows more about books than almost anyone in the United States of America. Seriously, whether you like her writing or not, and whether you agree with her opinions or not, you cannot fault the woman for a lack of knowledge."

It's a short enjoyable stylistic obit without much substance. Michiko Kakutani may know a lot about books generally, but she doesn't apparently know enough about DFW to write a proper obit. She knows enough, but there are other people who could have done a better job for the NYT who presumably know more about DFW. I'll be watching out for other obits.
posted by stbalbach at 2:17 PM on September 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

This is very upsetting. I always find suicides upsetting because I would think being in that degree of pain must be so terribly lonely, and also because I knew DFW, briefly, a long time ago; I've mentioned it here before. Poor man.
posted by jessamyn at 2:21 PM on September 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

stbalbach: Might have been smarter to call Eggers or Frantzen, for example. Though I suppose they might not be in condition to do it.
posted by lodurr at 2:22 PM on September 14, 2008

posted by humanfont at 2:24 PM on September 14, 2008

Ok, so put me down as the third person so far in this thread to have an unsent letter to DFW floating around in their mind, or in my case my filing cabinet. I wouldn't be surprised if that was true for many many people, because here this guy gets something fundamental about your experience and so you feel like you could actually talk to him, right, but then when you're writing a letter suddenly it's something written and thus compare-able to other writing, like DFW's for example, and how can you throw dross at the feet of the master?

What I wanted to tell him was that Infinite Jest helped me to appreciate the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism as being obvious, heartbreaking, inevitable and in the end not particularly helpful, and I also wanted to send him a photocopied copy of a tract Alan Watts hand-lettered and illustrated late in his life, called The Art of Contemplation. Never sent. Ah, probably wouldn't have helped anyway, though it helped me...

Infinite Jest is so recursive -- it's all about obsession and addiction, to actually get through it you have to enter that state to some extent yourself, and its production was clearly the result of obsession and addiction on a grander scale than most of us even come close to, even in our massively addicted society. After reading it you have a much clearer understanding of all the ins and outs of how addiction and obsession can work on the brain, all the different little ways they have of shaping your actions and thoughts.

I've gone back and forth on whether that understanding has helped me personally to deal with addiction, or, in fact, made it more likely that I would become an addict than I ever was before. It's like when those Barthelme brothers, writers both (and both brothers to writer Donald Barthelme), inherited a ton of money and blew it all on a gambling binge in Vegas. They would joke about how they were enabling each other, and use psychological diagnostic jargon to describe their activities. According to them, it didn't help them at all to have that understanding; quite possibly, just the opposite.

I also second those who find DFW to be writer of profound empathy and heart, interested in saying the realest thing he can figure out how to say. To me the point of his literary pyrotechnics is to become credible to and draw in those, like me, who find it difficult to believe and/or connect with more simply or tritely put expressions of human emotion, simply because those trite expressions have been so thoroughly co-opted by the language of marketing and bad art. The thoroughness of his explorations and the obvious mental labor required to produce his work helps me to believe that he thought of it himself. Not many works convince me of their genuineness as well as his.

But, as notatroll or whoever it was took pains to point out, DFW was not himself always convinced of his own genuineness. That fact alone makes him more convincing to me, because I question myself in the same way.

Reading his report of his personal life falling apart as he was writing The Depressed Person makes me think of him as someone who was skirting real danger zones in the human psyche, in order to bring back reports of what it's really like there. There's one place your HST comparison holds some water, I think. I'm tempted to compare his suicide -- hell, either one of theirs -- to some wilderness explorer suffering death by avalanche.

On the other hand, I hated hated HATED that story when I read it in Harper's, because the Depressed Person was so, SO unpleasant, and self-obsessed, and so clearly and realistically drawn, and because of all the hours of life I'd already given to real-life versions of her as they worked out their own melodramatic issues using me as their audience, until I decided to stop doing that.

I don't know that DFW was doing a service to humanity by providing such clear road maps to personal disaster, but he was telling truths. And yes, very often they were gutbustingly hilarious truths, and other times they made me nauseous with sick recognition of my own patterns (the guy in IJ who secretly binges on high-test weed every few months, throwing out all his paraphenalia after every time and vowing never to do it again? Too close for comfort, DFW.)

One take-away from this tragedy, for me, is simply this: knowledge of how depression works may not help you. An open and penetrating vision of oneself and the world is not a survival trait.

Doesn't that suck?

posted by slappy_pinchbottom at 2:30 PM on September 14, 2008 [6 favorites]

This is very upsetting. I always find suicides upsetting because being I would think being in that degree of pain must be so terribly lonely, and also because I knew DFW, briefly, a long time ago; I've mentioned it here before. Poor man.
posted by jessamyn at 2:21 PM on September 14

FSOAT. Condolences, jessamyn.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 2:33 PM on September 14, 2008

There's only been 2 or 3 times in my life when I've felt really emotionally crushed by the death of a stranger, and this is sure as hell one of them.

To be honest, it makes me feel like it's more likely that one day I'll commit suicide. I mean, shit....if DFW isn't strong enough to fight those demons, how the hell do I stand a chance?

(note: not in any way currently suicidal).

Makes my wish I had superheroic powers that would enable me to travel backwards in time so I could stop him. (then I'd take him along with me and we could BOTH stop Richard Brautigan). And Stuart Adamson, dammit. There, I admit it: the suicide of Big Country's lead singer also gutted me.
posted by the bricabrac man at 2:38 PM on September 14, 2008

Reading his report of his personal life falling apart as he was writing The Depressed Person makes me think of him as someone who was skirting real danger zones in the human psyche, in order to bring back reports of what it's really like there. There's one place your HST comparison holds some water, I think. I'm tempted to compare his suicide -- hell, either one of theirs -- to some wilderness explorer suffering death by avalanche.

On the other hand, I hated hated HATED that story when I read it in Harper's, because the Depressed Person was so, SO unpleasant, and self-obsessed, and so clearly and realistically drawn, and because of all the hours of life I'd already given to real-life versions of her as they worked out their own melodramatic issues using me as their audience, until I decided to stop doing that

I hated it for that same reason, because it was so massively unsympathetic to the character. If you didn't know it was written by a person who suffered depression, you could read it as a completely non-empathetic, misogynistic piece. If you read it as being written by someone who hates himself with that kind of ferocity, you can see why suicide might well seem the only way out.

Where did you read about his life falling apart while he wrote that?
posted by Maias at 2:44 PM on September 14, 2008

I don't think asking that criticism be seeded in a different conversation about-- well-- the writing rather than a RIP thread about the very recent death of a writer is condoning "knee-jerk hagiography." If we're going to guess at what DFW would want, which seems a bit insane at this moment, I myself suspect that he's be perfectly OK with people waiting to piss on him and his writing for a few days, given that they've had ample opportunity to do so before. It's not as if there aren't enough fucking soap-boxes to go around-- I wouldn't criticize his math in a eulogy or whatever shortcomings I might think he had at his wake either. It's just common sense and, in thankfully only a few cases, uncommon respect. Not just for the passing of an admired talent, but for the many here who feel a great loss. With that, I go back to lurkerdom.
posted by fncll at 2:53 PM on September 14, 2008

I'm with the Times on the bit about Infinite Jest being just all too much, and am a bit surprised that it's the focus here, as well as a bit surprised to hear people say that he was obviously a tortured soul from his writing, etc. I'll always think of him as the guy who wrote "A Supposedly Funny Thing I'll Never Do Again," which was stupendously funny. The Times obit focused on his wit and hilarity. I'm with jcruelty on wondering why almost no one has focused on how damned funny he was. That, as much as the convoluted sentences and footnotes, was what marked his writing for me. What I wonder is why he seems to almost preach against that. The commencement speech was well written, but something's missing for me there. Yes, people have there reasons for everything. But no sane psychologist would all but order someone to drive an SUV after being a terrible accident, given that they are three times more likely to roll over in single-vehicle accidents than any other type of auto. Everything and everyone is connected, and all that, but how I longed for some mocking humor in the piece. The piece almost veers into preacher territory at points, when it's not Zen Lite. If it weren't for the suicide reference, it would be hardly noted.

I hate that DFW wasn't able to find some peace in his life, and wish he could have found a way to bring the wit and righteous hilarity along on his spiritual journey (all the while making fun of himself, as he did in that cruise essay). We all have dark sides, we all get annoyed at the modern world and it doesn't make one antisocial or immoral to acknowledge it in a less than holy-sounding way. At the same time, I certainly don't think it would be right to attack anyone in a Hummer, but I don't see where it would be wrong to poke fun at our consumer culture for coming up with mindless and harmful products like that. I worry that he worried too much, shut off too many parts of himself, worried too much about using irony or being entertaining, to the point of nearly killing what made him unique and interesting as a writer, before he killed himself. There has to be a better balance, another way of being well-adjusted.
posted by raysmj at 3:03 PM on September 14, 2008

Maias: it was this comment earlier in the thread ("life falling apart" may be a bit of an overstatement on my part.)
posted by slappy_pinchbottom at 3:10 PM on September 14, 2008

You're right, raysmj, in thinking that a lot of people in this thread are focused on Wallace's darkness instead of his amazing since of humor. But, you know, it's a dark fuckin' day.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 3:20 PM on September 14, 2008


He was a rare genius: entertaining and enlightening.
posted by chairface at 3:22 PM on September 14, 2008


posted by Onanist at 3:44 PM on September 14, 2008

"Since" of humor? Oh, how the SNOOTLETs have fallen.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 4:22 PM on September 14, 2008

Self reflection, ad infinitum.

posted by iamck at 4:32 PM on September 14, 2008

But it was nice to hear it confirmed, a consolation. You felt a little less alone. That invisible narrator hanging around.

The pain was a solidarity - but I eventually just ran away from it and found a life where I could think less, avoid that dangerous spiral of crippling analysis.
posted by iamck at 4:41 PM on September 14, 2008

posted by The Great Big Mulp at 4:53 PM on September 14, 2008

Sorry for the prolixity. I won't post anymore on this after this, I'll GMOB.

Written last night:

That friend just came over. He lives 94 street numbers up from me. As soon as I heard him knock on my window I thought he had probably read my comment above. At the door, he was grave. I didn't know whether I wanted to invite him in. I was silent for a while and looked down and off to one side and then said okay come in and then I was silent and then I said no maybe I want to be alone. And then I thought, would David Foster Wallace turn away a friend in a moment of death and I said would you like a cup of tea.

We talked and were silent and I asked him if anyone close to him had ever died. They hadn't and it was the same for me and I made some jokes. We hugged by the kitchen sink. I found that I didn't want to discuss the person who had died. I told my friend I was having girl troubles. He said, It's exciting that you're going to marry [that woman]. I said “open marriage... open marriage.” He said “Of course,” which it wasn't.

Eventually I said “I wrote a big thing and posted it to Metafilter.”

He said “I saw it.”

I asked him if I had violated any non-disclosure agreements.

He said not at all, and “thanks for not including the douchey bit of that phone call.”

“Oh what was that?”

“How I said 'Sorry for ruining your night.' That was probably pretty douchey.”

I sort of wanted to preserve the energy I had and try to focus the emotions I had into my own self and maybe my writing, and while he was talking about David Foster Wallace I thought, David Foster Wallace is not E. M. Forster, David Foster Wallace is not only connect, David Foster Wallace just killed himself, and anyway I must do what I feel like doing. And so we talked more but I felt like I needed to write and be by myself. And it was good to talk to him to a certain extent but more than anything I needed to be alone so when the tea was gone I said “I think I'm going to write or something,” and he said that I should come over the next day to meet a girl he thought I might like, and we hugged again and he left.

Written today:

David Wallace. David Wallace. David Wallace. Remember when he said that, guys?

Someone suggested getting DFWy up in this thread, so:

After my friend left and also before he showed up I read my comment over about fifty times. Over and over again. My emotional involvement in DFW's death decreased radically with each read, and my distance from the whole experience increased. With each read I forgot more and more what I had actually experienced. That comment became my experience. I could barely even remember it actually happening after an hour of rereading it. And all the while I was constantly refreshing the page to watch the favourites ratcheting up, and after like half an hour that's all I was thinking about. Tiny little ego boosts had entirely replaced all emotions related to the suicide. I felt like I was totally destroying what should have been a meaningful experience because I was too weak not to. I had to get away so around 2am I went out to sit in a Chinese restaurant.

I was on the way, at the end of my street, when I got a text from another friend who had seen my light on on her way home from a party. She came with me and we drank beer from a tea pot and ate. I got hot sauce in a cut in my hand and I tried to get the waiter to let me wash my hand in the kitchen because I forgot restaurants had bathrooms. He couldn't understand what I was saying because he didn't really speak English. Trying to explain it to my friend I said I forgot washrooms had bathrooms. Then as I was pouring tea I asked her if she wanted more rice, and she said you're forgetting categories.

I just want to clarify that I meant no insult to anyone in my last comment. It was written in high emotion. It was also undeniably hagiographic. I also don't think he was a faultless writer, but it's sort of like Jeez, let's see you try. He took enormous risks, and the fact that a certain (in my opinion very small) proportion may have failed doesn't say anything about the huge amount of material that was successful and just immensely pleasurable and identifiable to at least this reader.

Also, just the fact that he attempted those things, whether successful or not, not only meant a lot to me but literally drastically expanded my idea of what art could be. “Can't anyone find any bio info on this guy? Google's got nothing. This is urgent, come on. Did he go through a tennis academy?” – I wrote that in like 2003. It's still there.

I keep my copy of Infinite Jest (which unfortunately is not the copy from the story, which I had to ditch because of weight considerations while travelling) inverted, spine-in, on my bookshelf, because I wouldn't be able to function if I was reminded of its existence on a daily basis. It is the only book that gets this treatment.

How a full two important or at least notable relationships of mine have started out because of a mention of this writer. I asked a girl out because she said she liked him. We were together for a bit. She joked that we never would have got together if it wasn't for three magic words: “David Foster Wallace.”

My friendship with the guy who called me started because of Wallace. We ran into each other outside a library late at night. We'd seen each other around but hadn't really talked. We would have gone our separate ways but he mentioned Wallace. I asked if he wanted to drink chocolate milk with me at a Subway nearby. We still bring Wallace up probably a minimum of ten or twenty times a week.

Anyway. I guess I don't need to broadcast my whole life. I hope this hasn't been too much. I really like personal stories in comments though, so. I guess I'll never get another favourite again what with my self-serving etc, but anyway I'm glad you guys were here.

Finally, there's a lot of “uncollected” stuff that probably most people haven't read, published in small journals and things but not printed in any of the books, but available if you look around online, or MeMail me for the 2MB text file. This is one of my favourites, originally from TriQuarterly in 2002, called (I think) “Peoria (4)”:

Past the flannel plains and blacktop graphs and skylines of canted rust, and
past the tobacco-brown river overhung with weeping trees and coins of sunlight
through them on the water downriver, to the place beyond the windbreak, where
untilled fields simmer shrilly in the A.M. heat: shattercane, lambsquarter,
cutgrass, saw brier, nutgrass, jimsonweed, wild mint, dandelion, foxtail,
spinecabbage, goldenrod, creeping charlie, butterprint, nightshade, ragweed,
wild oat, vetch, butcher grass, invaginate volunteer beans, all heads nodding
in a soft morning breeze like a mother's hand on your cheek. An arrow of
starlings fired from the windbreak's thatch. The glitter of dew that stays
where it is and steams all day. A sunflower, four more, one bowed, and horses
in the distance standing rigid as toys. All nodding. Electric sounds of
insects at their business. Ale-colored sunshine and pale sky and whorls of
cirrus so high they cast no shadow. Insects all business all the time. Quartz
and chert and schist and chondrite iron scabs in granite. Very old land. Look
around you. The horizon trembling, shapeless. We are all of us brothers.

Some crows come overhead then, four, silent with intent, on the wing,
corn-bound for the pasture's wire, where one horse smells at the other's
behind, the lead horse's tail obligingly lifted. Your shoes' brand incised in
the dew. An alfalfa breeze. Socks' burrs. Dry scratching inside a culvert.
Rusted wire and canted posts more a symbol of restraint than a fence per se.
NO HUNTING. The shush of the interstate off past the windbreak. The pasture's
crows standing at angles, turning up patties to get at the worms underneath,
the shapes of the worms incised in the overturned dung and baked by the sun
all day until hardened, there to stay, tiny vacant lines in rows and inset
curls that do not close because head never quite touches tail. Read these.
posted by skwt at 5:12 PM on September 14, 2008 [5 favorites]

When someone like DFW (or HST, or more recently Thomas Disch) kills themselves, I take it kind of personally. Not that I knew them, or think I understand them, or they owe us anything, or that it's supposed to "mean something" to me. Not like, since I trust their perception, and vision, and sense, that it's somehow significant that they've voted No on existing any more.

It's more that even though I don't know them, it feels to me like we're all on a team, playing tug-of-war, with this big knotty rope, and they're not over here pulling anymore. (Who's on the other side? Depression, excessive clarity, the rest of the goddamned world in general, Nothing at All? I don't know. I also realize the whole metaphor is suspect- probably too cute or too ironic or something, given his choice of transportation Out - but I can't help that right now.)

It's worse than it would be otherwise, when it's someone who seems to have all the things that I tell myself would make life worth living, if I had them- artistic achievement, popular acclaim, a beautiful wife, etc- those are the knots in the rope, where I'm trying to keep my grip on it. That people like DFW get pulled over the line- or they let go- it's not just that they aren't here anymore pulling with us. It's that with them gone, the other side feels that much stronger.

I'm not going to try to blame him for anything- I didn't know him, had no call on his time or thoughts or feelings- it's not his fault that I feel a little more scared, a little lonelier, I feel pulled a little closer to that line today.

I know it probably doesn't work this way, but if anyone else out there who I admire, or care about, is planning on doing this? Could you try to make it look like an accident or something? Because that would piss me off, but I could *use* that. This? This doesn't help.

posted by hap_hazard at 5:13 PM on September 14, 2008 [8 favorites]

Sssssssssshit. Consider the Lobster and A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again are among my favorite books. RIP, sir.
posted by cog_nate at 5:25 PM on September 14, 2008

Salon piece in memory of DFW posted today; Laura Miller gets it about right, I'd say.
posted by LobsterMitten at 5:30 PM on September 14, 2008

McSweeney's has a very touching tribute up now.
posted by Ike_Arumba at 5:40 PM on September 14, 2008

posted by limnrix at 5:43 PM on September 14, 2008

I heard this on the radio this morning, while I was making breakfast for my three year old daughter. She asked me what was wrong, and I told her I was sad because one of my favorite writers had just died. And she chewed on her eggs for a minute and then said, "But his books are still alive."

It was such an utterly improbable Wallaceian moment in its combination of the tremendously wise and tremendously banal and borderline sappy, that it felt like a last little visit.
posted by rusty at 5:45 PM on September 14, 2008 [24 favorites]

a nice interview from 1996 about Infinite Jest and other topics - Friday, February 23, 1996; Mark Caro, Chicago Tribune

includes this bit:
he's been fascinated by some reader reactions so far, including some who liken its jump-cut style and information bombardment to cruising the Internet. "I've never been on the Internet," he said. "This is sort of what it's like to be alive. You don't have to be on the Internet for life to feel this way. . . .
posted by LobsterMitten at 5:50 PM on September 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

By the way -- as a tribute which I'm leaving up in my site forever now, I scanned in the 3/4 circle from the hardcover of Infinite Jest. If anyone else wants to do the same, here's the image. Please save it to yer own webserver and not be a jerk. Thanks.

(if you wanna link back to me, that's cool, but I don't expect it, since, um, well, I stole the idea from DFW hisself on the last page of the main text of IJ, so if anyone deserves the credit, it's him. Well, that and my friend/co-conspirator Field Marshall Stack/You Can't Tip A Buick/Hiway who figured out how to get it in the lower right hand corner of the site, since I am wicked dumb when it comes to CSS)
posted by Rev. Syung Myung Me at 6:13 PM on September 14, 2008

David Foster Wallace's first published essay, from 1987, "Fictional Futures and the Conspicuously Young."

An essay by Steven Moore, "The First Draft Version of Infinite Jest."
posted by jayder at 6:23 PM on September 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

Like so many other people here, I feel like more than the "." is called for. Because for me his creations were indelible, curiously brain changing: Don Gately, the game of Eschaton, that cruise ship essay, riveting excursions into the world of tennis (a subject I had zero prior interest in). The whole WORLD of that tennis academy and the halfway house. To say nothing of "Little Expressionless Animals."

An attempt address the mixed feelings he raised in readers at this point -- and explain to those who've never read him why many of his works despite their supposed coldness or prolixity have spoken so eloquently and with such feeling to me and others -- is a temptation, but (the more so in the shadow of this awful news), it's nothing I'm remotely up to, or at least not without a great deal more thought. I'm comforted by the fact that so many people here are capable of articulating why this feels like a real punch to the gut.

And the irony here is that the only gesture that seems to come close to coming up to the moment is silence. So maybe after all, the best I can do is that naked little dot. While feeling that I owe him, and whatever suffering drove him to this, quite a bit more.
posted by BT at 6:40 PM on September 14, 2008

Thanks for the link to FF&tCY, jayder. I'd always remembered this particular passage from what seems like a trillion years ago.

A fine and conscientious writing professor once proclaimed to our class that a serious story or novel always eschews “any feature that serves to date it,” to fix it in history, because “Literary fiction is always timeless.” When we protested that, in his own well-known work, characters moved about in electrically lit rooms, propelled themselves in autos, spoke not Anglo-Saxon but post-WWII English, inhabited a North America already separated from Africa by continental drift, he amended his ruling’s application to those explicit references that would date a story in the transient Now.

The "continental drift" bit makes me laugh every time I think about it.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 6:49 PM on September 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

posted by jonp72 at 7:12 PM on September 14, 2008

posted by umbú at 7:43 PM on September 14, 2008

This is so sad.

IJ was a tremendously entertaining and deeply disturbing book all at the same time. My closest friends are all those who have read it, and recommended that I read it.

I remember car rides spent reading aloud from Brief Interviews and the whole car laughing or just soaking up the verbal mastery. And Sunday mornings spent nursing a hangover with liberal doses of passages from Infinite Jest.

I've always thought that IJ was such an incredible work because it was encyclopedic, but managed to pack in a whole universe which could be unpacked solely through using the book itself as one's tool. It's all in there, coded with its own decryption key.

More than anyone else, he was the writer that managed to put my thoughts, in exactly my manner of thinking them and often before I'd fully realized them, onto paper.

I met him once at a reading in conjunction with the Best American Essays question. I needn't repeat that he was kind, self-effacing and very polite. I will say that at one point during the Q and A section, a woman stood up and said that she was a member of the Howling Fantods online fan community to which he responded, "I'm going to have to pretend that doesn't exist." It was a small sign of his humility and his great discomfort with trying to be an honest person in such a fraudulent framework

There is so much more to say about this; it's affected me in ways that I still haven't figured out. But the words are failing me.

posted by HE Amb. T. S. L. DuVal at 7:51 PM on September 14, 2008

E Unibus Pluram his terrific essay on television, published 15 years ago.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:08 PM on September 14, 2008

Well, fuck. That's all -- just well, fuck.

So much joy has been sucked out of life lately by the deaths of great public figures that I don't know what to think at this point, other than, well, fuck. He's exactly my age. I wasn't supposed to survive him. FUCK!
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:15 PM on September 14, 2008

I lost my own brother to suicide. Carting around "Infinite Jest" on the subways of NYC in the weeks afterward had a kind of talismanic effect. The appraisals abounding on the Internet today are correct to say that he was brave, that his work had heart, that he eschewed the depthlessness and shoulder-shrugging of the postmodern establishment. That's why I lost myself, and loved to be so, in "Infinite Jest."

I met him in New York City. January 2006, right in the thick of my own grief. He was reading at the Strand. He was mousier in demeanor than I'd expected; jacket photos - the one of him with a dog that says "This is not his dog" - painted a gruffer picture in my head. He read from "The View From Mrs. Thompson's."

But and so afterward he finished reading I waited in line for something like two hours, honestly shocked to see that the cultish affection that I'd heard existed for him and his work was real, and present, and in the devoted flesh. My first edition HC of Infinite Jest, the copy I'd carted like a shield through that winter, was one of dozens. The fellows in front of me, a guy a little older than me and his father, had three HC editions between them. I asked if they were book dealers or some such. They weren't. They just loved the book that much.

When I finally made it to DFW's table, sure I was starstruck. Strand staff had distributed little Post-Its to append to the books to be signed, in order to keep the signing process quick and orderly. My Post-It was blank. He looked up at me in a way I have to call schoolboyish - and I recalled at this moment hearing from somewhere that all of his characters' concern with being fundamentally unable and/or worried about connecting with other human beings was no bullshit: I could sense in that moment that DFW really wanted to do and say the right thing, to be true. Am I making too much narrative / lyrical pap out of what was really just a passing, unremarkable, de rigeur moment at a book signing? Yes, but more importantly, no.

So I told him something about the fact that IJ was my shield, that I recently had had a loss in my immediate family, had just returned from upstate, etc., and he sorta slowed down in the process of turning to the title page and uncapping the Ultra-Fine black Sharpie he was using for signing, and looked at me in the eye, and said that he recently had a loss in his family as well, that it was upstate as well. And I don't want this post to be a meditation on my own grief (although it is that), and I know that as raw and impossible as I felt those days after my brother died I could be shaken to constituent pieces and fluids if I saw even an act of kindness so small and normal and everyday as a mother wiping her baby's nose, and I know that this shouldn't be about me, but it is, and it was, and DFW knew that, could see that. He didn't need to say "I'm sorry for your loss", although he so clearly was. He didn't need to tell me that, by the way. Signing and signing and signing, going through that awkward dance of fame you know the guy wasn't over the moon for, he had no reason to tell me, throbbing supplicant that I was, squat. This kills me. This kills me because for all of his stated and much-investigated concern about how we are to other people, the morality of our American everyday, he was good. He was moral. I told him that I carried IJ not only in its shield capacity but also for encouragement as I struggled to write my own (still unpublishable) novel, that I cracked it open every morning in my too-loud studio in Sunset Park Brooklyn, kids keening all morning in a never-ending circular game of Tag, that IJ was the first thing I'd read in the morning to replace the ability to summon and traffic in and direct words, which ability had left me during the night, and so on, and could he possibly in his message on my IJ title page orient his inscription to that end? Might he offer in perpetuity some sort of witty encouragement? Absolutely, he said.

The rest of the interaction was kind of a blur: I met back up over by the Strand stairs with my then-girlfriend, who hadn't stayed in line with me, and kept craning neck to keep seeing him -- as though the visual connection would keep the other kinds of connection, real or imagined, intact. I think my girlfriend took another subway home, had somewhere to be, I honestly dunno about that. But I do remember being alone on the 1 train before I open the book to what he had written. Very carefully he'd crossed out his typed name, which I'd never seen done before. What a powerful poetic act of assertion and claiming identity that is. I'm looking at this page now, by the way. His signature is small, and to the right. The "D"s in his signed "David" are rectangular and at a sharp lean to the right, reminding me of like Stonehenge after an earthquake. Above that he'd written, in small caps,


If it isn't to cornpone to directly address the dead, I'd like to do so now, please forgive me, but you have encouraged me in so many goddamn ways, sir, and I am so so sorry and aggrieved and angry and other Kubler-Rossianisms that you are not in the world in the same way you were, and I wish you had remembered some story like mine, and there will be dozens or hundreds or many more of them if you listen, before you reached for the rope, because sir, you were good, you are good, and insofar as I am good you've helped.
posted by foodbedgospel at 8:18 PM on September 14, 2008 [34 favorites]

He was one of my favorites. Read most of his books. I loved his writing so much. ¹

[1] R.I.P
posted by tiger yang at 8:47 PM on September 14, 2008


1He will be missed. He wrote the only book I've read using two bookmarks.
posted by self at 9:14 PM on September 14, 2008

Regarding my earlier comment which pissed a bunch of people off (and because I haven't touched the computer all day), sorry guys, let me clarify.

You are correct in that I don't know what Wallace was going through at this point. Perhaps he had terminal bone cancer and faced a life of pain. Perhaps he's schizophrenic and stopped taking his meds (but boy, would that be surprising.) Or, most likely, maybe he had horrible depression, and because of the limits of the human mind, felt he had to jump from the burning building, that there was no hope for reprieve, in spite of the damage and anguish he knew would cause his loved ones (and the people who loved and respected him; see: this thread.)

That's where I just have trouble. I would posit that I do know him better than the proverbial woman in the checkout line, because of his writings. He seemed so lucid, so clear on what's important in life, full of questions and ideas and creation. Fully conscious of what the consequences of his actions would be. So knowledgeable about the whys and hows of depression, he had to know the mental trap he was setting for himself.

That's why I so brusquely asserted that it was selfish. It's not that he "owed" anyone anything. But in this case, suicide seems like an act of transference: He couldn't take the pain any more, so he decided to give it to all of us, in a very cruel manner. What a way to go.

Sorry if I come off as an asshole for saying it. Just trying to figure it out. I'm still remembering when I was in high school, and one of the students killed himself, and my teacher said, "Guys, let me give you a tip. If you're going to kill yourself, do it on a Thursday. That way we get the three day weekend." Now that guy was an asshole.
posted by fungible at 9:17 PM on September 14, 2008

I cried and cried and finally just brought the toilet paper roll in here to wipe up. I don't usually do that with people I don't actually know. But I guess I thought I did. WTF David Foster Wallace how dare you kill your self? Murderer.
posted by mkim at 10:07 PM on September 14, 2008

posted by joannemerriam at 10:08 PM on September 14, 2008

posted by wastelands at 10:17 PM on September 14, 2008

In the NYTimes obit (not the Michiko Kakutani piece), his father says DFW's depression had become so bad that the meds he'd been on for 20 years no longer helped; he'd been hospitalized recently but gotten no relief even from electroconvulsive therapy, which is about as close a therapy of last resort as there is (as others have mentioned upthread, see William Styron on that topic). As if we needed more reminding that depression can, indeed, be a terminal disease. God, it just makes my heart ache -- it just aches so damn bad.

I wish you peace, David Foster Wallace, wherever in this vast universe you are, and to all sufferers of the same dark pain.
posted by scody at 10:36 PM on September 14, 2008

No. No. No.

We were away all weekend, in a place with no television -- we didn't touch a paper, either. I had no idea until just this moment.

All the ways he touched our lives: my boyfriend in grad school later worked on the Italian translation of A Supposedly Fun Thing... and I screamed when I held the copy dedicated to him written in DFW's own hand. I read Infinite Jest (again) when I should have been studying for my Master's exam. It was the only writing that felt immediate to me at that moment, and the only thing I wanted to think about. Academic writing, particularly of the "creative" variety, felt so lifeless in my head. DFW was so alive.

I have so many of his sentences and stories and essays in whole pieces moving through me always, and until now he was one of the very few still living writers with that distinction. I loved him so much. I thought about him at the beach I was on this very weekend, of his description of the sea as "primordial nada" filled with creatures that "rise toward you at the very rate a feather falls."

Everyone who has ever suffered from severe depression has stared at that ocean, has thought about walking in to that dark mouth to be swallowed. Some of us spend long stretches of our lives in that place. I understand perfectly the anger, the sense of betrayal the living have toward people who decide to end lives that have become synonyms for pain. It's natural. But what is left when that anger dies but empathy? What other response can there be to imagine pain so profound that the sufferer finds only death an escape from it?

I am so sorry he had to live in that darkness. I am so sorry he had to be that afraid. I am far more sorry about that than knowing I will never have a new word from him to read. I wish he could have been comforted by how many of us, even those of us who never knew him, truly loved him. I wish -- god how I wish -- he could have found peace without drowning to get it.
posted by melissa may at 10:50 PM on September 14, 2008 [9 favorites]

Godspeed DFW.
posted by edmo at 11:16 PM on September 14, 2008

Wow this took me by surprise. I've rarely been able to slog through his stuff, but have respected what I've known about him and his work. So, wherever he is, here's 900+ pages of interesting

posted by not_on_display at 11:28 PM on September 14, 2008

Man. What a blow.

I just came back from a long weekend away from the world and a business meeting over beers on a Sunday night (a fucking BUSINESS meeting where I'm supposed to be gung ho about BUSINESS!) to have my wife tell me you hung yourself, DFW. I'm pissed off and at the same time can't say anything because, honestly, what the fuck do you say at this point? What do you say at a time like this? When a person who opened up a world of how you felt in fiction and essays... someone who was basically the same age as you who had actually gone through the hoops to be published and who had actually written something that meant so much to so many people who actually had really horrible childhoods and dealt with it in their own ways, and you who had chosen to do something like teach in the middle of Illinois when you started (because that's where kids need someone like that the most)... what do you say? Someone who proved to those within the literature establishment that "slackerdom" was how people lived, not just a lame pose with a flannel and doo rag (man, I've never, ever worn a doo rag, but you wore it well, sir)... someone who understood about knowing you could end it all, but decided to live just to see what was coming next or because they had to live to shield a loved one from the darkness.

I want to be pissed off at you for doing this, but I knew, somewhere in the recesses of my mind, that it would happen. I don't have heroes because they let you down every time. I don't have heroes because I know, from people like you, that most anyone I would find to be superhuman is just a fucked-up ball of neuroses on this planet and I can't place them as a higher being here without shattering any eggshell that exists around them. I can't have any heroes because I want to give them all a big hug and tell them I love them, even if no one else will, and then walk away. And that is like throwing a boulder from a cliff onto them for the ego, no matter how small their ego may be.

The fact that David Lynch pisses in a coffee can on set while drinking coffee constantly... never ever being able to listen to Keith Jarrett or watch Jeopardy again without thinking about what obsessions truly mean... thinking of the husband masturbating in outline because why finish the story (years later, that makes so much more sense now--that story was genius in its execution now that I rethink it)... what do you say?

Dear David Foster Wallace, I'm pissed off at you right now while wanting to hold you. I want to console your family, but I'll never know how. I'm sorry I can't offer a way that your books helped me through a horrible time in my life--they just helped me through life. They made me realize that being a smartass wasn't such a bad thing, that those fucked up ideas and observations I had weren't so fucked up even though your obvious genius brought them out in a way my mumbling self (and screaming self doubt) would have never, ever been able to shine light on the subjects of the ignored and traumatized and beaten and lost and forgotten and ignored.

And that is what makes it hardest to accept, Mr. Wallace, that you wrote those stories and went through hell like those that you wrote about and still made it through with their fucked up lives however they could... and you couldn't. For that I can't be pissed off at you. For this I can't be angry. I can only try to wonder what I can do for everyone I've known in that situation and try to make it better... try to make the world a place where footnotes are life and acceptance is the only way to live.

And fuck me for being sunshiny-hippy-fucking-dippy on this day. Fuck me for even worrying about myself and my loved ones when I found out; for even writing my feelings about your suicide on a fucking stupid web communities' comments board. You were a great writer, sir, and I hope that your family can find peace, but mostly I hope that you have found a peace that will last a million earth years and then will be quadrupled when they come to an end. Take care and RIP dear sir from a fan who loved you but never thought you were a hero. Because I don't know what else to say right now and I never will.
posted by sleepy pete at 11:30 PM on September 14, 2008 [4 favorites]

I think I first encountered David Foster Wallace in the mid-nineties. I had recently left a ph.d program in physics because I was afraid that the sum total of my life would be a slim volume of unpleasant equations gathering dust in some dark corner of the math building library, and I thought if I was going to bother living through life1, I may as well do something that could at least touch other people in some way. So I went ahead and took trying to write, because writers were always my real heroes, because they were the only ones who had the courage to take up the task of confronting anything approaching something real. I got a job working at some well-regarded magazine in the hope that I would be able to make connections in the publishing industry, but was so horrified at the culture of celebrity and incestuous backstabbing office politics and just unspeakable shallowness and obsequious self-centered social climbing, which was all the more a shock coming from the world of physics, which certainly isn't perfect, but is far better protected from the cult of the self because of the awe-inspiring, almost holy, nature of the pursuit of the truth, that I left and spent the next few monthes alone2 and deeply depressed in a deserted loft in a deserted dumbo neighborhood.

I think I might have seen his name, or heard it mentioned, or maybe I read something of his in Harper's, I don't really know, but I picked up the very large book in the Strand for some reason--I remember feeling drawn to it, like the time I was drawn to Wish You Were Here in the record store, not knowing what it was, when I was growing up in the sticks and knew nothing about music except the top 40 and classic rock which was all we had on the radio, and of course the kids I couldn't fathom who listened to Rush or AC/DC. But I took it home and I started to read it and it was a revalation--he wrote and said the things I had always wanted to say, but so much better than I could ever say them, and I felt like he was talking to me, alone, and it was creepy and wonderful and he was just so brilliant and I didn't feel quite so alone anymore. And he fucked with my head, I was never sure when he was being incredibly earnest and compassionate or taking the piss and was disgusted with me. I'm not sure if that book kept me from killing myself, but I realized that I would never be able to say the things that I wanted to say, the things he had already said, in any form that was even worth saying because he did it at a level that made me ashamed.

And I finished the book, and while things are seriously wrong, they were not as terrible as I feared, and I'm somehow still here and I don't hate life anymore and his books were the best candy in the world and he is gone. I had the chance to talk to him and I didn't take it because I didn't want to bother him and crap. Who is going to talk to me now?

1 You see, I had finally worked up the courage to tell the person that I loved that I was different, that there was something very wrong with me, something that I didn't have a clue what to do about, that I was terribly afraid not only of losing the person that I loved, but also of losing myself, because the chasm between who I was and who I needed to be in order to have any hope of just wanting to be alive seemed so impossibly enormous, and fraught with the very real possibility of becoming anathema to my friends, my family, everyone I knew (most especially the person that I loved), which would be looking on the bright side, the most hopeful outcome, which of course was impossible to even hope for, that really I was faced, so I thought, with the choice between abject failure or suicide, which seemed to be the brave and noble and by far the less humiliating decision.

2 You see, after I finally gathered up the courage and confessed the nature of what was wrong with me to the person that I loved, the person that I loved promptly left me, without a note or explanation, in the night while I was asleep, or so I assumed, since when I woke up the person that I loved wasn't there, and I noticed that the apartment looked different somehow (in fact, it looked different because when the person that I loved had left in the night, they had also taken along, understandibly, their belongings), and only after some disassociative confusion did I realise that these things were connected, which left me sort of glad, that I had been right once again, in my estimation of people and how right the fear of how deeply wrong the nature of what was wrong with me was, but also very sad, because I really did love the person that I loved, and because I was now forced to realize that the thing that made me different also made me alone, not only in the general, but also in the most direct way.
posted by cytherea at 11:41 PM on September 14, 2008 [14 favorites]

In the NYTimes obit (not the Michiko Kakutani piece), his father says DFW's depression had become so bad that the meds he'd been on for 20 years no longer helped; he'd been hospitalized recently but gotten no relief even from electroconvulsive therapy, which is about as close a therapy of last resort as there is (as others have mentioned upthread, see William Styron on that topic). As if we needed more reminding that depression can, indeed, be a terminal disease. God, it just makes my heart ache -- it just aches so damn bad.

I know what you mean. But in a way, the idea that he was suffering from severe depression makes his death a lot easier to understand. He didn't discuss his disease; there was some vague suggestion that he was "troubled", but that's very different from the recognition that he was under treatment for the past 20 years, and recently trying extreme interventions to cope with a worsening condition. Actually, given his father's statements in that obit, it's striking that we didn't know about Wallace's depression. It's almost weird that this guy, with his garrulous, sharply self-examining voice, never mentioned this central psychological and emotional fact.

Shit. I still don't know what to do with this. It's really thrown me in an unexpected way.
posted by mr_roboto at 1:29 AM on September 15, 2008

Patton Oswalt, whose link I first followed to the incredibly affecting Kenyon speech, weighs in here.

For my own part, I can't think of any living writer who means as much to me as David Foster Wallace. This is a profound loss.

I hope Milan Kundera sticks around for awhile longer.
posted by PM at 2:03 AM on September 15, 2008

James Wallace said that last year his son had begun suffering side effects from the drugs and, at a doctor’s suggestion, had gone off the medication in June 2007. The depression returned, however, and no other treatment was successful. The elder Wallaces had seen their son in August, he said.

“He was being very heavily medicated,” he said. “He’d been in the hospital a couple of times over the summer and had undergone electro-convulsive therapy. Everything had been tried, and he just couldn’t stand it anymore.”

I didn't realize people still actually underwent electroshock. What a terrible, sad way to go.
posted by plexi at 3:09 AM on September 15, 2008

I was just about to finish Infinite Jest for the first time and now I can't stop refreshing this page. I keep asking people if they'd read it (Infinite Jest), and no one I know even knows who David Foster Wallace is. I guess it's good that Metafilter exists because otherwise it wouldn't feel real, not that it has to feel real or that I'm owed that in any way. I feel like I should say or write something heartfelt and insightful, but I just feel numb.
posted by zorrine at 5:55 AM on September 15, 2008

W.r.t. to fungible et al: I submit that there's a difference between pissing on the grave and being angry at the suicide. Suicide is fundamentally selfish, no matter what other conclusions you reach about it, and being angry about is fundamentally natural. I'm thinking DFW would get that.
posted by lodurr at 5:58 AM on September 15, 2008

Oh fuck.

I was away from news all weekend and only just saw this.

Now I'm crying at work and I have to go give a presentation in an hour.

Excuse inarticulateness: fuck. fuck. fuck. fuck.
posted by Infinite Jest at 6:01 AM on September 15, 2008

Posted on the wallace-l e-mail discussion list, from a remembrance by a professor who taught him while he was an undergraduate at Amherst:

"He wrote two senior theses at Amherst: a creative thesis in English that was his first novel, "The Broom of the System," and a philosophy thesis on fatalism. Both were judged to be Summa Cum Laude theses. The opinion of those who looked at the philosophy thesis was that it, too, with just a few tweaks to flesh out the scholarly apparatus, was a publishable piece of creative philosophy investigating the interplay between time and modality in original ways.

"That much is probably common knowledge. Here's what is not so widely known: Though theses normally take a whole school year to write, DFW had complete drafts of both of his theses by Christmas, and they were finished by spring break. He spent the last quarter of his senior year reading, commenting on, and generally improving the theses of all his friends and acquaintances. It was a great year for theses at Amherst."

So fucking sorry to see you go, DFW.
posted by FrauMaschine at 6:13 AM on September 15, 2008 [5 favorites]

I think it's selfish to think suicide is selfish.

After reading all the comments about how people loved him so much, I'm afraid to read anything he's written.
posted by onepapertiger at 7:02 AM on September 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

onepapertiger: It's possible to think that suicide is fundamentally selfish and decide to do it anyway. Given enough pain, it's even likely.
posted by lodurr at 7:11 AM on September 15, 2008

This is the first I've heard of this. Dreadful.
posted by Mister_A at 7:28 AM on September 15, 2008

Some of my initial shock and anger (and denial) over this is subsiding, and now I'm just really really sad. I get the thing about the burning building and choosing the fall over the fire, but I guess I just don't understand the choice in the absence of an actual physical fire. But I know that it must have been that real to him, which just makes me sadder.
posted by statolith at 7:33 AM on September 15, 2008

I was crying yesterday as I wrote to friends about his death. I am still waiting for the anger.

We'll miss your voice, DFW.

posted by kandinski at 9:18 AM on September 15, 2008

Guys, I understand the sadness-and I understand the anger some of you feel regarding his suicide.

Please try to forgive him for it. When one is suffering from that level of depression...I don't know if you can even hold them accountable for their actions. In a very real way, the depression killed them.

If you have never been so depressed that you cannot even imagine Heaven to be a happy place, you might not understand. Perhaps we should be proud of him for hanging on as long as he did. And angry that depression like this can exist in the first place.
posted by konolia at 9:38 AM on September 15, 2008 [8 favorites]

I didn't realize people still actually underwent electroshock

It's very different from the 1950s version. And it can be effective for people whose depression doesn't respond to medication. Sadly, some people who might be helped by it today are turned off by the One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest images of it that still haunt our collective cultural unconscious.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:48 AM on September 15, 2008

Re. ECT, the results can be bizarrely counter-intuitive. My wife's aunt was nearly catatonic with indecision, losing weight due to lack of appetite, unable to formulate full sentences and required literally hours to put on her shoes. A few hours after her first ECT treatment, she was eating, holding conversations and dressing herself without difficulty. When it works, it can be amazing. Obviously it didn't work for DFW, which is deeply sad.
posted by lodurr at 10:20 AM on September 15, 2008

Autumn Approaches and The Mechanics of Yangcheon-gu Dream of Breasts

"Yet life itself, the fulfillment of desire
In the grinding ric-rac, staring steadily"
--Wallace Stevens, "The Men That Are Falling"

Vast smashers, wet needles,
a phone call to a remembered scent--
Sweat in someone's hair,
fingers crackling with soap.

Korean fortune tellers
stake out spots by the metro
entrances, near the waffle
and fish-cake hawkers.

I'm telling you to live
but that makes me a hypocrite.
I'm telling you to listen.
This is another cold gesture.

Yes. Light,
we love you light.
We say things about your glow.
We write soddenly and thank you.

When Crystal puked
on my dress-shirt's right arm
after way too much soju,
I told her this was passing through

a terrible event, the
cold rot of caring
too much, the dark slopes
of passing out in Seoul.

Birds do the chirpy.
Marion goes salsa dancing
Till 5 AM. The kids here, they're more
than that – slender, elegant cyphers.

We expect a freak show
at dawn, the hammering of daylight.
But it's just quiet. Mean quiet.
Beautiful, meandering quiet.

There's a park nearby
where the kids jump into the fountains.
Their parents scream at them
Not to do so, so they do.

Black notions, heresy,
the worst thing you've ever done --
don't forget, but try the harder work
of worthless, voluble motions.
posted by bardic at 10:30 AM on September 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

posted by joedan at 10:35 AM on September 15, 2008

Liz Spikol has an account of her (bad) experience with electro-shock therapy, and if it was anything like that for DFW... holy fuck.

posted by heatherann at 10:44 AM on September 15, 2008

There's a great piece in Slate on his nonfiction, which for whatever reason has received short shrift here and elsewhere as compared to "Infinite Jest" and other fictional works. I loved this piece.
posted by raysmj at 11:33 AM on September 15, 2008

Under the simple header "In Memoriam", Harpers has gathered DFW's contributions to their magazine and moved them from behind their subscription-wall, including his stories "The Depressed Person" and "The Awakening of My Interest in Annular Systems" and his essay "Shipping Out: On the (nearly lethal) comforts of a luxury cruise". (They're mostly PDF scans.)
posted by Doktor Zed at 12:05 PM on September 15, 2008 [3 favorites]

posted by ahdeeda at 12:59 PM on September 15, 2008

Now that some time has gone by and I'm a little less apt to get weepy trying to write anything personal about this, I will toss in my (belated, probably superfluous) 2 cents.

I bought Infinite Jest at Kramerbooks in DC one night, sometime must've been in 1999 or '98. I hadn't heard anything about it, or Wallace, or anything. I got it because (as I find a surprising number of others here seem to have) it was thick, and I was looking for a book I could read for a while. Totally about the dollars per page efficiency. I read the first page and it was sort of confusing but interesting, so that was it.

I bought it, I read it (fortunately no one had told me I was supposed to be terribly intimidated by it) and I thought it was, at the same time, just about the smartest novel and the rippingest yarn in a purely narrative sense I had ever read. To this day I can't fathom people who "just can't get into it." I can very nearly not get out of it, to such an extent that I have to sort of limit my re-readings to times when I will have the leisure to read for five or six hours at a stretch.

So when I finshed the book, I sort of went "Damn hell shit! What was that?" and immediately went to the internet to see if anyone there could tell me what the hell that was all about. And I discovered (maybe predictably) that I was not the first person to read this book and be blown away by it. I was actually kind of sad, because until then I had sort of thought "this guy is mine." But I got over it. It was reassuring to see that I wasn't the only one who had just been mentally reprogrammed by this thing.

So I hunted down the rest of his work, and have continued to since. And I loved all the things that everyone else loved about his work, enough has been said on that here already. Funny, wise, and something in his voice speaks very directly to me, as it seems to for lots of us.

And now he's offed himself. I'm in the camp that sees it as analogous to a heart attack. It's a tragedy, but it is not a moral failure. It is a social failure in the same sense that nearly any heart attack is -- could we somehow keep people healthier? Have we failed, as a society, when someone dies of a potentially preventable disease? Yes. But on the other hand, you can't save everyone. There are few lessons more clearly explicated in Wallace's work than that. In his darkest work, he might have been saying that you can't save anyone. But I prefer the sunnier version, myself. Don't forget about Mario.

I wish he'd lived a hundred more years and written twenty more novels and they were all as great as IJ. And in between, I'd have liked six hundred more collections of essays. Well, it won't happen. Every writer has a last book, every writer eventually dies and every writer has eventually done all they're going to do. What writer do you love, but were relieved when they died so they couldn't write any more? No one. I wish Kurt Vonnegut had lived another hundred years. The sucking maw of our adoration will never be satisfied, no matter how much is produced to fill it.

So I am, in the way Wallace recommends in the Kenyon address, resolving to be satisfied with what we have. It's more than we deserve. Thank you Mr. Wallace.
posted by rusty at 1:09 PM on September 15, 2008 [5 favorites]

A snippet from the NYT:

His father said Sunday that Mr. Wallace had been taking medication for depression for 20 years and that it had allowed his son to be productive. It was something the writer didn’t discuss, though in interviews he gave a hint of his haunting angst.

In response to a question about what being an American was like for him at the end of the 20th century, he told the online magazine Salon in 1996 that there was something sad about it, but not as a reaction to the news or current events. “It’s more like a stomach-level sadness,” he said. “I see it in myself and my friends in different ways. It manifests itself as a kind of lostness.”

James Wallace said that last year his son had begun suffering side effects from the drugs and, at a doctor’s suggestion, had gone off the medication in June 2007. The depression returned, however, and no other treatment was successful. The elder Wallaces had seen their son in August, he said.

“He was being very heavily medicated,” he said. “He’d been in the hospital a couple of times over the summer and had undergone electro-convulsive therapy. Everything had been tried, and he just couldn’t stand it anymore.”
by Bruce Weber.
posted by mecran01 at 1:29 PM on September 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

And lo..

And lo.
posted by JaiMahodara at 1:30 PM on September 15, 2008

Well, at least he got to write the Great American Novel.

The great universal novel, I think, written by an American. (OK, OK, maybe the great "English language" novel.)

If you haven't read anything, I'd recommend starting like Rusty, and just read Infinite Jest. If you're not hooked within 50 pages, give him up.

It's not his best book (I agree with ChrckenringNYC about Brief Interviews ...), but it's the one to start with, imo.

I've been too sad to even think about his death. Denial, denial, denial. It's better than the alternative right now.

/willful repudiation of closure
posted by mrgrimm at 1:44 PM on September 15, 2008

I discovered his work in 1998 when I went to Library West to check up on the recommendation, and found A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again. I opened it to the front--the essay on tennis, tornadoes, and trigonometry--to see if it was any good, and looked up some time later feeling dazed and amazed, the essay done, a cramp in my back and arms from the way I'd sat on the floor in the aisle holding the book.

I'd like to say I'm surprised by his suicide but his essay on visiting the fair made it rather clear to me that he was as brilliant as he was fragile. Still, I wish life hadn't seemed such a burden to him.
posted by johnofjack at 1:54 PM on September 15, 2008

I, too, was away from news this weekend and had missed this until a friend called to tell me.

posted by Hypocrite_Lecteur at 2:46 PM on September 15, 2008

posted by schyler523 at 3:02 PM on September 15, 2008

Having thought about it more:

I'm not his biggest fan. I didn't like everything he wrote. I thought Infinite Jest was way too long and self-indulgent and navel-gazing. I thought much of his writing worked as literature in the same way that a good close-up magician works: it's all a trick, but you're dazzled nonetheless.

I tried to read Everything and More and I was baffled by the math. He made me not just feel dumb, but KNOW dumb: I was the kid with his nose pressed to the window of the bakery, the dog staring at the pointing finger.

He hung himself. I wonder if he left a note. I wonder if that note had footnotes. I wonder how many miles of verbiage his act of desperation will generate. I wonder how many more people will kill themselves now. If that mind, that beautiful machine, that culmination of nature and grace -- if THAT mind can't take it, what are the rest of us supposed to do?

It would be easy to say he aimed too high. That would excuse us all for aiming lower. It would be easy to paint his as a cautionary tale -- hubris, over-intellectualism, the danger of youthful success. That would excuse us all for the failings of our ego. It would be easy to say he was depressed.

It's harder to think that that fine mind looked ahead, sensed the patterns in the weave, and made a rational decision. I don't believe that. I don't want to believe that. I'll wear this body down to a nub before I'll give in. We all tell ourselves that.

Fuck you, DFW. You were a genius. A polymath humanist trying to make sense of it all, or at least to dissect it into such discrete parts that others could admire the assemblage. But*

*this space left deliberately unfinis
posted by BitterOldPunk at 5:00 PM on September 15, 2008 [5 favorites]

posted by Astragalus at 7:56 PM on September 15, 2008

Please stop saying 'waste' you are trivializing his life and your own
posted by ndrw at 7:58 PM on September 15, 2008

donotcant, is this you?
posted by one_bean at 9:05 PM on September 15, 2008

I've never heard of DFW until now. Your comments are all a beautiful testament to who he was (or, in his humility, wasn't).

I think I'll pick up a copy of Infinite Jest and begin my contribution to the solidification of his immortality... even though he won't need my help.
posted by eli_d at 12:18 AM on September 16, 2008

Hello one_bean,

No, I’m not him. I haven’t any personally grown sour grapes. I came to metafilter through Google’s randomness, and posted only b/c I had the following passage on my mind:

I HAVE no minute of any interview with Johnson till Thursday,
May 1 5th, when I find what follows : — -BOSWELL : " I wish much
to be in Parliament, sir." — JOHNSON : " Why, sir, unless you
come resolved to support any administration, you would be the
worse for being in Parliament, because you would be obliged to
live more expensively." — BOSWELL : " Perhaps, sir, I should be
the less happy for being in Parliament. I never would sell my
vote, and I should be vexed if things went wrong." — JOHNSON : "
That's cant, sir. It would not vex you more in the House
than in the gallery : public affairs vex no man." — BOSWELL : "
Have not they vexed yourself a little, sir ? Have not you been
vexed by all the turbulence of this reign, and by that absurd vote
of the House of Commons, ' That the influence of the Crown has
increased, is increasing, and ought to be diminished' ?" — JOHNSON : "
Sir, I have never slept an hour less, nor ate an ounce less meat.

I would have knocked the factious dog on the head, to be sure ;
but I was not vexed" — BOSWELL : " Sir, upon my honour, I did
imagine I was vexed, and took a pride in it ; but it was, perhaps,
cant ; for I own I neither ate less, nor slept less." — JOHNSON : "
My dear friend, clear your mind of cant. You may talk as
other people do : you may say to a man, ' Sir, I am your most
humble servant.' You are not his most humble servant. You
may say, ' These are bad times ; it is a melancholy thing to be
reserved to such times.' You don't mind the times. You tell a
man, ' I am sorry you had such bad weather the last day of your
journey, and were so much wet.' You don't care sixpence
whether he is wet or dry. You may talk in this manner ; it is a
mode of talking in society : but don't think foolishly."

It seems to me that this *great* passage has a lot to teach anyone who (re) reads it closely. If I had more manners and less suspicion, I would’ve accepted this thread as what it partially is – a mode of talking in society – but as I continued to read and cringe at what for me is an outrageous spree of cant, I thought maybe people were *thinking foolishly.*

I think readers shd. be more careful with praise. I’ve read a great deal of DFW in the past few days, and aside from the ravished energies of the cruise piece, read nothing that would make me say: he was a *great* writer. I read every word of IJ as the result of losing a bet, so I’ve pretty much covered the ground by this point.

I regret the original post. It isn’t the time for harshness. My apologies to all.
posted by donotcant at 1:58 AM on September 16, 2008 [2 favorites]

Ziegler's a pathetic vulture. I'm glad DFW's profile will outlast that weak editorial.
posted by mecran01 at 2:40 AM on September 16, 2008

Perhaps the funniest thing about the Ziegler editorial is that the DFW piece made him come off as rather sympathetic, and his own piece basically says "Nope, nope, I'm a huge jerk."
posted by Rev. Syung Myung Me at 5:42 AM on September 16, 2008 [4 favorites]

Jeebus on toast, that Ziegler ed is one mean-spirited and stereotypically conservative-pundit piece of character assassination. What a dick.
posted by lodurr at 6:39 AM on September 16, 2008

That "Ziegler" thing/post is of a piece. I had no idea he was a self-identified 'conservative' until he mentioned as much. What struck me up to that point was how narrow-minded he was - though at the same time, 'so what?' Lot's of people are. Then he starts slinging all that crap about academics and how DFW must hate himself because he's a fraud and etc and etc and for a brief, vertiginous moment he almost just very very nearly sounded like some kind of character in a story I might have read...

You read that post and you can't help but be sorry for the guy. Some day he just might get hit by a lick of common sense and _boy_ is that gonna be a tough day for him.

And boy that Boswell Johnson bit sure is innerestin', if confusin'. Who were those guys? They sound like old-timey England guys or somethin! Ha Ha. I'm sure it's just some Law and Order/ West Wing tv show I'm not up on...

posted by From Bklyn at 8:18 AM on September 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

Ten years from now, the whole of Ziegler's output will be a footnote of a footnote about DFW.
posted by nushustu at 9:29 AM on September 16, 2008

It's kind of blackly hilarious that the shit-dripping Ziegler piece has a sidebar link to a site offering whiny, defensive, self-serving explanation of why Ziegler lost the job he had in the Wallace profile... which is exactly in character with the way Wallace profiled him. Even posthumously, it's advantage: Wallace.
posted by COBRA! at 9:31 AM on September 16, 2008

So much criticism of guys like DFW is of that flavor. But those same people don't seem to even bother to consider more controversial and more obviously self-promoting figures like Warhol or Damien Hirst. They seem obsessed with people they see as pretending to earnestness; the assumption seems to be that they couldn't possibly be earnest, so they must be faking.

And all those people who know them and say they're for real? Suckers. Every one.
posted by lodurr at 9:38 AM on September 16, 2008

advantage: Wallace

And COBRA! scores for contextually-resonant use of metaphor!

posted by lodurr at 9:41 AM on September 16, 2008

Greg Nog, I'm not dontnotcant, of course, but I do think there are some strong arguments for being careful with praise.

Most on point to me: To too-easily call someone "brilliant," "genius," and so on can be a disservice -- I like to call it "under-rating by over-rating." If DFW is a "genius", then he doesn't get to just be himself.

But also, it diminishes the use of the words. I worked with a guy who tossed around the phrases "genius", "genius-level", "brilliant", and "rock-star" with frantic regularity about people he admired. And it would more often than not be people I regarded as of mediocre to moderate talent or intelligence. So if you've just come out of a conversation where Seth Godin was five times called "brilliant" and twice "genius" (and I have to confess I actually think Seth is pretty smart), then what word do you use to describe, say, DFW? "Brilliant" and "genius" have just gotten a lot cheaper.

Finally, I personally try to keep that king of fulsome praise clear with regard to where it's coming from. A lot of the praise on this thread has to do with what DFW means to peopel, and that's kind of hard to assail (and it would be in bad taste considering the cirucmstances); but more to the point, it's inherently subjective, and if you are clear on that when you're sayiing something (that you're coming from a totally subjective point of view), then I don't see a problem with fulsome praise. It's when it's stated in absolute terms -- "DFW is a genius", "weissbier must be drunk in the open air with lemon"* -- that I start to take issue, personally.

But here, I think it would definitely be in really bad taste to kick up a fuss in regard to DFW.

*I did actually have a waitress at a beer-snob pub tell me that one time.
posted by lodurr at 9:52 AM on September 16, 2008

posted by Soulbee at 10:33 AM on September 16, 2008

Nice tributes coming in at McSweeneys...
posted by moxiedoll at 11:24 AM on September 16, 2008 [2 favorites]

and Lo, for the Earth was empty of Form, and void.
and Darkness was all over the Face of the Deep.
and We said: Look at that fucker Dance.

posted by logicpunk at 1:05 PM on September 16, 2008 [3 favorites]

I too am quite saddened by the sudden death of an American literary giant. The posts over at McSweeneys are touching and a true testament to the brilliance and love that his fans, friends, and loved ones held towards him. R.I.P.
posted by Fizz at 3:02 PM on September 16, 2008

I haven't been able yet to find the words for this. I try and try and try and nothing comes out. I think of the face in the floor, or the girl in the gym before the towers come down, or even the Moms walking in plumb lines with the rototiller running; all these images happen without giving me the time to sort through his contribution to my life.

Anyhow, we'll miss you buddy. So much more than I ever expected.

"These worst mornings with cold floors and hot windows and merciless light - the soul's certainty that the day will have to be not traversed but sort of climbed, vertically, and then that going to sleep again at the end of it will be like falling, again, off something tall and sheer."

posted by georg_cantor at 4:21 PM on September 16, 2008

I'm posting just now for no particular reason, except that I don't want this thread to die quite yet. I'm still trying to absorb this. I've reread a bunch of his stuff. God, it sings.

I want that to be enough.

It wasn't.

posted by gompa at 10:54 PM on September 16, 2008

posted by ropadope at 8:02 AM on September 17, 2008

When I was walking my dog last night and thinking things over, I suddenly remembered that I actually inserted a short Wallace cameo into a comic about lit fiction I did last year (he appears on pages 4 and 5). Which doesn't have much to do with anything, I guess, except that it was pretty fun trying to write dialog (even very short) for him.

my pride does force me to point out that I was still learning the ropes of photoshop post-production when I put that comic together....
posted by COBRA! at 8:26 AM on September 17, 2008

...and then after posting that, I remembered that I also once found some guy's attempt at a comic adaptation of part of Up, Simba. I don't think it really works, but it's interesting (to me, at least) to see somebody try to figure out how to deal with such a distinctive prose voice.
posted by COBRA! at 8:38 AM on September 17, 2008

1. I don't think anyone's posted this yet - it made me laugh more than Toothpaste for Dinner had made me laugh in awhile, and I hope it would have made DFW laugh too.

2. It occurred to me that if a few days ago I had been asked what two living people I would like meet, I probably would have gone with DFW and this guy. Conclusion? Those MacArthur people know what they're doing.
posted by naoko at 8:21 PM on September 17, 2008

Roundup of remembrances on Kottke
posted by mattbucher at 11:43 AM on September 18, 2008

I can't say anything that others haven't already said, but I'll say it anyway, and I'll say it relatively simply, despite that not being precisely the way DFW would have done it.1

I loved his work. I finished Infinite Jest years ago. I will read it again.

I'm really sad that when I finish Oblivion and the various other essays I haven't read that that's it -- no more David Foster Wallace.

Like many of the other posters on this thread, I've been thinking about Vonnegut and DNA and HST in the wake of this horrible shock. This is different, though. DFW was a hero and an influence that was closer to a peer than any of those other heroes of mine. I recognized something in him, and in his writing, that reminded me of me, more than any other writer, of someone who could see the complexity and the absurdity of everything, of someone who was from the Midwest and smart and young-ish and a little bit angry and a little bit sad. Or maybe a lot of each. (More than I evidently knew.)

I'm not going to get over this quickly or easily, even though (or maybe because) I never met him in person.

I'm glad that I heard the news from the person (my dear friend since age 8) who introduced me to DFW, though it was strange that it was in a Facebook posting.

I have felt really alive lately, really engaged in my life to a degree that I hadn't been for a few years, but this was like a punch in the gut. And the head. And the heart.

Goodbye, David.


1 (Mostly because, among many reasons, and obviously2, I am not he.)

2 [I hope]
posted by gohlkus at 1:44 AM on September 19, 2008

OK, I’ve been thinking about this for a few days, and have printed out and reread a lot of his work. Yes, that anonymous commendation of a drug treatment facility was obviously written by him. In it, he admits he still goes to twelve-step programs (and uses the present tense to say it).

The thing I’ve kept thinking is “Well, I didn’t know he was that depressed.” This is a nonsensical thing to think, because how could anybody but maybe his wife know that other than him, but fundamentally I am wondering how things got so very much worse from what could be called a baseline level of depression that suicide seemed preferable. Maybe he had a drug relapse? Or something exogenous happened, e.g., his poor wife had a miscarriage? Or someone he knew died?

I wish there were more in the way of press coverage about his last days. This is the sort of article that serious magazines would often run. I’d just prefer not to wait several months until that happens, if it even will.
posted by joeclark at 2:54 PM on September 22, 2008

His sister Amy described emotions ranging from disbelief to sadness to acceptance, of a sort. "Inevitably our thought was, if only he could have held on a little bit longer," says sister Amy. "And then we realized, he did. How many extra weeks had he hung in there when he just couldn't bear it? So we're not angry at him. Not at all. We just miss him."
- The Last Days of David Foster Wallace (Salon)
posted by scody at 8:32 PM on September 25, 2008 [2 favorites]

posted by strangememes at 12:36 AM on September 28, 2008

Suicide is fundamentally selfish, no matter what other conclusions you reach about it, and being angry about is fundamentally natural. I'm thinking DFW would get that.
posted by lodurr at 7:58 AM on September 15

This is by far the most stupid comment I've read in this thread.

How about if he had cancer, and that took him -- do you think that DFW would 'get that' and not die because of it? What about diebetes, I'm sure you think that he would 'get that' and not need to take the medications for it, or, if the medications were no longer helping him, that he would 'get that' and not die from it.

Depression is an illness. Not all suicides suffer from depression, it's true, but I'd bet dollars to dimes that most do, and just cannot take it any longer, it's tearing them into bitty pieces, shredding them. Here and there, time to time, people commit suicide 'at' other people, to get even somehow, to 'show' them, an impulsive and foolish act.

We've got to raise the bar, in our society, in the world. It's an illness, kids. Learn. Quit making stupid statements about things you know nothing about.
posted by dancestoblue at 1:08 AM on September 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

This came out a bit later, by A. O. Scott, and really encapsulates what I was feeling:

"When, as an undergraduate with a head full of literary theory and a heartsick longing for authenticity, I first encountered David Foster Wallace, I experienced what is commonly called the shock of recognition. Actually, shock is too clean, too safe a word for my uncomfortable sense that not only did I know this guy, but he knew me. He could have been a T.A. in one of my college courses, or the slightly older guy in Advanced Approaches to Interpretation who sat slightly aloof from the others and had not only mastered the abstruse and trendy texts everyone else was reading, but also skipped backward, sideways and ahead. It was impressive enough that he could do philosophy — the mathematical kind, not just the French kind. But he also played tennis — Mr. Wallace, in fact, had competed seriously in the sport — and could quote lyrics from bands you only pretended you’d heard of. Without even trying, he was cooler than everyone else.

All this shone through Mr. Wallace’s fiction. He had the intellectual moves and literary tricks diagrammed in advance: the raised-eyebrow, mock-earnest references to old TV shows and comic books; the acknowledgment that truth was a language game. He was smarter than anyone else, but also poignantly aware that being smart didn’t necessarily get you very far, and that the most visible manifestations of smartness — wide erudition, mastery of trivia, rhetorical facility, love of argument for its own sake — could leave you feeling empty, baffled and dumb."

The Best Mind of His Generation, A. O. Scott, The New York Times, Sept 20, 2008.
posted by suedehead at 1:55 AM on September 30, 2008 [3 favorites]

A DFW memorial tour: Boston locations in Infinite Jest.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 2:56 PM on September 30, 2008

« Older Farsi alphabet book   |   META Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments