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Why Finally Reading David Foster Wallace Was Good, But Also Kind of Sad

In Books on October 3, 2009 at 6:44 pm

I’d been ignoring David Foster Wallace for a while. Mainly because of Infinite Jest, which I still haven’t read. Infinite Jest is a huge and imposing book and honestly it intimidates me even more than Ulysses did. I will read it. I will unhinge my jaw and devour the entirety of a North American buffalo. This will happen, yes, mainly because I’ve now read A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, one of DFW’s essay collections.

The best thing about ASFTINDA is DFW. The essays are about stuff like tennis and cruise ships, topics that I normally wouldn’t care at all about, but I cared about them because DFW’s perspective and style was such that he allowed me to care about him. In other words, I really liked him. Not just as an author, though. There are plenty of authors whom I quite admire but would never really want to meet in person. Hemingway and I would not have much to talk about. DFW, though, seems exactly like the sort of person with whom I could relate, even be friends with. This happens very rarely with me and media figures, but it happened with DFW, and I found it quite frightening given that he put himself at the end of a rope last year.

There are plenty of suicidal people whose work I enjoy and think were geniuses. Abovementioned Hemingway, Woolf, Akutagawa, and Mishima all offed themselves, and that doesn’t really bother me all that much. That might sound callous, but it’s true. I guess that’s because, really, I wouldn’t really ever have wanted to hang out with them or see myself in them at all. However, I was able to see a lot of me in DFW (does that sound really arrogant?) and that was sort of weird.

He has all sorts of little affectations which I found at once horribly pretentious and also utterly charming. He uses 24 hour time notation, uses the abbreviation “w/r/t/” without explanation, and has a joyous and unrestrained love for footnotes. He is unapologetically what one would call an “intellectual” and thinks the fuck out of things like carnies and corn dogs while finding dread and anxiety in the Illinois State Fair. On the back of ASFTINDA he smiles sweetly through stubble and slightly unkempt hair and I realize that I don’t just want to hang out with this guy, I want to be this guy. I want to be funny, smart, respected, and successful in the same ways he is funny, smart respected, and successful. Under normal circumstances he would be what is known as a “role model” for me (can 28 year old adults have role models?) but I’m still really bothered by how he died, i.e., at his own hand.

I think that suicide is, for the most part, extremely unreasonable. If someone’s in immense terminal pain, I can certainly understand that, but most of the time I think that there are reasonable alternatives for functional adults. At the risk of sounding immensely insensitive, I think that able-bodied people who commit suicide are usually, at best, shortsighted and, at worst, cowards.

Knowing that this guy whom I’ve been admiring so much for the past week succumbed to that is really, really troubling. DFW suffered from chronic depression, yes, and was attempting to go off his meds when he offed himself. I guess that’s a mitigating circumstance or something. Still, it’s weird to see a guy who has precisely what I, personally want out of life- intellectual acuity, my name in print, and sex with smart, creative women – radically admit to unsatisfaction. I’m thinking to myself, Jesus Christ, that wasn’t enough. That didn’t make you fucking happy? You had it fucking all. (At least for a certain nerdy, literary definition of “all.”)

One of the recurring conversations that I’ve had with Seph is that there very well may be a certain baseline of happiness/depression. One may be satisfied/exuberant for a time, think that one has “made it” or whatever, but eventually you just readjust your expectations and desires and end up in the same kind of happiness/blah-ness cycle that typifies most of life. There is nothing, really that can make those heavy, gray days (and weeks and months) go away where you know that most of your internal switches are in the “off” position. Abraham Maslow is famous for saying “Whatever our sorrow, it fills us up.” I’m never going to off myself like DFW, but from his experience I know that if I ever am hypothetically successful I’ll still have rather grim periods, and that’s a nasty little truth to face.

God, what a fucking downer of a blog post. Shit. I should say something positive.

Oh, yeah- ASFTINDA is awesome and you should read it. Reading it made me want to write, and I think that’s one of the nicest things that one can say about a writer. I was reminded why I like books so much, and after I finish up the pile of tomes presently dominating my bedroom floor, I know that sometime before I leave Portland (I’m thinking early next year) I’ll be shoving Infinite Jest into my brain.

  1. There's a section, ironically enough, in Infinite Jest about depression and how impossible it is for someone who's not depressed to understand what the experience feels like. It's easy enough to realize that depression is transitory, that your negative feelings are transitory and not based in fact, that you'll feel better about things before too long.

    But when you're depressed, it just does not matter. The world doesn't seem unpleasant and unforgiving and bleak. The world is awful, and the way you feel about the world in happier days is just an artificial, happy, sugarcoating of the unpleasant reality of the world as it really is.

    Anyway, glad you enjoyed the book! I'll pick it up one of these days…

  2. Okay, I'll bite: what is "w/r/t/"?

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