Monday, September 15, 2008

David Foster Wallace

I found out that David Foster Wallace killed himself last night, and the news made me sick. My relatively brief and shallow acquaintance with his writing changed permanently how I see John McCain, right-wing talk radio, the nervous system of a lobster, professional tennis, television commercials, cruise ships, irony, grammar and literary fads. (I wonder what the hell might happen if I ever read his fiction seriously.) Years ago, driving the car, I chanced upon an interview that Wallace did with Michael Silverblatt, and I had to pull over. His erudition, passion and richly timbered voice captivated me. Here's a little bit of Wallace from another interview:
I had a teacher I liked who used to say good fiction’s job was to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable. I guess a big part of serious fiction’s purpose is to give the reader, who like all of us is sort of marooned in her own skull, to give her imaginative access to other selves. Since an ineluctable part of being a human self is suffering, part of what we humans come to art for is an experience of suffering, necessarily a vicarious experience, more like a sort of “generalization” of suffering. Does this make sense? We all suffer alone in the real world; true empathy’s impossible. But if a piece of fiction can allow us imaginatively to identify with a character’s pain, we might then also more easily conceive of others identifying with our own. This is nourishing, redemptive; we become less alone inside. It might just be that simple.
I was also moved by his commencement address at Kenyon College (I'm a fan of the genre), some of which I'll quote below:
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. ...
If I weren't so tired and depressed by the whole thing, I'd go on and on. Maybe I will later. In the meantime, you can find links to some of Wallace's journalism here

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