March 2, 2011

David Foster Wallace

The only thing I've ever read by David Foster Wallace, a famous novelist who killed himself a couple of years ago, was his 13,800 word giganto article called "Host" in The Atlantic in 2005 about how David Foster Wallace was smarter than a minor LA talk radio host named John Ziegler. 

I don't doubt that Wallace was smarter that KFI's evening talk radio host (although when Ziegler interviewed me a couple of years later, I found him quite professional and sharp). But what was bizarre about DFW's vast essay were the handful of issues where he decided to draw the line between himself and the conservative talk show host, typically about race, and specifically about the guilt of O.J. Simpson. DFW wanted readers to know that the villain of the piece believed O.J. was guilty while DFW had "doubt."

If you don't believe me, here are the last two paragraphs of this endless article, in which DFW watches Ziegler watch Katie Couric interview OJ:
It's odd: if you've spent some time watching Mr. Z. perform in the studio, you can predict just what he'll look like, how his head and arms will move and eyes fill with life as he says certain things that it's all but sure he'll say on-air tonight, such as "I have some very, very strong opinions about how this interview was conducted," and "Katie Couric is a disgrace to journalism everywhere," and that O.J.'s self-presentation was "delusional and arrogant beyond all belief," and that the original trial jury was "a collection of absolute nimrods," and that to believe in Simpson's innocence, as Ms. Couric says a poll shows some 70 percent of African-Americans still do, "you have to be either crazy, deluded, or stupid—there are no other explanations."

To be fair, though, there truly are some dubious, unsettling things about the Dateline interview, such as for instance that NBC has acceded to O.J. Simpson's "no editing" condition for appearing, which used to be an utter taboo for serious news organizations. Or that O.J. gets to sit there looking cheery and unguarded even though he has his lawyer almost in his lap; or that most of Katie Couric's questions turn out to be Larry King—size fluffballs; or that O.J. Simpson responds to one of her few substantive questions—about 1994's eerie, slow-motion Bronco chase and its bearing on how O.J.'s case is still perceived—by harping on the fact that the chase "never ever, in three trials that I had, it never came up," as if that had anything to do with whatever his behavior in the Bronco really signified (and at which non-answer, and Ms. Couric's failure to press or follow up, Mr. Z. moans and smears his hand up and down over his face).    Or that O.J.'s cheerful expression never changes when Katie Couric, leaning forward and speaking with a delicacy that's either decent or obscene, inquires whether his children ever ask him about the crime. And when someone in the arc of chairs around John Ziegler says, almost to himself, that the one pure thing to hope for here is that Simpson's kids believe he's innocent, Mr. Z. gives a snort of reply and states, very flatly, "They know, and he knows they know, that he did it." To which, in KFI's prep room, the best response would probably be compassion, empathy. Because one can almost feel it: what a bleak and merciless world this host lives in—believes, nay, knows for an absolute fact he lives in. I'll take doubt.

I guess all you can say is that if Johnnie and Marcia had agreed to put America's most brilliant young novelist on the OJ jury, well, he wouldn't have performed any worse (or better) than the ladies and gentlemen who acquitted the Juice.

Did Wallace write better than this, or is it all this, ultimately, stupid?

For one of the many, many pro-DFW opinions, see here.

74 comments:

Stuart said...

The String Theory is an excellent long essay about pro tennis.

Anonymous said...

I've read a few of Foster Wallace's essays and found them to be bland Gen-X blather. Very self-conscious, rambling, rather emotionless (you can sense the depression), attempting to be droll while saying very little.

Apprently - and this will interest Steve - he was a promising tennis player in his younger years.

Mr Lomez said...

Wallace can be pedantic, overly self-serious, pretentious, and occasionally silly, but when he's at his sharpest, particularly with his essay writing, there are few better. His attention to detail is the envy of many a contemporary writer.

His essay about the '94 Illinois State Fair, "Ticket to the Fair," shows off his powers of observation as well as anything.

Another essay, "Big Red Son," about the AVN Porn Awards, likewise showcases his keen eye.

Being a movie person, Steve may get a kick out of his '96 piece from Premier Magazine, "David Lynch Keeps his Head."

But, no. In sum Wallace's political/social commentary tends toward the obvious SWPL worldview. It lacks the nuance and rigor that his commentary about relatively inane cultural matters--state fairs, porn, obscure 80's films--thrives on. This is why he's so beloved by the cultural elite: he only displays intellectual courage when there's nothing at stake.

Dave said...

The rest of his work has more footnotes. The Onion had a great piece on Wallace a few years before he killed himself, "Girlfriend Stops Reading David Foster Wallace Breakup Letter At Page 20".

albert magnus said...

I thought 'Shipping Out' was very good. When he writes about tennis, he's very good, too.

dufu said...

DFW was a great non-fiction writer as long as he stuck to tennis and philosophy of mathematics. It sounds like he would have made a pretty good philosophy professors, but apparently his clinical depression intervened.

Also, read the Harper's essay about taking a Caribbean cruise, that later became the title piece of "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again." Probably the most hilarious essay I've ever read.

www.harpers.org/media/.../HarpersMagazine-1996-01-0007859.pdf

Of course, the whole thing is based on DFW looking down his nose at the middle-class herd. It's still funny anyway.

Bud said...

DFW killed himself after he read his own writing.

beowulf said...

In 2000, Rolling Stone sent Wallace on the road with the McCain campaign for the South Carolina primary, where Bush effectively sealed the nomination.
http://tinyurl.com/4oc8gxk

Great piece and, in retrospect, it leads me to two conclusions.
1. The Republican habit of nominating "the next in line" (W. excepted, a pity Jeb lost his '94 race) means they give the nod to old warhorses a cycle or two too late, after they've lost a step due to age.
2. McCain should have brought back Mike Murphy to run his 2008 general election campaign (to his credit, he was neutral in the primaries since McCain and Romney were both former clients).
"when you are finally rotated up into the Straight Talk salon you discover that most of the questions the Twelve Monkeys ask back here are too vapid and obvious for McCain to waste time on, and he lets Mike Murphy handle them, and Murphy is so funny and dry and able to make such delicious sport of the 12M."

slumber_j said...

In my experience, DFW is always a bit worse than he thinks he is. His stuff is riddled with occasional but telling overreach: he wants to stun the reader with his mastery of the abstruse and ends up shooting himself in the foot. Also, he generally goes on far too long.

Anonymous said...

Steve I never comment although I read you fairly often b/c I enjoy your writing. I also really enjoy Wallace, so I would urge you to take another look. I recommend "Shipping Out" (his experience on a cruise ship), "Authority and American Usage" (a review of a dictionary edited by Bryan Garner), "Up Simba" (Wallace rides McCain's campaign bus in the 2000 primary), and either "Tennis, Trig & Tornados" or "The String Theory" (both about tennis).

Peter A said...

DFW was far too smart for his own good, and probably would have been happier in science or mathematics, not writing. Even the article you cite was not "stupid", it's a hyperintelligent man tying himself in knots because he can and because he's absorbed too much European post modern literary theory. You probably wouldn't like most of his writing - a lot of it tends to be very meta. DFW had a very difficult time with absolutes. "Infinite Jest" is his best book - beneath all the meta surface froth there's very good, and even moving, writing about 12-step addiction and the difficulties of being a teenage athletic prodigy.

Eric Falkenstein said...

He's a typical, hyper-sensitive, over-analytical person. Sort of like a Woody Allen, except he isn't funny. He can't empathize with people who have no doubt. He has this great take on Tracy Austin, and noted that she seems very shallow intellectually, and thinks that perhaps the key to having great nerves as an athlete is simply to be not very deep; thus, Michael Jordan doesn't overanalyze the big shot, because he doesn't analyze much of anything.

The Guyland said...

I haven't been able to get through any elite-approved modern novels in my whole life.

Over beers during a couple weeks of trial prep, I asked Rick Moody's little brother whether growing up in Connecticut was really like "The Ice Storm".

He just nodded.

I didn't know where to go from there, so I changed the subject.

Post moderns know life is bleak and pointless and it comes out in their writing.

Which isn't to say their writing is popular. I never saw anyone on the beach at their Long Island summer rental reading that stuff.

Why spend five bills to share a summer rental with friends and then read a depressing novel that drags your gray, wet, empty, pointless NYC life along with you in your head.

Anonymous said...

I think DFW will have a similar legacy to Thomas Wolfe, someone who readers at the time were deeply passionate about, but who people don't relate to in the same way anymore. His message wasn't as timeless as his readers thought.

DFW is also deeply loved by geeks because of his use of atavistic techniques: footnotes, obscure words, compound genitives, word play, etc.

Snookybutts said...

I'm curious what you, as a former marketing and statistics dude, might think of his short story "Mr. Squishy", in the collection Oblivion. That said, it, like many of his other stories, including his unreadable nonsense in the latest New Yorker which probably prompted your post, is aggressively boring, and cannot be recommended.

He is highly respected because he uses avant-garde techniques in the service of what he claims are moral or old-fashioned ends (bemoaning our debased society, for instance), but, as with most avant-garde artists, the anti-audience technique tends to overwhelm anything else, and anyway, the morals to be drawn are quite superficial. Ultimately he just wasn't as smart as he thought he was. (The article on McCain in Rolling Stone, for instance, is about par for the intellectual level of that magazine).

The two poles of critical response are probably Wyatt Mason pro here: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v26/n22/wyatt-mason/dont-like-it-you-dont-have-to-play
and James Wood contra here:http://www.tnr.com/article/the-digressionist

With all that said he was very talented in his use of language and could have written a good book someday, if he'd gotten his head straight.

Anonymous said...

From his intense run-on style, you can tell Wallace had a severe psychic belly ache. In his head there must have been a voice that kept telling him,"Let's go to the video tape." There is a chance he might have been one of those folks with superior biographic memory who had a lot in his past he'd be better off forgetting. Instead, his day to day existence was the cause of severe post traumatic stress disorder.

From his Wikipedia bio, it seems to me he would have been better off as an alchoholic than a med-head. The rebound effect from major tranquilizers and anti-depressants is usually an intensely amplified version of the psychosis being treated -- which is why it's almost always better to reach for the Jim Beam than the Ativan.

In fact,I think I'll just toddle over to the liquor cabinet right now.

Mr. Anon said...

A supposedly important novelist whom I'll never read.

When was it that writers joined the ranks of assassins and serial killers in always being referred to with all three names?

Anonymous said...

I think his piece in Rolling Stone about the John McCain campaign 2000 was very good. I think his essay books are both great reads.

Ron said...

His best writing is probably the short story about the guy waiting for his weed near the beginning of infinite jest.

I also enjoy "A supposedly fun thing, I'll never do again" for its lampooning of the excesses of American culture.

http://tinyurl.com/62l8hr

It's a pdf.

Chicago said...

One would "have to be either crazy, deluded or stupid-there are no other explanations". Well, I've come up with another explanation: they're black. That, of course, doesn't exclude deluded or stupid from being a part of the mix. It took me about three seconds to size that one up. Why is it such a head scratcher for supposedly smart people?

OneSTDV said...

Maybe Foster is the Darren Aronofsky of novelists.

Anonymous said...

I'm a fan. He clearly was a troubled, but brilliant, person. I thought Infinite Jest was funny as hell, especially the footnotes, but you've got to be kind of a geek to enjoy it. His collection of short stories, Oblivion, is quite good -- the very short story "Incarnations of Burned Children" is just devastating, perhaps the most heartbreaking thing I have ever read. Only someone with profound personal demons could have written something like that. And his commencement address, "This is Water", I found to be insightful and worth reflecting on. YMMV, of course.

Anonymous said...

Knowing the market for DFW rants against petty issues was drying up the author chose a merciful exit.

Desdemona said...

Sorry, Sailer, I think OJ killed Nicole (because why would anyone else be that furious at the woman) but I also think his children will necessarily believe their beloved father is innocent of their mother's murder. An exception being that if he is abusive enough, this realization that they share victimization with their mother might somehow give them the strength to fight his influence.

I've noticed the tendency to keep the custodial parent on a pedestal in cases where a child has been hidden from the other parent after a bitter divorce. It's just possible that unlike Reagan's somewhat bitter daughter, Sydney will eternally worship her father.

While the dynamic between these two men, I'm assuming liberal vs conservative, is interesting, I don't think either of them know or care how children psychologically adapt to their caregivers.

Anonymous said...

Old story is old.

Anonymous said...

High IQ doesn't equal Wisdom. Most Novelists have high IQ and lots of imagination. They also tend to be emotionally unbalanced, egotistical, and view the world in funny ways.

And note I wrote "most" not "all".

Anonymous said...

"Did Wallace write better than this, or is it all this stupid?"

He was on medication. Well, maybe his article was really the sequel to INFINTITE JEST, which I bought but never read. It looks like a 1000 pgs of neurotic meandering of the mind.

Kylie said...

"Did Wallace write better than this, or is it all this stupid?"

No, yes.

Abdullah Ibrahim Yamaguchi-O'Leary said...

I read part of "Host" and couldn't get beyond about the first fifth of it. Wallace's essay is SWPL distilled and served in a mixed drink with a Gen X worldview, and drinking too much of the swill results in extreme nausea.

Anonymous said...

Wallace does write better than that. Read "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again", a collection of essays.

Jeff Singer said...

Steve,

The way I read the article/interview is that DFW is expressing doubt not about O.J.'s guilt but about whether or not the kids know their dad killed their mom.

Anonymous said...

OJ was acquitted, Steve. That has to mean something.

Are you so DOGMATIC that you're 100% certain that he did it?

You can't be.

DFW at least believes in our ideals.

You don't.

Anonymous said...

also, let's be honest, if you were on the jury his blackness would be enough to convince you that he probably did it because you have statistics to back up your belief.

Anonymous said...

btw, i also believe that OJ did it. but DFW's position is nothing to scoff at, it's not as absurd as u pretend it is.

our legal system should take the exact position that he does, one of neutrality but smug dogmatism.

RS said...

Steve, he did do some better stuff. Parts of Infinite Jest were pretty cool, but not cool enough to make me read the truly awful parts -- or indeed very much of it altogether. Sorry Wallace, I don't do masochistic stuff like reading long-form Kant or Ulysses (the early, ie 'Daedalus' chapters of Ulysses are kind of a blast -- it's only from page 80 or so to the end that I decline).

There are 10,000s of pages of lit that I'd recommend one prioritize above Wallace.

Instead of driving a mL or two of one's most discriminating and refined neurons to apoptosis by attempting Infinite Jest, which means you won't have much left in the way of taste and discernment until they slowly regenerate, one should just watch Tarkovskij's Mirror with English subs six or eight times on google, for free (it's quite good at first but gets better each time). That movie's far better than anything written in the 20th. Celine may be very nearly the most gifted writer ever, but he was a sick, decadent, indulgent poor son of a gun. That doesn't mean his (first two) books aren't absolutely fantastic... they're just a lot less elevating for the recipient, and a lot less valuable, compared to Tarkovskij's omnipotent hymn to life and fertility... there you have "the golden nature -- the instinctive deifier"...

By the way, everyone should read "The Song of Songs" in the King James English -- you won't be risking anything, seeing as it's only three pages long; the best three pages ever written. Compared to Wallace, an estimated 5-trillion fold advantage lies with the "Song".

Anonymous said...

OT, maybe, but: what brought this on? Why do you suddenly care about this Wallace fellow and what he wrote back when about the crime sensation nobody under 30 remembers?

Mannerheim said...

I've read some essays of his that were fairly interesting and he once gave a terrific commencement speech at Kenyon College, but his magnum opus, Infinite Jest, is 1000+ pages of unreadable pomo pretension. Here's a quote from an interview where he sums up his self-image as a writer:

"I come to writing from a pretty hard-core, abstract place. It comes out of technical philosophy and continental European theory, and extreme avant-garde shit. I'm not just talking Pynchon and Gaddis. That's commercial avant-garde. I'm talking like Beckett, and Fiction Collective 2, and Dalkey Archive."

The guy's like the Kanye West of postmodern literature.

Svigor said...

Did Wallace write better than this, or is it all this stupid?

Anti-Scot bigot. There's no place for people like you in the modern world.

What am I? A clown? Do I amuse you? said...

Here is a decent commencement speech he gave several years ago.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122178211966454607.html

Interestingly, he foreshadows his own suicide in his speech:

Think of the old cliché about "the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master." 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. 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-bull- 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.

fbj said...

I smile when someone mention the OJ case. Why? because it reminds me of Norm MacDonald as host of SNL's Weekend Update :-)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_76-Mjct_WQ

Matt said...

He was a writer of extraordinary talent, though you should never confuse talent as a writer with the quality of the opinions written. Generally though he was a lot of fun to read.

Try his essay "Consider the Lobster", which is usually considered one of his best. It ought to be enough to give you a more informed opinion one way or another.

Abdullah Ibrahim Yamaguchi-O'Leary said...

"OJ was acquitted, Steve. That has to mean something."

Yes, it means the lawyers were far smarter than the jury.

It also means not only did OJ walk away free, but we also eventually would get Kim Kardashian rubbed in our faces a few years down the line. I'm not sure which outcome is more ghastly.

Anonymous said...

"OJ was acquitted, Steve. That has to mean something."

Yes, it means blacks and other NAMs will indulge in jury nullification, especially when the court room is reduced to a circus and defense lawyers are allowed to play the race card in front of non-white juries.

"Are you so DOGMATIC that you're 100% certain that he did it?

You can't be."


The legal standard is beyond reasonable doubt, not 100% certitude. The problem with the OJ verdict was the "beyond reasonable doubt" was perverted to mean beyond any doubt at all, no matter how ludicrous or bizarre the doubt might be. 100% certitude has NEVER been the legal standard for conviction. That standard was perverted when the jury was invited to entertain unreasonable doubts.

"DFW at least believes in our ideals.

You don't.""


Speak for yourself. Your and DFW's "ideals" are not "our" ideals. They are SWPL ideals, and they are leading to the suicide of the West. DFW killing himself is a perfect example of where his and your mentality leads.

" also, let's be honest, if you were on the jury his blackness would be enough to convince you that he probably did it because you have statistics to back up your belief."

Please go and emulate DFW, for your own sake if not for the benefit of the rest of us.

slumber_j said...

A couple of comments refer to Generation X. Born in 1962, Wallace was in fact a late Boomer--technically speaking, anyway.

Anonymous said...

John Foster Dulles was a really really good Secretary of State.


Dan in DC

Truth said...

"The legal standard is beyond reasonable doubt, not 100% certitude."

IMHO, the police created a reasonable doubt by framing the defendant.

Pat Casey said...

I read Infinite Jest, yes I really read the whole thing, when I was too depressed to do anything else because I knew that DFW had struggled with his own depression and figured I might find some inspiration that would shake me out of my spiritual torpor.

Other comments are prob right that he was too smart for his own good, which I think means he was too smart for his personality type. After reading the book I realized that I was nothing like DFW personality wise. Very much a hyper sensitive weeny who was oddly self aware in some respects and not at all in others.

The book is definitely a work of genius, very sad, at times brilliantly illuminating and it will definitely be read a hundred years from now.

It's a shame he wrote as much as he did about political issues because he was on much firmer ground when dealing strictly with human emotions. For some of us it so hard to control them and he captured what that is like quite perfectly.

I would say he could only be a hero to guys like him though, very brilliant but very low self esteem, who prefer to wallow in their identity issues rather than act like strong men and get over them.

(From his essays and Infinite Jest he's obviously a guy who thought about penis size and sexual inadequacies a pathetic amount of the time. I have a feeling that has a lot to do with his appeal to bleeding heart liberal arts type guys.)

Anonymous said...

There should be some sort of leper island for people who even doubt OJ was guilty.

Norm talking about OJ on SNL was a seminal moment for comedy...... You mean you can brazenly make fun of known criminals on tv? I'm starting to like this country.... Then Ebersole, I think, went and f'd it all up

Dan in DC

Peter A said...

The OJ acquittal was a travesty, but the Robert Blake acquittal was just as much of a travesty and no one seems to get their knickers in a twist about it. Black men are accused of murder and go to jail all the time, even with all black jurors. OJ got off for the same reason Blake did - because he's a celebrity. We can pretend it's about race, but the OJ case is a very simple lesson - people with money and status in the US don't have to obey the same laws as the rest of us, whether black, white or Asian.

Dan Kurt said...

I have read some of Wallace's work but not a lot of it as it seemed to be a waste of time. I thought the same of Dickens but a few years ago read Bleak House and changed my mind on Dickens. Perhaps Wallace will get another shot in the future. Wallace's essay on Lobsters and Federer are more accessible and worth reading but, to me, were incomplete; he never finished them it seemed. The essays lacked symmetry, balance.

I had the same reaction to Tom Wolfe's A Man In Full when I read it. Later I found out Wolfe was in a clinical depression when he wrote the book.

Perhaps, clinical depression explains both authors' failures.



One last point, I have met in life more than one high IQ individual who were high achievers, hard workers and had extraordinary early success. However, when they got to the Ivy League they met individuals who were even brighter. This discovery bothered them as they encountered some really, really bright individuals who didn't really have to work to do well and couldn't care less about becoming a scholastic star so to speak. These really, really bright individuals were in their own world, had self confidence and were self directed. My guess is the really, really bright had IQs in the 165+ range and the bright, hard working ones were in the circa 150 to 160+ range at most. Imagine being in a Math or Physics class with an individual who YOU KNOW studied only casually, yes evenly nonchalantly, the material yet scored an A grade when YOU worked day and night to get a similar, or even higher, A level grade. Such an experience deflates an ego. 



My belief is that Wallace was such a person who had an IQ circa 150 to 160. The fact that he was a Tennis Star as a youth reinforces my opinion as I cannot imagine a really, really bright ( 165+ IQ ) individual being willing to spend the time to become a top level Tennis Player because the life of the mind ( reading, thinking, satisfying curiosity ) would in necessity be neglected, something to those so endowed with brains that would be intolerable.



Dan Kurt

Anonymous said...

DFW is a classic case of brilliantism, where a guy is so obsessed about being brilliant, insightful, profound, different, elliptical, and original that he hits everything but the easy target. Indeed, he often misses the target as a rule because it's too easy and too obvious, thereby beneath his intellect. Contrarianism becomes a virtue in its own right, a twisted absurd vision of the world rings 'truer'.
Brilliantism is not only rife among thinkers and artists but among critics and academics, which is why so much bad shit is brilliantly rationalized and defended as 'important'.

Anonymous said...

Somebody linked to Wallace's cruise ship Harper's piece but the link didn't work.

Here's a working link -- may take a minute or two to load -- well worth reading:

http://harpers.org/media/pdf/dfw/HarpersMagazine-1996-01-0007859.pdf

Terry said...

WE GOT OJ,

DAN in Las Vegas

beowulf said...

The OJ acquittal was a travesty, but the Robert Blake acquittal was just as much of a travesty and no one seems to get their knickers in a twist about it.

Well technically, if count Blake beating one count of murder as a travesty (T), then OJ's acquittal of double murder is 2T.

Beyond that, Blake's wife kind of had it coming, I would have voted to acquit. When he said he didn't want more children, she told him she was on the pill (sort of true-- she had started taking fertility pills). And then after he bonded with his child and a better prospect came along for her-- she made plans to leave him, taking his daughter with him. There were a couple of other stories of that that made me think... that would not be hard case to find reasonable doubt on.

As for OJ's double play, I can't say I every heard anything so... exculpatory about either about Nicole Brown or Ron Goldman.

James Kabala said...

Those are two pretty convoluted paragraphs. I don't think he's actually arguing that anyone should consider O.J. innocent, but if that isn't his point it's hard to figure out what is.

James Kabala said...

Those are two pretty convoluted paragraphs. I don't think he's actually arguing that anyone should consider O.J. innocent, but if that isn't his point, it's hard to figure out what is.

steve burton said...

Not sure why anybody thinks "Shipping Out" is worth reading.

Generic urban sophisticate condescends to generic middle-American rubes for page after page after easily predictable page.

Whatever.

Anonymous said...

I'm a DFW fan. His essays are uneven, but they are brilliant at their best. I also recommend the tennis pieces, Steve. I'd be surprised if you didn't enjoy them.

But if you want the distilled version of his worldview, read that Kenyon College commencement speech; I find it moving and tragic.

DFW's problem was infinity/eternity -- oh, hell, let's cut to the chase and just say 'God'.

DFW knew deep down he couldn't be good on his own, but his training, and his constant need to please his academic and pomo promoters always held him back.

He's often described as 'big-hearted', and I guess that's true, but really he was broken-hearted. He was smart enough (and to those up the thread who doubt he was all that clever, please!) to confront the inevitable tragedy of human existence, but too worried about his status to just let go and seek the only answer that remained.

Requiescat in pace, DFW.

Garland said...

"This is Water" is good.

Truth said...

"Beyond that, Blake's wife kind of had it coming, I would have voted to acquit."

His wife had it coming...Oh-Kay then.

TGGP said...

As Steve has noted (citing Vincent Bugliosi), O.J's prosecutors did a terrible job.

Anonymous said...

"DFW knew deep down he couldn't be good on his own, but his training, and his constant need to please his academic and pomo promoters always held him back."

That's still no reason to kill oneself. The dude had mental problems.

Ray Sawhill said...

Not a fan myself. I ventured a few thoughts about him back here:

Link

Short version: maybe he suffered from grad student-itis.

Anonymous said...

I doubt that I will have the endurance to read this (as I surely didn't have enough to read DFW), but Arts and Letters Daily recently posted a link to this essay:

"Our Psychic Living Room: Why It's Particularly Important to Read David Foster Wallace" by Rebekah Frumkin

http://www.thecommonreview.org/article/article/our-psychic-living-room.html?sp=1

Ross said...

Ray! Thanks for providing that link to the DFW discussion we had way back when (in Internet years, at least). That was a good one, and I sure do miss 2Bs.

Anonymous said...

Wallace had that rarest literary gift, he was a genuinely funny writer. Parts of "Shipping Out" are hilarious.

Anonymous said...

Hey Ray,

I share Ross's nostalgia for 2Blowhards (I was an occasional commenter, under a different pseudonym). Really, no site fulfilled the promise of blogdom better. Not that I blame you for stopping, given the work involved in maintaining an active blog.

Your DFW post makes a brilliant connection to post-modern architecture - classic 2Blowhards!

Steve Sailer is a good, and certainly fearless, journalist, and iSteve attracts some good commenters (including 2Blowhards alumni), but there's a strain of white-nationalist bitterness and spergy IQ fetishism among some here that makes it a less... civilized place to hang out.

Cennbeorc

Anonymous said...

Steve Sailer is a good, and certainly fearless, journalist, and iSteve attracts some good commenters (including 2Blowhards alumni), but there's a strain of white-nationalist bitterness and spergy IQ fetishism among some here that makes it a less... civilized place to hang out.

Cennbeorc

Oh, get off your high horse and just admit you preferred the blowholes b/c they more than occasionally posted articles about porn.

Ray Sawhill said...

Hey, always fun to see some of the ol'd 2Blowhards crowd here. Steve's a great (in fact heroic) blogger/journalist, IMHO. If you're on Facebook, why don't you send me a Friend request there? Facebook's a gas -- 2/3 of the fun of blogging while demanding 1/10th the energy. A lot of the energy that used to into blogging in fact seems to have moved over to social networking. Anyway, it'd be great to keep up the old connections.

John Shade said...

Another fan of 2Blowhards checking in. Michael Blowhard introduced me to my favorite living filmmaker, Gaspar Noe, and offered the best interpretation I've seen of Irreversible, Noe's great tragedy.

[quote=]
http://www.2blowhards.com/archives/2004/11/turkey_and_the_eu.html

Europe is committing suicide. It's caught up in a frenzy of self-gratification; it's letting itself be overrun by people who mean it no good; and, dammit, it was once great. To be hyperexplicit: the film backs out of the anus, explores the vagina, finds hope there, only to watch it die.

[/quote]

I also dug Michael's biographical sketch of DFW. The only times DFW left the academy were to admit himself for inpatient treatment of drug abuse and mental illness. But it's unfair to suggest that DFW couldn't create interesting plots or characters when Michael hadn't read Infinite Jest.

Anonymous said...

"Oh, get off your high horse and just admit you preferred the blowholes b/c they more than occasionally posted articles about porn."

Pwn'd again.

Cennbeorc

Anonymous said...

I never thought of it before, but now I think DFW's great gift as a writer was more akin to a sort of musical virtuosity than to any sort of thematic "messaging". Reading him is a bit like listening to John Coltrane -- the main thrust of it is simply, Wow, that guy can PLAY!

I've read and enjoyed many of Wallace's essays (not so keen on his fiction), but I never come away from them having absorbed a particular "point" that I consider wise or insightful. They're just sort of entertainingly "there" -- a record of a dazzling and very funny mind, but not stuff you carve in stone. There are people in the world who are great artists but whose art is something ephemeral like brilliant conversation.

Brett Stevens said...

All postmodern literature is that bad: fascinated by the minute details, missing the big picture, and huge in the human emotion category yet completely unable to connect the dots.

It is a literary style based on distraction, starting with James Joyce and Thomas Pynchon, accelerating with David Foster Wallace. You mention as many disparate fields of knowledge as possible and try to tie them all to a simple metaphor, usually about race, guilt or universal compassion.

It's for field hands pretending to be aristocrats.

abreast said...

Parts of IJ are crushing (e.g. the AA stuff), but overall it, like most of DFW's fiction, "exhibits a fundamental rhetorical failure." (See the LRB piece @snookybutts linked to for more.)

i.e., DFW had the right Why, but his How is a dead end. A necessary, at times brilliant dead end, but still.

Some of you don't even have the Why, which is sad, but not surprising, considering where we are.

And if you think DFW is the nadir of SWPL sensibility, you don't even know: http://ellen.warnerbros.com/images/blog/1109/04-jonathan-safran-foer-second-video.jpg