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David Foster Wallace

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David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace was a prolific American novelist, essayist, journalist, etc., who hanged himself on Sept. 12 at the age of 46.  While Wallace, author of such works as Infinite Jest and A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, died a literary titan of Roth or Updike ilk, his death will no doubt continue the unfortunate trend of authors whose untimely deaths recontextualize their works.  I am one of the thousands (and thousands more to come) who have only discovered Wallace’s works in the wake of the author’s death, and I can only wonder what it was like to read these works when their source was still living.

It’s almost cliched, to note the fallacy of literary critics’ predictable textual detective work when an author takes his own life (if you were wondering, the answer appears to be chronic depression and a catastrophic change in meds).  Yes, the impulse is to look for answers in his work, as if buried somewhere in the jungle of Infinite Jest’s footnotes was a note titled, ‘Noose: The Final Solution,’ and yes, this does seem ridiculous.  But that won’t stop anyone from scratching the itch, and it’s a particlarly tenacious itch in the case of DFW because here’s the thing: it is really hard to see ‘suicide’ in between his lines.  Compared to someone like Hemingway, whose literary career was like one long (good) suicide note, David Foster Wallace’s writing is full of energy and enthusiasm, even when he dwells on the paranoia and futility of modern living (which he does, a lot).  This, ultimately, was Wallace’s exemplary virtue as a writer: the ability to discuss moral and sociopolitical conundrae with unflinching wit and excitement.  I can only assume he was as interesting to read alive as he is dead.

Consider the Lobster,” Wallace’s now-famous piece for Gourmet magazine about the Maine Lobster Festival.

Derivative Sport in Tornado Alley,” the first essay in the collection, A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again

And in 2001 Wallace wrote an absolutely amazing piece on John McCain for Rolling Stone.  Log off of G Chat, close that Excel window, and read this piece right now.


Written by Peter Kelly

September 26, 2008 at 3:43 pm

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