Did You Get That Thing I Sent You?

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“You’re Watching ‘As The World Turns'”

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The Unfinished,’ an article by D. T. Max in the March 9 issue of The New Yorker, about the life and death of David Foster Wallace, is a must read for fans of the late author.  Max paints Wallace as the archetypal addict, obsessive and neurotic and incapable of ever feeling truly satisfied.  The consistent theme of Wallace’s life, the thing that tied together his depression, alcoholism, and compulsive writing, seems to be the singular drive through which he approached his fixations, so that while he was “dry” when he hung himself back in September, in a way it was the very thing  inside him that had once driven him to drink that finally ended his life.

John Updike once said that there is a “point” to a story as well as a “meaning.”  The example he gave is that the point of King Lear is that men should not retire early, while the meaning is…well, a bit more complicated.  The point of Wallace’s death is that you shouldn’t go off your medication if you need it to function.  But to get literary for a moment (because that’s what DFW would do, right?) , the Meaning of Wallace’s death is that a man can be destroyed by that which gives his life meaning.  We could probably all agree that Wallace would still be around if he had stayed on his meds.  But one could also point out that, had Wallace not become so vexed by his inability to complete his fourth novel (The Pale King) to the impossibly demanding specifications he laid out for himself, he would have never invented reason to go off his Nardil in the first place.  One might make the case that a novel killed David Foster Wallace.  It sounds like a DeLillo book.  Maybe Wallace would have liked that.

Three Excerpts from The Pale King:

Good People

The Compliance Branch

Wiggle Room

BTW, the Charlie Rose interview they mention in the New Yorker article can be seen on Charlie’s website.  Definitely worth watching.


Written by Peter Kelly

March 23, 2009 at 5:04 pm

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