Did You Get That Thing I Sent You?

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Posts Tagged ‘dead writers

Stored Transmissions from a Slower World

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Getting a hell of a lot of press these days, and rightly so, is an excellent blog called Letters of Note.  Some British blokes decided to post historic and/or notable letters from or concerning famous people and events, and offer little background blurbs.  Very simple, like many good ideas.

It’s a bit odd, glorifying a dead medium on the medium that killed it.  Like a murderer making a shrine to his victim.  But the value of the blog comes through instantly and powerfully.  Seeing the handwriting or typewriter impressions of famous hands stirs something up.  These letters would cover much space and time before reaching their desired audience, and so their words were chosen very carefully.  Like with a painting, there’s much more of the author’s vague, intangible presence in the letter- than say, in an email from a coworker, which can be copied, and forwarded, and archived, and instantly retrieved.  It’s almost tantamount to the difference between poems and simple utterances.

If I’m talking too big I apologize- I suffered a minor head injury this morning.


Written by Peter Kelly

December 29, 2009 at 6:28 pm

“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

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