April, 2011

Apr 11

I still really miss David Foster Wallace

I feel absurd saying this, but I still feel just about as sad about David Foster Wallace’s death as it is reasonable for anyone to feel about the death of a famous person they’ve never met, three years after the fact.

It’s not really his style I miss, though of course he was an incredibly talented writer. What I loved about him was the way he saw the world — with an honest and endless curiosity. Like Vonnegut, he was one of those writers who remembered to notice the things we’ve long since forgotten to see. And like all of my favorite pop culture writers, he actively fought against snobbery and prejudice in favor of giving everything a real, fair look. He wasn’t perfect at this — who, in the history of the universe, has ever been totally faithful to his or her own philosophy? — but the important thing, in my view, was that he tried.

I can’t write like Wallace and I never will. But trying to experience the world with an open mind is something I can, and do, strive for. I recognize that it is ridiculous of me to pin all this heavy stuff on one guy, who despite all his gifts was just a person like any other. I also understand that I sound totally sappy right now. It’s tough sometimes writing about things you really, passionately, obsessively love or admire, because it’s too easy to just start gushing hyperbolic cliches. But if you’re really invested in art or culture, you know that every once in a while, you come across an artist or book or movie or whatever that really and truly changes you, makes you see the world differently, helps you understand what is possible. Well, Wallace was that for me.

Despite all that, I have yet to work my way through Infinite Jest or Brief Interviews with Hideous Men — my affection for Wallace comes from having read his essays. So that’s embarassing, and it also means that there is a chance, however slight, that I could change my mind about him. But it’s also kind of nice. It means there’s still more Wallace for me to read, and will be for a while yet. I just started Infinite Jest today (this is my second attempt). I’m annoyed but also secretly happy that that thing is huge and very very difficult and is going to take me forever to get through.