I still really miss David Foster Wallace

Posted on Thursday, April 21st, 2011 at 2:09 am under books.

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.

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3 comments

  1. This perfectly sums up what I love most about DFW. Every time I read his work — which I too am always trying to catch up on — I’m consistently blown away by not only his skill, but also, as you put it, his desire (and ability) to give everything a fair shake. There are probably a number of massively talented writers who *could* have written something along the lines of Big Red Son, but he was the one who actually *did* write it. This may sound strange, but the inadequacy I feel as a writer and even as a thinker when I read his essays is something I also love. It’s a very humbling experience, and it makes me want to push myself to keep learning — not in an attempt to try and equal him or anything, but just so that I can better understand how to approach things and think about things in a number of ways like he did.

    Anyway, good luck with Infinite Jest. It’s been sitting on my shelf for at least a couple years already, and I’ve probably only opened it once or twice, haha.

  2. I highly recommend The Four Fingers of Death by Rick Moody. You’re lovely in many ways.

  3. You know, on a weirdly depressive-and-desperate whim, I googled the phrase “I miss David Foster Wallace.” To my surprise, it auto-populated four words in. Your blog entry came up near the top.

    It’s lonely out here, missing something great that will never come back. There’s some solace in finding other people who are made lonely by it, too. Reminds me of another recent loss – Ray Bradbury. In his play, “Kaleidoscope”, space explorers are cast into the cosmos by an explosion, slowly fading away from each other as they hurtle into oblivion. Feels sad. Feels right. Feels like Wallace would approve.

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