On the Death of David Foster Wallace

Publish date:

I'm going to interrupt my normal tone because I want to talk about
the writer David Foster Wallace's suicide. For those of you who don't
know who he is, I'll link to his NYTimes obit here. As readers of
this blog may or may not know, I love Foster Wallace's work. I became
obsessed with it in grad school, wrote a paper studying his
postmodern style, and blatantly tried to copy some of his stylized
methods and techniques. I've read (almost) everything he's written,
and have to admit that I prefer his nonfiction over his fiction
probably because magazines and other things put restrictions on his
seemingly unlimited and boundless talents as a writer, and I'm afraid
some of those things were lost on me when he took off his rhetoric
governor and just let er rip.

My earliest memory of reading Foster Wallace comes from college, from
a friend recommending that I pick up his first collection of
nonfiction, A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again. I read
through the first couple essays unimpressed (or maybe just confused
and college-style unwilling to admit said confusion) until I got to
his profile of a mid-level tennis pro Michael Joyce and was
completely and utterly blown away by his excruciating attention to
detail, his knowledge of the game (being a former junior champion)
and his humorous, confident, exuberant style.
"I want to be him," I remember thinking, probably knowing even then
that I didn't have those sort of writing chops in me, but at the very
least it made me want to try. And when I ending up reading the title
essay about a cruise ship trip during my own cruise ship experience,
I had the meta-feeling that he had actually jumped inside my head,
taken everything I wanted to say out, and glossed it, gleaned it,
times'd it by 20, and then made it much, much funnier and more final.
So actually--from a personal confidence perspective-- that kind of

But really, that is just how he rolls. When he decides to write a
piece, he writes THE definitive piece on whatever topic he chooses.
On (2000 election maverick!) John McCain in "Up Simba", on talk radio
in "Host" for the Atlantic, on the porn industry in another piece
whose title fails me, he didn't simply take on topics, he destroyed
them, sealing them off for any other writer. Which is why I think he
influenced my style both in the ways that I copied him and in making
me realize that there are some people that operate on a completely
different level, and I should just try and appreciate the fact that
these people exist and are willing to put their work in the public
sphere. We are all worse off for not being able to experience more of
him. I feel sadness for not just his family and friends, but for the
entire American literary world. He truly will be missed.

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