The Burden of Geniusocity Part Deux: DFW Edition

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There was a brilliant article in the New Yorker from March 9th about David Foster Wallace by D.T. Max titled "The Unfinished." It's hella long, but intensely interesting, and if you want to read it online, you can do so here. Anyway, the point of it is essentially that DFW was handicapped by the breadth and epic goals of his 1100 page second novel Infinite Jest, and his unfulfilled desire to top that with a new novel centered around a bunch of people working at the IRS, and the idea of boringness. To master these ideas, Wallace "took accounting classes. He studied I.R.S. publications. He enjoyed mastering the
technicalities of the I.R.S. bureaucracy—its lore, mind-set,
vocabulary. He assembled hundreds of pages of research on boredom,
trying to understand it at an almost neurological level. He studied the
word’s etymology and was intrigued to find that “bore” appeared in the
language in 1766, two years before “interesting” came to mean 'absorbing.'"

Point being, Wallace got crazy into it. He immersed himself in this stuff-- and that's what is so cool and dedicated about him, and why some people are just born to be willing to do that sort of epic research that can push a cool fictional idea into amazing, realistic fiction and other people are going to write books that are pretty much about their college friends, save some serious stuff about sexual assault, and some over-extended stuff about the intense strategy sessions dans Electronic Battleship.

But the hyper-geniusing undercut a severe depression. Dude was conflicted in intense ways, and couldn't, obviously ever shake free of the weights of intense sadness that would hold him down and eventually kill him. There is a particular portion in the article when he write a letter to Jonathan Franzen that, from a writer's standpoint, is frighteningly illuminating and illustrative of this point:
"In May, 1990, he wrote to Jonathan Franzen, with whom he had recently
become friends, “Right now, I am a pathetic and very confused young
man, a failed writer at 28 who is so jealous, so sickly searingly
envious of you and [William] Vollmann and Mark Leyner and even David
f*ckwad Leavitt and any young man who is right now producing pages with
which he can live, and even approving them off some base clause of
conviction about the enterprise’s meaning and end.”

It's sad, obviously, but it's also noteworthy to see that this man, this genius, who not only can casually confess areas of severe insecurity to Jonathan Franzen of all people, but actually won a MacArthur Genuis Grant, which officially labels him a genius, was crippled by some of the very same things that plague all writers: a lack of confidence, and a lack of happiness in being able to produce quality pages of work.

This kind of begs the nearly-philosophical question of whether you'd rather be less smart and self-aware but hella (NorCal shout out numero dos!) productive or mo' smart but possibly in a way that cripples your ability to feel like anything you're doing is significant. Hmmm, I probably phrased that in a way that pre-biases, but screw it: I'm in NorCal this week, and NorCal is a land devoid of biases, unless they happen to be about Sean Penn films, or burritos from anywhere but the Mission.

I await your thoughts with an enthusiasm that knows three bounds and several Joe Walsh songs.

Life's Been,
Good

Joe Walsh

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