Monday, May 20, 2013

David Foster Wallace

Just finished reading the 2012 bio of the deceased Wallace, "Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story." (Wallace hanged himself at age 46 in 2008. My college years as a lit major were spent hearing about him.)

From the dust-jacket: "He has become a symbol of sincerity and honesty in an inauthentic age."

This after 1996's "Infinite Jest," the most verbosely show-offy, roundabout, INsincere (while proclaiming sincerity) TOME I can think of. Sample quote from the book:

"Though the magazines' coffeetable was nonblue -- a wet-nail-polish red with 'E.T.A.' in a kind of gray escutcheon -- two of the unsettlingly attached lamps that kept its magazines unread and neatly fanned were blue, although the two blue lamps were not the lamps attached to the two blue chairs."

As if, by including such inane details, he had some notion of trying to literarily outdo Melville's "Moby-Dick" when it came to stylistic calisthenics. Except Wallace, unlike Melville, had nothing at all to actually SAY. Melville -- the literary precursor of Internet-style kineticism in his leaps from old-fashioned story to philosophy to methods of flensing whales--was, in real life, a true adventurer: He'd, as a young man, left home and BEEN on a whaler and TRAVELLED around the globe and EXPERIENCED extreme isolation and physical hardship for years on end.

Wallace, on the other hand, was raised by academic parents, embraced by academics in college, lauded by academics for whatever he published (with professors vying for him: "You should be a philosopher!" "NO! You should WRITE!")... A completely cushy path. Yet, both before and after he got published, he worried incessantly about whether or not he was "real" or just a creation of the wishes of others (both parental and media).

I'm sorry, I have no sympathy for that. If such are your innate mental concerns, then... Do the Melville-thing. Do the Hemingway-thing. Do, even, the latter-day "Oliver Stone-thing" --- abandon your cushy life and go off into the Wilds/Great Unknown just to see if you CAN.

Wallace did NOT choose any such radical action to assuage his dissatisfaction with his life. Instead, he continued his academic path (teaching at various colleges) while simultaneously disavowing his previous pot-smoking and drinking and becoming a complete (miserable) teetotaller. When he hanged himself in 2008, he'd been a teacher and sober, and for-the-most-part obviously unhappy, for over 10 years.

Question: When David Foster Wallace hung himself one evening in 2008...What if he'd had a joint earlier in the afternoon? If pot relaxed him as a youth, why was it suddenly verboten for the past ten years, unless part of the newly popular (and fake) "sober" aesthetic? He wrote "Infinite Jest" on pot. He lost one random (albeit intense) girlfriend on it (author Mary Karr, who was married to someone else at the time and surely more responsible than "the killer weed" for his then-agitation).

Post-Karr, according to the bio, Wallace made an effort to be completely drug/alcohol-free, and succeeded in that goal (EXCEPT FOR PHARMACEUTICALS). Right up until he hanged himself in his garage while his semi-talented granola wife was off opening a completely non-meaningful art-show in Pomona.

Wallace had picked this life and wife for himself. In the hopes that it made him seem "normal" in the eyes of the "artistic community." Right decision for said community. Completely wrong for himself.

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