September 13, 2008

RIP, DFW

David Foster Wallace, the author of my favorite book of all time -- Infinite Jest -- committed suicide Friday night, hanging himself at his home in Claremont, California. He was 46.

I first saw this unconfirmed report at about 7 PM -- and I think I audibly gasped. Since then, I have felt vaguely ill, with a knot of dread in my stomach. It was only about an hour ago that I figured it out -- I'm heartbroken.

***

New York Times
Los Angeles Times

18 comments:

Tony said...

RIP indeed. He was a fantastic essay writer - I still flip through Consider The Lobster and A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again on a semi-regular basis, and his essay on the 1998 AVN Awards is still astounding and hilarious. He will be missed.

redsock said...

"Supposedly Fun Thing" would be what I would suggest to curious readers. The cruise and fair are hilarious, but the essay on TV is stunningly brilliant.

The first thing I read by him was a piece on the US Open in a NYT supplement in 1995(?). It was pre-IJ.

And but so I'm going to wait a few days to sort out my thoughts.

redsock said...

L wrote something really great here.

L-girl said...

I'm so sorry. I know how bad you feel.

* * * *

The Cruise and the Fair are more than just hilarious. They are incredibly astute, finely observed, warm and generous, perfectly written. They are masterful.

andy said...

That sucks. This seems to happen to brilliant minds a lot. Especially when they are artistic. Like they can't get out their feelings in a way that normal people can understand. So that gets internalized and it ruins them.

phil said...

An Amherst alumnus too.

redsock said...

Timothy Williams, New York Times:

David Foster Wallace, whose darkly ironic novels, essays and short stories garnered him a large following and made him one of the most influential writers of his generation, was found dead in his California home on Friday ...

His opus, "Infinite Jest," published by Little, Brown & Company in 1996 ... is, roughly, about addiction and how the need for pleasure and entertainment can interfere with human connection. ...

Michael Pietsch, who edited "Infinite Jest," said Saturday night that the literary world had lost one of its great talents.

"He had a mind that was constantly working on more cylinders than most people, but he was amazingly gentle and kind," Mr. Pietsch said. "He was a writer who other writers looked to with awe." ...

***

redsock said...

L.A. Times book editor David Ulin:

"He was one of the most influential and innovative writers of the last 20 years. He is one of the main writers who brought ambition, a sense of play, a joy in storytelling and an exuberant experimentalism of form back to the novel in the late '80s and early 1990s. And he really restored the notion of the novel as a kind of canvas on which a writer can do anything."

Amy said...

I have never read anything by Wallace, but now will. Someone that moved you this much, Allan, must be worth reading.

I am sorry for your heartbreak, Allan, and for what the world has lost.

L-girl said...

Amy, while you might not want to start Infinite Jest - only slightly shorter than the OED! - I highly recommend picking up the collection of essays I mentioned on my blog, "A Supposedly Fun Thing...". The title essay, as well as the visit to the state fair, are amazing. I've read all those essays, and they are all genius.

redsock said...

I agree with L. The essays are best to start with.

redsock said...

Mark Caro, Chicago Tribune:

I profiled him for the Tribune back in early 1996 when his brilliant, prescient 1,000-plus-page novel "Infinite Jest" was being hailed as a masterwork.

Wallace, who grew up in Urbana, was teaching at Illinois State University in Normal at the time and was wary of what all of the acclaim might do to him.

He told me that after his first burst of fame that followed the publication of his debut novel, "The Broom of the System" (1987), and the short-story collection "Girl With Curious Hair" (1989), he'd entered a hospital and asked to be put on suicide watch.

"In a weird way it seemed like there was something very American about what was going on, that things were getting better and better for me in terms of all the stuff I thought I wanted, and I was getting unhappier and unhappier," he said.

***

Ted Gioia really nails what was so magnificent about IJ and Wallace's writing in general:

Few writers have ever been better at delivering scintillating prose, sentence after sentence, without ever seeming to run dry. ...
Infinite Jest is not just an exercise in dazzling prose. Wallace crafted one of the more profound works of fiction of our time, an exposé of the follies and foibles of post-modern life. ... This is one of the most sober (in more than one sense of the word) novels you will ever read, and also one of the funniest. The novel is also loaded with irony, but also one of the most caustic critiques of irony.

***

Michiko Kakutani, New York Times:

David Foster Wallace used his prodigious gifts as a writer — his manic, exuberant prose; his ferocious powers of observation, his ability to fuse avant garde techniques with old-fashioned moral seriousness — to create a series of strobe-lit portraits of a millennial America overdosing on the drugs of entertainment and self-gratification ...

For that matter, much of Mr. Wallace’s work, from his gargantuan 1996 novel “Infinite Jest” to his excursions into journalism, felt like outtakes from a continuing debate inside his head, about the state of the world and the role of the writer in it, and the chasm between idealism and cynicism, aspirations and reality. The reader could not help but feel that Mr. Wallace had inhaled the muchness of contemporary America — a place besieged by too much data, too many video images, too many high-decibel sales pitches and disingenuous political ads — and had so many contradictory thoughts about it that he could only expel them in fat, prolix narratives filled with Mobius strip-like digressions, copious footnotes and looping philosophical asides. ...

But his ventures into nonfiction, “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again” (1997) and “Consider the Lobster” (2005), grounded his proclivity for meandering, stream of consciousness musings in sharp magazine assignments and reportorial subjects, and they evinced the same sort of weird telling details and philosophical depth of field as his most powerful fiction. They reminded the reader of Mr. Wallace’s copious gifts as a writer and his keen sense of the metastasizing absurdities of life in America at a precarious hinge moment in time.

accudart said...

I might have to break my streak of reading only baseball books. I've owned moneyball for years but never really wanted to start it...it'll sit in the que a bit longer. Thanks guys.

redsock said...

I love his writing on tennis*, in IJ, in various essays, and in this August 2006 piece on Roger Federer in the New York Times.

One could look at it harshly and say it's merely typical Wallace -- perhaps even containing elements of self-parody -- but it's also a great example of "what he does/did".

(* In fact, the first thing of his I ever read was a long report from the US Open in 1995(?), which would have been just before Jest was published. I had never before read anyone that used words like he did. Many years later, I tracked it down on microfilm -- it was in an advertising supplement, of all things -- and now have a copy.)

redsock said...

OMG -- HERE IT IS!

... now you all can enjoy it!

("Democracy and Commerce at the U.S. Open", New York Times, August 25, 1996)

A Conformer said...

I read "Consider the lobster" and the two tennis articles- I love his voice, his observations, his confusion and internal debates which are so well articulated and rounded up, and the way in which he shares them. This just means that I have to go look for "Supposedly fun thing", another addition to the infinite list of books I want to own and read. And who knows, I might build up to Infinite Jest too.

Thank you for the links.

A Conformer said...

And something else: his observations on tourism on "Consider the lobster" (footnote #6, basically) is probably the best thing I've ever read about the idea of travel-as-entertainment, and sums up a lot of my unease and dislike of it. He phrased vague thoughts and feelings I was only half-aware of having (which is basically what great writing should do).

L-girl said...

And something else: his observations on tourism on "Consider the lobster" (footnote #6, basically) is probably the best thing I've ever read about the idea of travel-as-entertainment, and sums up a lot of my unease and dislike of it.

Then you MUST read the title piece of Supposedly Fun Thing.

He phrased vague thoughts and feelings I was only half-aware of having (which is basically what great writing should do).

He does that constantly for me. The precision of his language is a wonder to me.