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David Foster Wallace

October 28, 2012

It might be tempting to write about David Foster Wallace1 mimetically, but I don’t want to do that. DFW is one of my favorite authors and I feel like he deserves something special. He is one three dead authors from this class and he’s the only one I’d extensively read before.

My first encounter with DFW was reading Infinite Jest in Italy. I didn’t have much else to do for three months. I think anyone who doesn’t carve out the space for IJ doesn’t deserve to remark upon it. The book is about addictions and becomes addictive. Everything I wrote at the time was in response to that book. It has everything in it which means it is boring, pretentious, pedantic but also incisive, life-changing and genius. DFW was a writer who didn’t back down from intelligence but brought you up closer to his level. He made you yearn after wholeness. He was darkly funny and god-awful depressing.

After that, I read his essays, not able to get into his early novels. Reading his amazing piece on David Lynch made me watch Lost Highway. When he toured with Oblivion, I saw him read and he was the exact embodiment of his literature.

When he killed himself he put an end to the straining you could palpably feel through his words. He seemed to believe that the world could be made better but also that it needed to be made better. That there were things off kilter, and maybe no amount of scribbling words on a page to get the reader to feel something was ever going to change that. It’s a razor’s edge to think that.

I don’t write to make the world a better place. I don’t even write to make myself better. But I think DFW did, and after a while he didn’t want to anymore. Even if you feel something when you read his stories, even if they make you change your entire life and keep you from killing yourself. Maybe Mr. Wallace was afraid that all of his efforts were misplaced. That the problem wasn’t where he was addressing himself but rather inside the taped diaper of his own psyche, the scorched and mutilated genitals of this shitty existence that no amount of kisses on the brow will ever ameliorate.

1David Foster Wallace is probably best known for his abundant use of footnotes. But as this story proves, he has skills beyond that, never using a footnote once, but employing lush elaborate sentences that emphatically bring it.


Next week’s story is “The Wolf at the Door” by Rebecca Curtis


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