He would have been 48 today.
“In his moving eulogy to Wallace published in the 21 September 2008 edition of The New York Times Book Review, A. O. Scott eloquently describes Wallace’s distinctive literary voice as “the voice in your own head.” Scott is absolutely correct, of course, but in a very technical sense that bears exploring. As Infinite Jest reaches its shattering conclusion, Don Gately is found mute and supine on his back, in tremendous pain, and heroically refusing any form of pharmacological relief. Soon, Gately’s interior is visited by a spectral conversational “wraith” who listens to Gately’s thoughts, occasionally pushes up his glasses, and replies back in a voice that is partly his own and partly Gately’s. “The wraith,” Wallace writes, “could empathize totally.” What’s more, the “wraith could move at the speed of quanta and be anywhere anytime and hear in symphonic toto the thoughts of animate men, but it couldn’t ordinarily affect anybody or anything solid, and it could never speak right to anybody, a wraith had no out-loud voice of its own, and had to use somebody’s like internal brain-voice if it wanted to try to communicate something, which was why thoughts and insights that were coming from some wraith always just sound like your own thoughts, from inside your own head, if a wraith’s trying to interface with you.” That’s on page 831, if you missed it first time around. My point is that the wraith is, in many respects, the personification of Wallace’s literary voice. It is a concrete analogue for Wallace’s trace presence in his own texts. Not to be confused with Wallace the man. Emphatically not to be confused with Wallace the man.
I cannot begin to imagine the misery the real David Foster Wallace must have experienced when he took his life, but I know that puncture of pain I feel when I think of that misery is in many ways more acute because my own alienated self has been punctured, opened, and made more empathetic to the pain of others as a direct result of David Foster Wallace’s texts coming to life through me, as a reader. That was true before 12 September 2008, and it is no less true now. If you don’t believe me, put down this journal and go read something of his—a story, a cherished chunk of Infinite Jest, one of the essays. You’ll see what I mean. The Wallace wraith is alive and well in those books, ready to push his glasses up his nose and listen to you read your own thoughts even as he speaks to you in your own voice. That is the buried treasure that lies at the innermost interior of Wallace’s best work. It his selfless gift to us, his readers. The only thing that has changed is that the gift is now more precious than ever.”
- Marshall Boswell.
Listening to this really great David Foster Wallace interview from 1999 -
He’s so well-spoken. It takes a few minutes in the beginning for he and the interviewer to get accostomed to each other, but after that it’s solid gold.
An ad that pretends to be art is — at absolute best — like somebody who smiles warmly at you only because he wants something from you. This is dishonest, but what’s sinister is the cumulative effect that such dishonesty has on us: since it offers a perfect facsimile or simulacrum of goodwill without goodwill’s real spirit, it messes with our heads and eventually starts upping our defenses even in cases of genuine smiles and real art and true goodwill. It makes us feel confused and lonely and impotent and angry and scared. It causes despair. — A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, David Foster Wallace (via writtenininvisibleink)
“How do you remember Amherst? What are the experiences—in and out of the classroom—that shape those memories? Similarly, what aspects of your Amherst education served you best? And what are the things about Amherst that, in hindsight, disappoint you?”
“I don’t know that many would remember me at all… I was cripplingly shy at Amherst. I wasn’t in a fraternity and didn’t go to parties and didn’t have much to do with the life of the College. I had a few very close friends and that was it. I studied all the time. I mean literally all the time…
So ‘the things about Amherst that, in hindsight, disappoint [me]’ are things not about Amherst but about who I was when I was there. I let almost no one know me, and I lost the chance to know and learn from most of my peers. It took years after I’d graduated from Amherst to realize that people were actually far more complicated and interesting than books, that almost everyone else suffered the same secret fears and inadequacies as I, and that feeling alone and inferior was actually the great valent bond between us all. I wish I’d been smart enough to understand that when I was an adolescent.”
— David Foster Wallace interviewed by Amherst magazine
Posted this quote by DFW earlier, but it bears repeating!
David Foster Wallace, wearing the signature bandana.
The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling. — David Foster Wallace (Infinite Jest) (via astronauts)