Sunday, September 21, 2008

DFW R.I.P.

A lot has been said about David Foster Wallace since his apparent suicide a little over a week ago. And I mean a lot. To list just a few of the more interesting pieces:
  • A nice tribute by Laura Miller in Salon.com (probably my favorite of the bunch).
  • "Finite Jest," a collection of reactions from writers, editors, and friends (Slate.com).
  • "Infinitely Sad," Tim Noah from Slate doing some pop psychology on Wallace and his literary life.
  • The New York Times has something like wall-to-wall Wallace appreciation, including an obituary, reflections by A.O. Scott, Verlyn Klinkenborg , and Michiko Kakutani.
  • n+1 has its own little list of Wallace memorabilia (a little earnest and snooty as you might expect).
  • John Hodgman has an appropriately titled tribute on his blog (Hodgman is worth reading, too, if you haven't yet had or taken the chance.)
These are all well and good, but I suggest instead reading some of his own work. Wallace did quite a bit of excellent work — and some of his best nonfiction — for Harper's, and they've nicely put up all of his articles on the web for free. (I particularly recommend "Shipping Out.") And(/or) if you're new to Wallace, you could do worse than read his reporting on the Main Lobster Festival for Gourmet magazine called "Consider the Lobster."

In his NY Times article on Roger Federer, "Roger Federer as Religious Experience," a classic I remind myself of each U.S. Open, Wallace talks about "Federer Moments." He describes these as "times, as you watch the young Swiss play, when the jaw drops and eyes protrude and sounds are made that bring spouses in from other rooms to see if you’re O.K."

Wallace had his own class of Moment, and his work is full of them. He made such difficult writing seem effortless (witness the contortions Michiko Kakutani works herself into to try to sound even a little like Wallace). One of my own favorite DFW Moments comes in his short story "Here and There" from Girl with Curious Hair. The story, about an MIT grad student who thinks he can reduce poetry to logic and but loses his girlfriend, initially reads like any old thing from a fancy schmancy po-mo funboy, albeit a gifted one. But then the story is suddenly about the very real and relatable experience of someone using thinking as a defense against loving.

The piece ends with the grad student struggling to fix his aunt and uncle's ancient stove and failing more and more spectacularly the more he tries. Or as DFW puts it:

'My aunt comes back behind the stove and stands behind me and peers into the tidied black hollow of the stove and says it looks like I've done quite a bit of work! I point at the filthy distributor circuit with my screwdriver and do not say anything. I prod it with the tool.

...I believe, behind the stove, with my aunt kneeling down to lay her hand on my shoulder, that I'm afraid of absolutely everything there is.'

May he rest.

2 comments:

teahouse said...

I didn't know anything about him, but your post (coupled with a report I heard on NPR over the weekend) makes me want to run out and read all that he has to say.

I love what you said about Michiko Kakutani! I've always found her to be pretentious and esoteric, and I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who feels that way :o)

Mother said...

The new picture that you posted is awesome!