Finite Jest

David Foster Wallace 1962–2008

It seems so goddamnably appropriate that the big and salacious rumor at the Genius Awards party* this past Saturday night was about David Foster Wallace (or, actually, to be more exact, conversation wasn’t about David Foster Wallace at all but his suicide, and that might be the most awful truth of all this: Wallace has, by his own hand, performed that by-now-familiar weird alchemy—think Hunter S. Thompson, think Ernest Hemingway, think Spalding Gray—to suddenly transform the mammoth, endlessly bounteous fields of his imagination into A Finite Collection of Books Written by a Suicide, and it is from now until forever impossible to read his writing without trying to turn it into some sort of a coded suicide note written years in advance) because among that gorgeous and dwindling herd of people who care about American Literature, 9 out of 10 of those people would assuredly last week have listed Wallace as one of the top three Living Geniuses in American Literature Right Now (and among those Geniuses, Wallace was the youngest one with a big body of work to direct people’s attention to, and was also the producer of some of the most accessible work of any of those authors on that rarefied list—Infinite Jest truly will stand forever, but so will his astonishing first novel, The Broom of the System, which, to prove that God doesn’t exist, was cruelly and unjustly out of print for almost a decade, and his short stories, from the exuberant and hopeful “Forever Overhead” tucked into the beginning of Brief Interviews with Hideous Men to the hideous beauty of the American political system laid bare in “Lyndon” and the breathless 20th-century tall tale of “Little Expressionless Animals”—which vague, questing customers in bookstores always refer to as “That Story by David Foster Wallace About the Jeopardy! Champion”—in Girl with Curious Hair, and also his essays, about freedom, about proper language, about the history of infinity, about cruise ships and one particularly important essay about John McCain that every American should be required by law to read before November 4). We were there at a party to celebrate Geniuses but we could all hear, over the susurration of the crowd (“Have you heard? Did you hear? Has your telephone given you the news yet? It’s true….”), the roar and the bellow of a sky made angry, rushing toward California, trying madly to fill the enormous vacuum left by the heartbreaking self-strangulation of one of the most beautiful and considerate genius brains that this frequently dunderheaded but basically decent and good-at-heart country ever had the good fortune to share our streets and stores and tennis courts with.

*If you’ll permit me a personal aside: I was talking to someone at the party about Wallace’s last book of short stories, and I said, straining my memory back to the reading of that book, “It was called Infinity, wasn’t it? Yes, the book was definitely titled Infinity. It was very good.” Well, the joke is on me: The book is titled Oblivion.

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Comments (10) RSS

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The thing is that there's not a whole lot of decoding to do in re-reading his writing. It was often warm- and open-hearted, yes, but almost all of it was also part of a large catalog of all the different and similar kinds of sadness, too.
Posted by josh c. on September 15, 2008 at 2:33 PM · Report this
A great obit one wishes not to have been written so fucking soon.

I didn't find out till Sunday night at dinner with friends. I am now re-reading "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again."
Posted by Chris Estey on September 15, 2008 at 3:02 PM · Report this
As Tiny Tim would have said, God bless us everyone, sinner, bastard, poet, the dead.
Posted by Abbey on September 15, 2008 at 7:48 PM · Report this
From 2002's "Good Old Neon":

Think for a second—what if all the infinitely dense and shifting worlds of stuff inside you every moment of your life turned out now to be somehow fully open and expressible afterward, after what you think of as you has died, because what if afterward now each moment itself is an infinite sea or span or passage of time in which to express it or convey it, and you don’t even need any organized English, you can as they say open the door and be in anyone else’s room in all your own multiform forms and ideas and facets?

I hope that's true. Thanks for everything, DFW.
Posted by Lincolnish on September 15, 2008 at 8:59 PM · Report this
'David Foster Wallace Suicide Chatroom' has a posse.
Posted by AW on September 16, 2008 at 6:26 AM · Report this
Why does an obituary so poorly generalized, typical and short as this get such a big frontpage banner.
Posted by dannygutters on September 16, 2008 at 1:07 PM · Report this
It's not so much of an obituary as an attempt for the writer himself to show off poorly written and overblown prose.
Posted by Rachel on September 17, 2008 at 8:55 AM · Report this
Attempting to imitate a writer's style in his obituary is not, in fact, a form of flattery. It's a form of insufferability. Especially with a writer like DFW, whom pretty much everyone thinks they can imitate and whom pretty much no one can.

Yeah, he wrote manic, paragraph-long sentences with many dependent clauses inserted in various ways and used lots of adverbs and hyphens, but there's way more to it than that. Reducing his style -- which was both generous and demanding at the same time -- to merely an annoying fucking tic really misses all that was great about him.
Posted by Roselyn on September 17, 2008 at 6:00 PM · Report this
. . .man, some bitchy comments . . .do you people talk this way at funerals, too? nice obit. . .sometimes dfw took my breath away . . .there were moments in brief interviews with hideous men that made the top of my head open up, though i can't help but begrudge him for putting his wife in that position . . . there's gotta' be a more humane way to check out for others involved . . .
Posted by jonathan evison on September 19, 2008 at 8:46 AM · Report this
No footnotes here.
Posted by N on September 21, 2008 at 8:05 PM · Report this

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