September 21, 2008

More on David Foster Wallace . . .

Via a notation from Ana Marie Cox on Twitter, A.O. Scott in The New York Timesdiscusses Wallace's voice, which he attempts to separate from Wallace's life.

Good luck, Buddy.

Special bonus: the headline is "The Best Mind of His Generation." Get it?

When, as an undergraduate with a head full of literary theory and a heartsick longing for authenticity, I first encountered David Foster Wallace, I experienced what is commonly called the shock of recognition. Actually, shock is too clean, too safe a word for my uncomfortable sense that not only did I know this guy, but he knew me. He could have been a T.A. in one of my college courses, or the slightly older guy in Advanced Approaches to Interpretation who sat slightly aloof from the others and had not only mastered the abstruse and trendy texts everyone else was reading, but also skipped backward, sideways and ahead. It was impressive enough that he could do philosophy — the mathematical kind, not just the French kind. But he also played tennis — Mr. Wallace, in fact, had competed seriously in the sport — and could quote lyrics from bands you only pretended you’d heard of. Without even trying, he was cooler than everyone else.

All this shone through Mr. Wallace’s fiction. He had the intellectual moves and literary tricks diagrammed in advance: the raised-eyebrow, mock-earnest references to old TV shows and comic books; the acknowledgment that truth was a language game. He was smarter than anyone else, but also poignantly aware that being smart didn’t necessarily get you very far, and that the most visible manifestations of smartness — wide erudition, mastery of trivia, rhetorical facility, love of argument for its own sake — could leave you feeling empty, baffled and dumb.

Another way of saying this is that Mr. Wallace, born in 1962 and the author of an acclaimed first novel at age 24, anchored his work in an acute sense of generational crisis. None of his peers were preoccupied so explicitly with how it felt to arrive on the scene as a young, male American novelist dreaming of glory, late in the 20th century and haunted by a ridiculous, poignant question: what if it’s too late? What am I supposed to do now?

Yeah, well: one could almost say the same thing about female writers. Almost.

Cox characterizes the piece as "deft." Maybe. Certainly, the point is well taken that a high I.Q. and $3.50 can buy one a Chai Latte at Starbucks. So, you know: we've got that going for us.

I still think that what he did was really, really stupid.

And with that, I think I'll go to bed.

Posted by Attila Girl at September 21, 2008 04:20 AM | TrackBack
Comments

Very stupid indeed.

And while in some abstract sense I know that people who do the bad thing were in pain, so much that they had ceased to be rational or capable of perceiving their many options and friends and reasons for avoiding the bad thing, what I really feel is that it's a totally asshole thing to do, lazy and cowardly and selfish and rude.

No one not on a desert island or suffering from an excruciating terminal illness should ever ever do it.

Posted by: rin at September 21, 2008 08:25 AM


Did Ginsberg kill himself too?

Posted by: Sejanus at September 22, 2008 02:41 PM


Ginzy died of cancer at 70. I'm sure the reference is to the "destroyed by madness" line that follows.

Posted by: ratan x at September 23, 2008 08:16 PM




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