David Foster Wallace hanged himself Friday.
I was a great fan of his essays. I never read his fiction. Infinite Jest sounded like a wonderful, dense, monumental read, but I’m already trying to read Proust, and, y’know, one literary mountain at a time.
Throughout his work, Wallace’s genius was to get to the heart of what people are and why they do what they do. He found it perverse and often baffling (*), but never let his perspective slide too far into condescension without reminding himself that he was no better. His comments on the t-shirt booth at the Illinois State Fair remain my favorite in this vein; I don’t have the text at hand, but it boils down to “who on Earth would wear these idiotic t-shirts…and who the hell am I for judging them?”
And there was the twist: his investigations never seemed to make him happy. At times (the titular essay of “A Supposedly Fun Thing…” is one example), he spiraled into a whirlpool of self-examination that was so critical it might have been called self-loathing if it hadn’t been so funny. In “Consider The Lobster,” in an essay on the English language, he laments his occasional social paralysis and inability to choose among the myriad different ways of expressing, for example, that he’s tired of talking to someone and would like for them to leave so that he can go to bed. He ends up, he says, by blurting out, “I want this conversation to be over and for you to be out of my apartment.” That he can see the humor in it and make us laugh doesn’t make it any less awkward.
I feel like he finally figured out the way to say it. I wish he’d found another way. While I’m glad he left behind his humor, his insights, and his immense talent in writing, I’m angry because it’s all tinged with sadness now. But in the end, we all have to choose our own path in this world, and sometimes out of it, and as Wallace himself might say, who the hell am I to judge?
Thanks for all the words. So long, DFW.