Sunday, September 21, 2008

I'll Miss You, DFW

I don't know what rock I've been living under for the past week, but today I found out that one of my favorite authors, David Foster Wallace, committed suicide on September 12.

Introduced to his work during my first year of undergrad in Arizona through a conversation I had with one of my TAs, I didn't give much thought to Wallace's writing until a year after this conversation even though I did read one of DFWs books before then. It all started one day while my TA and I were going through one of my essays which was going to be entered into the freshman composition publication contest for the following year's textbooks, and my teacher made mention of how he had noticed my writing style more or less rejected typical norms (whatever that meant...I think he was just trying impress me) and my thought process adhered to a more post-modernistic perspective - much like David Foster Wallace. Who was Wallace? Why had I not heard of this author before? Post-modernistic? Really?

I come to find out that David Foster Wallace was a UA alum. Small world, eh? And while I kind of disagreed with my TA about my personal style of writing, I thought I should read some of DFWs work, so I picked up The Broom of the System and read it over the course of a couple days. I thought it was good, but I had no deep thoughts regarding the essays. At the time I was a nineteen year old who, in her free time, was more concerned with caloric intake and how to burn off mysterious fat that wasn't really there, so my deeper thoughts were mostly limited to the several credit hours I was taking combined with my psychotic exercise regimen.

Fast forward to late fall 1997, sophomore year. I was unwillingly pushed into recovery for the first time during my adult life. And with this particular stint at recovery came less exercise, and less exercise meant more free time to do things I wouldn't normally do in years previous, so I bought DFWs book, Infinite Jest. I read it over the course of two weeks, and then had to read it a second time. I'm not going to go into the story line(s), but this one thousand plus page book changed my life. Literally. It changed my perspective on the writing craft - the many different possibilities on how to tackle subject matter, creating characters while injecting my spin and narrative, ensuring inclusion of theoretical concepts, how attempting to write philosophically did not have to equate to pretension, and among other things, introducing me to my love of metaphysics.

Many people claim that DFW wrote an esoteric, elitist tract in Infinite Jest, but I would have to disagree. Yes, the book is lengthy and filled with parody and theory, but that doesn't necessarily make it esoteric. You should give it a read and see what you think. In fact I still have my battered copy of Infinite Jest. Complete with highlighted passages, notes in the margins, and its dog-eared, yellowed pages. I've had the book for over ten years and I've probably read it about ten times. Every time I read it, I get some new insight out of it.

DFW was one of the most talented contempory writers of the twentieth century. And while it saddens me to think he committed suicide, I cannot say it surprised me based upon what I know of his life and his works. He showed glimmers of his depression in some of his writings and he certainly analyzed everything. I mean, he could turn something seemingly fun and possibly trivial into a complete existential crisis - as an example, read his article on the Maine Lobster Festival, "Consider the Lobster." I guess I just think that someone who thinks that much, is bound to do something drastic. And while I am no great theorist or writer, I understand how thinking too much takes its toll on one, thus leading to drastic measures taken. News of his death also forces me reflect on my own writing and life.

Will I ever be able to get back to my own constantly morphing style of pomo writing? Will I ever get be able to get around the roadblocks in my brain? Will I ever write again as writer versus mere thought thrower outer? I feel I have become "dumbed down" over the past several years working the grind in the business world as HR champion and writer of the technical. Is it true? Am I dumber? Or is it just self-sabotage? This is all a mystery to me, but something for me to ponder.

Thank you David Foster Wallace for the gifts you bestowed upon the world. Your presence will be missed.

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