Sunday, September 14, 2008

David Foster Wallace: In Memoriam


David Foster Wallace was an extraordinarily talented writer. Published in 1996, Wallace's Infinite Jest is still one of the best novels written in recent years. Here's a couple quotes from his 2005 Kenyon Commencement Address:

"Probably the most dangerous thing about an academic education -- least in my own case -- is that it enables my tendency to over-intellectualize stuff, to get lost in abstract argument inside my head, instead of simply paying attention to what is going on right in front of me, paying attention to what is going on inside me.

As I'm sure you guys know by now, it is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive, instead of getting hypnotized by the constant monologue inside your own head (may be happening right now). Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. . . .

The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.

That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing."

3 comments:

Castle of Stink said...

I hadn't heard this news when I read your blog this morning. I haven't read Infinite Jest, but I knew who he was and I knew immediately that it was probably a suicide. I was very sad in one of those ways that's surprising and hard to explain because I haven't read his stuff.

Someone on another site noted that he would probably mock the idea of someone blogging about his death...

I'll probably go buy Infinite Jest now (if I don't already have a copy).

JUS said...

Thanks for posting that, FDr. There aren't too many people who could make "totally hosed" sound thoughtful.

JUS said...

My wife saw the news today and reminded me that she had gone to school with David at Arizona in Tucson. She said his towering talent was well known in their grad program. I had forgotten his name.

This is the second suicide among writers she knew in that program.

I pulled out a book of his that he wrote in 1999, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. It is sardonic, biting, and at times hysterical. The first chapter is a single, three pages-long sentence titled, Death is Not the End.

Sad loss.