PATRICK STEPHENSON

Earthbound concerns of an ascendant adult

David Foster Wallace Remembrance

with one comment

I wrote this for Filthy Habits in September 2008, the month David Foster Wallace committed suicide.

When I learned DFW had died—had, worst of all, committed suicide—I was sitting on the outskirts of a large family dinner. We’d just finished eating and I’d left the table to check my e-mail and Twitter on my laptop. “David Foster Wallace dead,” I read, via Maud Newton, via Ed Champion. “Oh my god,” I said. “Oh my god.” And I began, nearly immediately, to cry. All of my family—still seated around said dinner table & in the midst of a very loud, heated argument about politics (Palin)—turned toward me. I kept on crying.

“That is just fucking awful,” I Twittered. “God dammit.”

David Foster Wallace was a genius, in the true, uncorrupted-by-Apple sense of that word, a brilliant writer with an awesomely awesome brain, but his fiction wasn’t detached or inhumane. He loved language, all kinds of language. Language that’s traditionally beautiful, and language that’s beautiful because of what it hides. The vernaculars of advertising, corporations, psychiatrists. He had mastered or could master it all. He was experimental, but not at the expense of his fiction’s humanity. And beneath his pyrotechnics, you sensed a deep and profound empathy for everyone, despite the evils we do.

(And also also, he was hilarious. I’ll be rereading the title essay of A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again till I die.)

DFW inspired me as a writer, and he inspired me as a human being. I can’t make that miserable, post-workday trip to the supermarket anymore without thinking of DFW’s commencement speech at Kenyon. I think of what he called our default setting: A self-centeredness that makes us unfairly and ignorantly despise anyone who gets in our way. Per David Foster Wallace, being truly humane ”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.”

I left adolescence and grew into my mid-20s with David Foster Wallace, or rather, his words, at my side. I couldn’t have had a better guide, and discovered so much about the world through his writing. I learned about other writers, other artists—David Lynch, John Updike, Don DeLillo. I learned about the universality of the various pains and anxieties I’ve experienced. And I learned about compassion. David Foster Wallace succeeded at what Mr. Rogers (that Mr. Rogers, the PBS Mr. Rogers) said should be our mission as people: To remind others that they are not alone.

I hoped DFW would be at my side as I got older. More essays, more novels, more everything. I wanted it all from him. He was one of the few writers I regularly Googled, searching for new morsels. Anything he wrote, I would read. (Even if it was about Roger Federer.) No more. We’ve lost him.

If only DFW had heard and understood his own words to the suicidal protagonist of “Good Old Neon”: “It wouldn’t have made you a fraud to change your mind. It would be sad to do it because you think you somehow have to.” Suicide sucks, dude.

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Written by patiomensch

July 25, 2009 at 12:07 am

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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