More literary reflections on David Wallace’s life and contributions to the American scene are starting to roll in. I’ve linked to and excerpted a few below. Here is my spur of the moment reflection at 1 AM last night.
If you haven’t read Wallace I would recommend not starting with Infinite Jest, but one of his non-fiction essay collections such as Consider the Lobster or A Supposedly Fun Thing That I’ll Never Do Again. Here some favorite nuggets of mine from Infinite Jest. Here’s my post on his Best Essays introduction.
Also, many of remembrances reference his 2005 Commencement Address at Kenyon College. It is indeed worth reading. Below the fold on this blog post I include portions of an essay I wrote a few months ago on the speech, summarizing and analyzing it.
To the remembrances….
Here’s Michiko Kakutani in the NY Times:
For that matter, much of Mr. Wallace’s work…felt like outtakes from a continuing debate inside his head about the state of the world and the role of the writer in it, and the chasm between idealism and cynicism, aspirations and reality. The reader could not help but feel that Mr. Wallace had inhaled the muchness of contemporary America — a place besieged by too much data, too many video images, too many high-decibel sales pitches and disingenuous political ads — and had so many contradictory thoughts about it that he could only expel them in fat, prolix narratives filled with Möbius strip-like digressions, copious footnotes and looping philosophical asides.
Here’s David Gates in Newsweek who spends a little more time on the suicide references in DFW’s later writings. Elsewhere Gates writes:
True, Wallace was a head case, but in the sense that we’re all head cases: encased in our skulls, and sealed off from our fellow humans, we have worlds upon worlds of teeming, unruly sensations, emotions, attitudes, opinions and-that chillingly neutral word-information. "What goes on inside," Wallace wrote in "Good Old Neon," is just too fast and huge and all interconnected for words to do more than barely sketch the outlines of at most one tiny little part of it at a given instant.
Here’s Laura Miller in Salon who says Wallace made us feel a little less alone:
Every author wants to sell books, to please his or her publisher, to reap critical accolades and to bask in the admiration of colleagues, and Wallace did want those things, at the same time that he was more than a little embarrassed by such desires and acutely aware of the fact that none of it could make him happy. However, all great writers — and I have no doubt that he was one — have a preeminent purpose: to tell the truth. David Foster Wallace’s particular vocation was to allow us to see just how fraught and complicated, how difficult yet how necessary, that telling had become — not just for him, but for all of us. What will we do without him?
Here’s Christopher Hayes in The Nation:
Wallace’s project, which he lays out pretty clearly in this 2005 commencement address at Kenyon College, was empathy. And as a hyper-brilliant mind, the path he took towards it, in his writing, was to use his raw intellectual horsepower to achieve a kind of moral enlightenment. There was, in this way, a merging of form and content: his writing worked because he was able to achieve this kind of brilliant, self-conscious, painfully self-aware, but nonetheless robust and heart-breaking empathy for his characters and subjects. And as a reader, the prose itself made one feel a similar kind of soul connection to both the writer and the people the writer described. He felt close. His characters felt close. And reading him I found that the prison bars of my own embedded subjectivity, my own selfish "default setting" was shaken, bent, expanded just enough to be able to glimpse something eternally, capital-T True. Something sublime.
Speaking of that speech, below the fold, a summary and analysis.