This has absolutely nothing to do with TV -- or maybe everything -- but we have lost a wonderfully imaginative and visionary writer with the death, on Friday, of David Foster Wallace, 46. He was a master of irony AND sincerity, cynicism AND emotion, self-consciousness AND presence, comedy AND tragedy. He developed a brilliantly absurdist view of the way America has taken its pop culture, engendered by TV, so profoundly to heart; and he fretted over that sad progress.
Every time I think about product placement on TV, or every time I go to a stadium named for a corporate entity, I think of Wallace and his notion, in the massive novel "Infinite Jest," of a time when years are named after corporate sponsors -- as in Year of the Whopper and Year of the Perdue Wonderchicken.
In 1997, I interviewed Wallace in Boston, and it was a memorable afternoon for me, during which he was as honest and twisty and self-conscious as he could be. Chewing tobacco and spitting into a glass, Wallace, whose death was an apparent suicide, talked about "having something like a midife crisis in my late 20s." He expounded at length on irony, from Ken Kesey to David Letterman.
And he talked about his time in the Boston area, his breakdown, and his stay at Newton-Wellesley Hospital. "I was feeling so miserable and so angry at myself that I was afraid I was going to hurt myself, so I put myself in there so that I would stop worrying about it. I would not be talking with you about it if I hadn't slipped to the press last year. It's not really anyone's business. . . . It was embarrassing for me, but it was also a time when I gave up a lot of ideas about why I became a writer and what I wanted."