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David Foster Wallace, RIP

Posted by Matthew Gilbert  September 14, 2008 04:34 PM

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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."


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7 comments so far...
  1. It is sad. Thank you for the obituary.

    Posted by ididreadinfinitejestandlovedit September 14, 08 08:05 PM
  1. This was a brave, articulate, funny, caring soul whose torment we will never know. At least we have his work to remember him with...what a tragedy.

    Posted by mihal September 14, 08 09:41 PM
  1. Devastating news. Thanks for the remembrance.

    Posted by metoo September 14, 08 10:07 PM
  1. I'm so sorry that he felt life did not offer enough for him. Thank you for the tribute. My heart goes out to his family. And, for his readers, who knew what he would have produced in the next 40, 50 years?

    Posted by reindeergirl September 14, 08 10:30 PM
  1. Why is David gone when another fellow Amherst College alumni, Dan Brown, remains to spout off more garbage?

    Posted by cromeyellow September 14, 08 11:27 PM
  1. Tonight at the bookstore where I work someone had pulled all of the David Foster Wallace books and I had to re-shelve them. Instead of reshelving them I read David Eggers's intro to Infinite Jest and flipped through the book.

    I had no idea that he had just died. Poop on a poopstick.

    Both his essay collections are great - I am partial to "A supposedly fun thing. . .", but"Consider the Lobster" is also grand.

    Sad sad sad.

    Posted by C Franz September 14, 08 11:58 PM
  1. An unimaginably painful loss to not only his family but to his country as well. I have to wonder how much effect the current political/cultural absurdities had on DFW's apparently underlying depression.

    Posted by Jeff September 15, 08 10:19 AM

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