Sunday, September 14, 2008

"I felt more solidly composed, now that I was horizontal. I was impossible to knock down."

I don't know. I can't think of words to say. I feel today a little kicked in the chest, more so even now than yesterday when I first heard on the telephone what had happened: that the person I've most looked up to as an artist, who is in fact the major reason I began writing in the first place, has killed himself at 46. At 46, with so much there already, but what seemed the promise of so much more. I don't know. I don't know.

I wasn't going to type anything about this subject I thought but now having half-slept all night with the words in my head, questions, absolute confusion and sense of loss, I don't know. I need to get some of this out of me.

I asked for a copy of INFINITE JEST for Christmas during my second year of undergrad. I don't remember where I'd heard to ask for it. I wasn't reading a lot at the time. I'd always been a voracious reader as a child and young teen, but after getting over the Beats I pretty much had stopped finding things that made me feel the way books had made me feel, why I read. I was a computer science major at Ga Tech. Things were heading in one way.

I began reading INFINITE JEST during the end of Christmas break into the beginning of classes at Tech again. I remember, by the middle of the first scene with Hal's broken perspective among the board at the tennis academy, being so consumed with not just the story of the book, but the construction of each sentence. I had not understood the sentence as a thing of this sort of function. That sentences could be this huge, this important line by line, could do this much. There seemed a certain way of mind that I had not known was possible with words on paper, in that Wallace seemed to be able to condense moment-to-moment inner-thinking in such a way so good that it became funny. INFINITE JEST is one of a very small handful of books I've read that have made me laugh out loud, gut-wrenching laughter, the kind with tears, and not because of jokes and one-liners, but because of the overarching Holy Fuck of it all, the sheer entertainment of it even in face of such scope, human consciousness on paper.

I remember reading the book in physics classes during lectures I should have been paying attention to. I spent pretty much every spare moment, and moments that should not have been spare, reading each sentence not as if it were a story, but in the face of something huge.

While I was reading INFINITE JEST I wrote my first story. I began to spend all my time writing rather than working on computer science. Next semester I changed my major to the most liberal arts thing I could find at a technical school, and after that I began my MFA. Via Wallace I began finding more and more important books, but still even to this day none that would hit me the way that book did: whole, truckload a-ha, this is what you should aspire to make with your life.

After INFINITE JEST, having read it 3 times through and some sections and other stories and essays countless times, like many who feel the way about that book and his writing that I do, I entered, and still have not ever shed, an obsession with his work that fueled not only my passion as a reader, but as a touchstone for how to expand. Among all the contemporary fiction I've read over the past 5-8 years, (through him, his reading lists or things mentioned in interviews, or blurbed, I read anything his name came near, I read OMENSETTER'S LUCK, I read IN WATERMELON SUGAR, I read WITTGENSTEIN'S MISTRESS, etc., etc.), and yet David Foster Wallace was doing something that, more so than any other writer even close to him, that no one else could do. There will never be another author who captures with such pure power the notions of recursive thought, deep focus paranoia and obsession, the massive sprawl of sentences so chiseled and of such span that one could spend hours with, the description of human emotions and understandings that have never likewise been put into words, not so aptly, so in the face of the thing itself, and often with a sense of humor that proves comedy can be more, sentimentality that does not reek, the function of apocrypha and embedded implications hidden in the sheer mass of something.




I want to say there is something that can be made ok in this but I do not understand.

If there's anything that might come of his death, it might be that more people will read INFINITE JEST in particular, as it is probably the most spoke-of-more-than-read pieces of writing of all time. And though his essays and short fiction both are towers in their own way and all vital to me (god, the essays) (god, OBLIVION) (god, it all), it is INFINITE JEST that is a tower among all things, in my mind.


I don't know. I am trying to understand this. I am babbling but I am going to keep doing it. I feel squashed some, like I can't think of books the same way. How this person will never create again makes me ill. There's not another author that I've ever been so entwined with, felt like a brother of the mind of. I wish I could understand the removal. It brings a new light, too, to the quite-present discussions of suicide and depression that run through his books, which I had always grasped as something he understood in a philosophical way, that he had captured the brunt of in the overwhelming fuck of everyday movement, but now it seems much more burned into the page.

'The Depressed Person': How will I ever read this story again and not bawl?

'Good Old Neon': the self-reflexivity at the end (the first time of which I read I remember sitting in a room just staring afterward for several hours, trying to figure out what'd just happened to me), how will it ever not feel like a shriek?

The inscription written in one of my many copies of INFINITE JEST (I think 5 at different times), which he wrote to me when I flew to Boston to see him read on the Oblivion book tour, in which I sat in a church in a state of real religious awe as he read to us and sweated and answered my question about his pseudonym Elizabeth Klemm: To Blake, in the mind-bonding heat, ____

There always seemed something in his eyes, I don't know, I didn't think it was this,

The first sentence of the first story in OBLIVION 'Mister Squishy,' one of my favorite pieces of the short story as art, the unexpected, verbal inertia: how I can hope by reading this that this indeed is a key to something, that this man is not gone, another veil: The focus group was then reconvened in another of Reesemeyer Shannon Belt Advertising's nineteenth-floor conference rooms.

Other things, all of them.

I don't know.

I never thought I would feel this way about the death by suicide of someone I did not know directly. I don't get upset about public figure deaths, but to me this person is not only a public figure. I can't help feeling like a mentor, a brother, who changed my life for me even unknowing, has been hobbled. How can someone who would bring such light into my life and so many other lives be gone in this way, with so much more inside him. There will never be another book I lay awake waiting, sweating, to get my hands on, to such extent, not like that. There will never be more of these words that whenever I feel like I can't write anymore, I open to a page and within sentences begin to feel ok again. This is so much left behind, but it still feels wrong, like a person who should not be gone is gone. I feel dumb blabbering like this but I can't understand it. There is something different now. I really feel like a part of me has been smothered out a little, like something is different now, like something is fucked. I can not imagine a larger loss for not only literature but art, for the mass consciousness. I want to understand. I do not understand.

I want to try to read now or write now but I don't think I can.


Gene said...

I've been in shock a little.

Just reading that his wife found him makes me really sad. I don't understand how people who are so talented with language have such a hard time communicating with people that care about them.

Things break down but, especially in this case, people always have something to offer others. Which makes me sad.

I use a the Oxford American Writer's Thesaurus regularly, and his comments on words are always entertaining.

I'd look something up in it, but it's in another city.


it is just so fucked and sad

his wife of 2 years or so

yes, how could he not find something in there

i don't understand


the ox amer writer's thesarus is indeed incredible, is the only reference book i use

Darby said...

It me harder than I thought it would also. Like no other death. From now on is only the time after his death.

I'm finding all these things in his writing now. I don't know that I will be able to read his work again in the same way. I read an old Believer interview with him this morning and he talks about having just quit chewing tabacco because chewing tabacco is like commiting slow suicide and he wants to live past 50.

gabe durham said...

That's well-said.

I'd just been reading somebody's essay about Oblivion earlier last night, then I heard a few minutes later. Went from, yeah, I hope he's working on something awesome, to this.


which essay about oblivion, those are some of my favorite stories

Brandon Hobson said...

I'm sickened by this. His work is so inspiring to me. He has always been one of my favorite writers. I'm glad I got to meet him at a signing.


thank you brandon, we are both feeling similar i think, that helps

Drew Kalbach said...

that post inspired me to walk to the library and to take out infinite jest.


drew, i think you will not regret it

gabe durham said...

Mostly a review, and a pretty good one from someone who hasn't read it:

Paula Bomer said...

You did think of words to say and they were very good words. What a great tribute to DFW.


thank you paula, that was nice to hear

Brandon Hobson said...

I have a letter from DFW from 1993. This was before Infinite Jest. In 1992 I read Broom and Girl with Curious Hair and loved them both, so I wrote him a sort of fan letter. He responded with a nice reply that I still have today.

Brian Peterson said...

Blake, I've never felt compelled to post on a blog before, and you don't know me, but I feel I should in this case.

Ever since I found out, I've been more upset than I can remember. My stomach is burning. I'm relieved (it doesn't feel right to type this, but I don't know what else to say) that others feel the same, that his loss is not just felt by me.

Why would he do this? How could he?

I feel that we, or somebody, need to do something. Something. I don't know what. but movement of some sort.



that is nice to have that letter brandon, and nice that you got to write him back then

brian, i feel the same way, thank you for commenting, i agree i want there to be something i can do, i'm not sure what, today i read at random from several of his books and found some relief in laughing and at times i felt even worse

Brian said...

I think what I was trying to communicate in that previous post was:
I don't feel very safe anymore.

The most heartbreaking part of this whole thing is that he'll never see the reaction this got, about what his work meant to us, how much all of us cared about him

Daniel Bailey said...

fuck. i've read a few stories and some essays of his and was really impressed. i never read infinite jest. it's always been one of those "i'm going to read this but i haven't gotten around to it" books. i own the broom of the system. i got it for a dollar at a yardsale. haven't read it yet. maybe it's time to read some dfw.


brian, he could still know

daniel, jest is the one. broom is good, but it feels like training wheels for the big dog. jest is the one.

Sean said...

Thank you for this tribute, Blake. And I agree about IJ. Reading that book is the greatest art experience of my life.

What do we do? We continue to spread the word about this glory of a man.


sean, thank you, you are right

Gene said...

My comment seems stupid after reading his obituary.

I struggled with a deep depression for many years.

Going on and off different anti-depression drugs is awful.

Most insurance companies don't even consider depression a legitimate illness.

Mike Rowe said...

I'm so with you on this. I've read Infinite Jest 4 times, given away probably 8 copies... I'm reading Gaddis' "The Recognitions" while I wait for the next DFW-- which apparently isn't coming.

And to top it all off, I'm currently visiting Montreal-- the heart of the Great Concavity. And feeling like there's a piece missing from me.