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Thursday, September 18, 2008

RIP DFW

I'm behind the times on this, ridiculously, but I feel like I have to note something about David Foster Wallace's death. I mean, all the obvious human and compassionate reasons aside, most of this blog content is devoted to talking about Infinite Jest. The fact that I "discovered" David Foster Wallace this summer only to have news of his suicide shock me this fall is -- strange and queasy. But then, I suppose it's the heart of narcissism to think there's something especially weird about this. Lots of people connected to his work, and I'm sure there were many in the same or similar situation.

People have been talking about it a lot obviously, and the theme that's come up with many writer friends is the absurdity of the notion that if you achieve a certain degree of success as a writer, you'll automatically feel validated and happy. It's so easy to think that as soon as you write a best-selling novel or get a Macarthur grant, suddenly you'll never fell hollow or despairing about your self worth, ever again. And more than the worldly things, if you get to a DFW point where your work is so respected and means so much to so many people...surely that will be enough, you think? Surely that's enough to get you out of bed? And this is a particularly shocking reminder how untrue that is.

But I think Jake brings up the most moving and troubling point here. To be a writer, you take it as a given that writing and analyzing and contemplating despair and darkness is purging and elevating -- that there's something worthwhile and healthy in the sensitive contemplation of human frailty. Events like this make you question that assumption. I can't help thinking of a quote I heard from John Cleese (of all people) a long time ago, when he said it was nonsense to think making art about your problems helped those problems -- why then did so many artist obsess about the same things over and over? Write the same play or book over and over? And that's a good point.

This blog is named after a Dorothy Parker poem, Thought for a Sunshiney Morning, that goes like this (from memory, forgive me if a word or two is wrong):

It costs me neither a stab nor squirm
To step perchance upon a worm.
"Ah ha my little dear, " I say
"Your clan will pay me back someday."

Dorothy Parker is another favorite writer of mine and, distressingly, another depressed and prone-to-addiction writer. She wrote many a poem and story about suicide. However, she never did it: she died a very old drunk lady in a house full of cats.

That strikes me as a better way to go.

RIP, DFW and DP.

The next post will be cheerful and full of pictures of food.

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