Tag Archives: david foster wallace

Obama’s embarrassing friends, enormity, nauseous

I hope Tom’s new blog category, “Embarrassing things white people say about Obama,” is going to be a recurring feature. You won’t regret checking out the first two entries, courtesy of Leon Wieseltier and Judith Warner. Regarding the latter: I, too, was going to bellyache about BO’s use of “enormity” in his victory speech, but decided it would make me look like the kind of guy who notices grammar glitches while I’m supposed to be watching history go by. Thank God for Tom, who just doesn’t care if he looks like that kind of guy, which is to say the kind of guy that he, like me, is.

That reminds me of this reminiscence of David Foster Wallace and his advocacy for rigid adherence to the usage rules of his childhood — a stance only a great writer could make charming.

At the end of the hour, he told us that if we were going to remember one thing, just one thing, from his workshop, it would be that we (as a society of grammatically impaired citizens) always used the word “nauseous” wrong. When we said “nauseous” we really meant “nauseated.” And that was it.

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DFW remembered at Slate, by me and others: plus, juvenilia

Slate has posted a series of short essays on David Foster Wallace, including mine, in which I write about the debt DFW’s language owes to his background in mathematics.

Also, courtesy of wallace-l, what might be Wallace’s first published story, scanned from a 1984 issue of an undergrad literary magazine at Amherst: “The Planet Trillaphon As It Stands in Relation to the Bad Thing.” The style is recognizably an underdeveloped version of Wallace’s; what’s surprising me here is the strong taste of Salinger in sentences like “a hospital to which I was sent ever so briefly following a really highly ridiculous incident involving electrical appliances in the bathtub about which I really don’t wish to say a whole lot.” As far as I can recall there’s not a particle of Salingeriness in DFW’s entire body of adult work.

wallace-amherst_review-the_planet (.pdf file)

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David Foster Wallace at Harper’s

I’m not trying to make this blog into a David Foster Wallace memorial wall; this will probably be my last post on the subject. But I did want to publicize the fact that Harper’s has now made all their DFW material publicly readable in .pdf, including one of his finest stories, “The Depressed Person,” and one of his finest pieces of comic reportage, “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again,” listed here under its original title, “Shipping Out.”

And via Cosmic Variance, this quote from DFW’s book Everything and More:

n modern medical terms, it’s fairly clear that G. F. L. P. Cantor suffered from manic-depressive illness at a time when nobody knew what this was, and that his polar cycles were aggravated by professional stresses and disappointments, of which Cantor had more than his share. Of course, this makes for less interesting flap copy than Genius Driven Mad By Attempts To Grapple With ∞. The truth, though, is that Cantor’s work and its context are so totally interesting and beautiful that there’s no need for breathless Prometheusizing of the poor guy’s life. The real irony is that the view of ∞ as some forbidden zone or road to insanity — which view was very old and powerful and haunted math for 2000+ years — is precisely what Cantor’s own work overturned. Saying that ∞ drove Cantor mad is sort of like mourning St. George’s loss to the dragon; it’s not only wrong but insulting.

This is an important and correct thing to say about math, and about what happened to David Foster Wallace last weekend.

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A letter from David Foster Wallace, maybe

From wallace-l, the David Foster Wallace mailing list, this anonymous account from an alumnus of Granada House, a drug and alcohol rehab center in Allston. DFW is believed to be the author.

An Ex-Resident’s Story

I was referred to Granada House in November 1989. “Referred” is a very
polite way to put it. I was a patient in a rehab attached to a well-known
mental hospital in Boston, and a psychiatrist in this rehab had established
some credibility with me, and he opined that (1) unless I signed up for
long-term treatment someplace, I wasn’t going to be able to stay off drugs
and alcohol; and that (2) if I couldn’t find a way to stay off drugs and
alcohol, I was going to be dead by 30. I was 27. This was not my first
in-patient rehab, nor was it my first mental hospital.

Continue reading

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David Foster Wallace is dead

A suicide.

There’s not much I can add to the sickening fact — except to say that if you never read his books, you might as well use this sad occasion to move yourself to get around to it. The essay collection A Supposedly Funny Thing I’ll Never Do Again would be a better place to start than the huge Infinite Jest. Here’s what I wrote in the Boston Phoenix about ASFTINDA.

It was only in 9th or 10th grade that I started to understand there was such a thing as contemporary fiction, with the corollary that writing new things in new ways was an option for a living person like me. Two of my heroes, Raymond Carver and Donald Barthelme, I learned about from my creative writing teacher. Wallace, the third, was my favorite, because I discovered him myself. Like Carver and Barthelme, he is impossible to imitate, even slightly, without sounding false. But every paragraph I write owes something to him.

One thing I learned from Wallace was that a story could have a joke on every page and be very, very serious.

Via MetaFilter, Wallace’s remarkable 2005 commencement address at Kenyon College.

Tom interviewed Wallace for the Phoenix in 1998.

Wallace’s very short “Incarnations of Burned Children” is readable online at Esquire, but is not for the weak. You might cry. (Even if you’re strong.) Even more relentless, and longer, which is part of its relentlessness, is “The Depressed Person,” which you can read online if you subscribe to Harper’s.

But his writing, in general, wasn’t brutal and relentless. It was funny, rather easy-going, observant and wise — even when it was about the impossible struggle to be a human being and not a glib self-presentation, or a drug addiction, or a complicated language game. He was our Trollope, not our Kafka. I thought he’d die in bed at eighty.

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