The first thought I had when I heard David Foster Wallace died was the bit I quoted that started this thread. The second thought I had was from the commencement speech that Andy linked to two years ago:
Think of the old cliché about quote the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master. This, like many clichés, so lame and unexciting on the surface, actually expresses a great and terrible truth. It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with firearms almost always shoot themselves in: the head. They shoot the terrible master. And the truth is that most of these suicides are actually dead long before they pull the trigger.
And I submit that this is what the real, no bullshit value of your liberal arts education is supposed to be about: how to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone day in and day out.
Most of the remembrances today have focused on his fiction, particularly Infinite Jest
(on which I'm ashamed to say I haven't made it past page 100), but I'll mostly remember him as the greatest essayist I've ever read.
I am surprised by how strongly Wallace's death affects me; affects me not in an "Eh, that's too bad" kind of way, but in a "Go away; I don't want to talk to anybody" kind of way. The last time I experienced anything like that in terms of someone I didn't know and had never met was John Lennon.
That commencement address is the best sermon I've ever read. I'm serious. Pastors should use it as a textbook case on how to communicate what is really important to their congregations. And Infinite Jest
, in addition to being, in my mind, the best novel written in the past 20 years, is also the best and most honest portrayal of addiction I've ever read. As someone who has struggled with addictions most of my life, I was amazed that someone could capture the complexity and the horror and the appeal so perfectly. David Foster Wallace ministered real hope to me, and probably to many others, although I'm sure he did it unwittingly. And I feel like my minister just gave up hope.
Edited by Andy Whitman, 15 September 2008 - 01:18 PM.