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David Foster Wallace: A churchgoin' man.


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#1 M. Dale Prins

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Posted 13 September 2006 - 02:30 PM

I'm reading Consider the Lobster, a book of essays by the greatest essayist of our time (the name of whom, I hope, you can glean from the subject line). And his 9-11 work from that book, "The View from Mrs. Thompson's," Wallace — surprisingly to me, since I've never heard him discuss Christianity before — writes:
"The church I belong to is on the south side of Bloomington, [Illinois,] near where my house is. Most of the people I know well enough to ask if I can come over and watch their TV are members of my church. It's not one of those churches where people throw Jesus' name around a lot or talk about the End Times, but it's fairly serious, and people in the congregation get to know each other well and to be pretty tight. As far as I know, all the congregants are natives of the area. Most are working-class or retired from same. There are some small-business owners. A fair number are veterans and/or have kids in the military or — especially — in the reserves, because for many of these families that's what you do to pay for college.

"The house I end up sitting with shampoo in my hair watching most of the actual unfolding Horror at belongs to Mrs. Thompson...Mrs. Thompson is a long-time member and a leader in the congregation, and her living room tends to be kind of a gathering place."
Just an interesting fillip.

Dale

Edited by M. Dale Prins, 13 September 2006 - 02:33 PM.


#2 Andy Whitman

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Posted 14 September 2006 - 12:34 PM

QUOTE(M. Dale Prins @ Sep 13 2006, 03:30 PM) View Post

I'm reading Consider the Lobster, a book of essays by the greatest essayist of our time (the name of whom, I hope, you can glean from the subject line). And his 9-11 work from that book, "The View from Mrs. Thompson's," Wallace — surprisingly to me, since I've never heard him discuss Christianity before — writes:
"The church I belong to is on the south side of Bloomington, [Illinois,] near where my house is. Most of the people I know well enough to ask if I can come over and watch their TV are members of my church. It's not one of those churches where people throw Jesus' name around a lot or talk about the End Times, but it's fairly serious, and people in the congregation get to know each other well and to be pretty tight. As far as I know, all the congregants are natives of the area. Most are working-class or retired from same. There are some small-business owners. A fair number are veterans and/or have kids in the military or — especially — in the reserves, because for many of these families that's what you do to pay for college.

"The house I end up sitting with shampoo in my hair watching most of the actual unfolding Horror at belongs to Mrs. Thompson...Mrs. Thompson is a long-time member and a leader in the congregation, and her living room tends to be kind of a gathering place."
Just an interesting fillip.

Dale

I'm a big, big fan of Mr. Wallace.

He delivered the commencement address at Kenyon College, not far from me, in 2005. It's the most amazing commencement speech I've ever heard. Here's a little snippet:

"And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about in the great outside world of wanting and achieving. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day."

He may not have been in a church, but I still want to give him an "Amen."

I wondered at the time whether he had a church background, because there were some profoundly insightful and biblical notions coming out of his mouth.

#3 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 13 September 2008 - 09:46 PM

Link to the second thread on David Foster Wallace.

Karina Longworth reports that he was found dead of an apparent suicide, at age 46. She links to this article he wrote for Premiere on a set visit to David Lynch's Lost Highway, and calls it "the greatest set visit story of all time."

#4 Overstreet

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Posted 14 September 2008 - 12:21 AM

Two years almost to the day that Andy posted that appreciation, Peter posts this.

Wow.

I enjoyed Wallace's essays very much. Haven't read any of his books yet, but the essays were enough to impress me with his talents.

Edited by Overstreet, 14 September 2008 - 12:50 AM.


#5 Andy Whitman

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Posted 14 September 2008 - 07:34 AM

QUOTE (Peter T Chattaway @ Sep 13 2008, 10:46 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Link to the second thread on David Foster Wallace.

Karina Longworth reports that he was found dead of an apparent suicide, at age 46. She links to this article he wrote for Premiere on a set visit to David Lynch's Lost Highway, and calls it "the greatest set visit story of all time."

Oh, no. I am going to be bummed out for quite some time.

Edit: This is just devastating news. The word "genius" is overused, but Wallace was a literary genius, the kind of writer who comes along about once every generation. His books were astounding, and he was the kind of stylist who could simply dazzle with his use of language. Many, many times I've stopped in the midst of his works and gone back to re-read a page or two, not because I didn't get it the first time, but because I wanted to go back and savor the beauty of not just a word, and not just a phrase, but the entire vision of a literary kamikaze whose sense of playfulness was matched only by his compassionate heart. Unlike many post-mods, who are all technique and no substance, Wallace wrestled with the deepest issues, and he unfailingly brought honesty and beauty to the process.

For me, this is a cultural loss akin to Bob Dylan. These folks don't come along every day. They don't come along every decade, either. I feel like I've lost a friend.

Edited by Andy Whitman, 14 September 2008 - 12:35 PM.


#6 Christian

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Posted 14 September 2008 - 02:34 PM

My QPB copy of Infinite Jest sat on my shelf nearly 10 years before I unloaded it as part of a white elephant gift exchange a year or two ago. I included with the book a printout of Time magazine's top 100 novels of ... the 20th century? all time? I can't remember ... on which Infinite Jest appeared. I'd always wanted to read the novel, but after years of not getting to it, thought it would be best to pass it to someone else who might enjoy it. The guy who opened the gift tried to look pleasantly surprised, but I sensed that he'd be regifting it soon. Who knows where it might be today. I can always grab a copy at the library if the spirit moves me.

The only thing I've read by Wallace was his cover story on talk radio a few years ago in the Atlantic. It was a dud.

Edited by Christian, 14 September 2008 - 02:35 PM.


#7 Andy Whitman

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Posted 14 September 2008 - 02:38 PM

QUOTE (Christian @ Sep 14 2008, 03:34 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
My QPB copy of Infinite Jest sat on my shelf nearly 10 years before I unloaded it as part of a white elephant gift exchange a year or two ago. I included with the book a printout of Time magazine's top 100 novels of ... the 20th century? all time? I can't remember ... on which Infinite Jest appeared. I'd always wanted to read the novel, but after years of not getting to it, thought it would be best to pass it to someone else who might enjoy it. The guy who opened the gift tried to look pleasantly surprised, but I sensed that he'd be regifting it soon. Who knows where it might be today. I can always grab a copy at the library if the spirit moves me.

The only thing I've read by Wallace was his cover story on talk radio a few years ago in the Atlantic. It was a dud.

Infinite Jest is the best novel I've read in the past twenty years.

#8 Christian

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Posted 14 September 2008 - 02:41 PM

QUOTE (Andy Whitman @ Sep 14 2008, 03:38 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
QUOTE (Christian @ Sep 14 2008, 03:34 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
My QPB copy of Infinite Jest sat on my shelf nearly 10 years before I unloaded it as part of a white elephant gift exchange a year or two ago. I included with the book a printout of Time magazine's top 100 novels of ... the 20th century? all time? I can't remember ... on which Infinite Jest appeared. I'd always wanted to read the novel, but after years of not getting to it, thought it would be best to pass it to someone else who might enjoy it. The guy who opened the gift tried to look pleasantly surprised, but I sensed that he'd be regifting it soon. Who knows where it might be today. I can always grab a copy at the library if the spirit moves me.

The only thing I've read by Wallace was his cover story on talk radio a few years ago in the Atlantic. It was a dud.

Infinite Jest is the best novel I've read in the past twenty years.


Dang! I decided to hang onto my copy of Don Delillo's Underworld but unload Infinite Jest. Both are fat, and were taking up precious space on my bookshelves. I have no plans to read Underworld. Maybe I should pass it along as well.

#9 Andy Whitman

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Posted 14 September 2008 - 02:57 PM

QUOTE (Christian @ Sep 14 2008, 03:41 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
QUOTE (Andy Whitman @ Sep 14 2008, 03:38 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
QUOTE (Christian @ Sep 14 2008, 03:34 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
My QPB copy of Infinite Jest sat on my shelf nearly 10 years before I unloaded it as part of a white elephant gift exchange a year or two ago. I included with the book a printout of Time magazine's top 100 novels of ... the 20th century? all time? I can't remember ... on which Infinite Jest appeared. I'd always wanted to read the novel, but after years of not getting to it, thought it would be best to pass it to someone else who might enjoy it. The guy who opened the gift tried to look pleasantly surprised, but I sensed that he'd be regifting it soon. Who knows where it might be today. I can always grab a copy at the library if the spirit moves me.

The only thing I've read by Wallace was his cover story on talk radio a few years ago in the Atlantic. It was a dud.

Infinite Jest is the best novel I've read in the past twenty years.


Dang! I decided to hang onto my copy of Don Delillo's Underworld but unload Infinite Jest. Both are fat, and were taking up precious space on my bookshelves. I have no plans to read Underworld. Maybe I should pass it along as well.

Not sure why you're so hostile, but perhaps you should.

#10 Jason Panella

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Posted 14 September 2008 - 04:40 PM

QUOTE (Christian @ Sep 14 2008, 03:41 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Dang! I decided to hang onto my copy of Don Delillo's Underworld but unload Infinite Jest. Both are fat, and were taking up precious space on my bookshelves. I have no plans to read Underworld. Maybe I should pass it along as well.


Or maybe you should just knuckle down and read it, Christian. Underworld is a great book. Maybe I'm different, but — while I have tons of books and am a slow reader — I only make a point to get my hands on things that I know I'll want to read.

#11 M. Dale Prins

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Posted 15 September 2008 - 12:42 PM

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:

QUOTE
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.

M. Dale

#12 Andy Whitman

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Posted 15 September 2008 - 01:17 PM

QUOTE (M. Dale Prins @ Sep 15 2008, 01:42 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
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:

QUOTE
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.

M. Dale

Yes.

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.


#13 Christopher Lake

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Posted 15 September 2008 - 05:19 PM

I am so sad to think that I may be the only person in my church mourning the death of David Foster Wallace (partially because few Christians have even heard of him). If there are others, I would truly like to know them.

What a brilliant man, and as fans and commentators often pointed out, he didn't just have an incredible mind-- he also had compassion and empathy for others that is clear throughout his writing. He mentioned, in a quote above, that his church is not the kind to throw around the name of Jesus very much. Oh, how I hope that Wallace truly knew Jesus... I hope that so, so much.

Edited by Truetruth, 15 September 2008 - 05:25 PM.


#14 smith_chip

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Posted 15 September 2008 - 07:04 PM

One of the blogs at The New Republic has a list full of links to a lot of Wallace's articles, essays, and fiction that are online.

#15 Andy Whitman

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Posted 19 September 2008 - 08:08 AM

McSweeney's has a long, long list of DFW reminiscences and tributes, some from writers you know, some from people you've never heard of who had chance encounters with the man. All of them are worth reading, and all of them highlight why the world -- literary and otherwise -- is a poorer, sadder place without him.

#16 M. Leary

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Posted 14 October 2008 - 12:14 PM

The Believer has recently posted an interesting interview from 2003.

"Watching O’Reilly v. Franken is watching bloodsport. How can any of this possibly help me, the average citizen, deliberate about whom to choose to decide my country’s macroeconomic policy, or how even to conceive for myself what that policy’s outlines should be, or how to minimize the chances of North Korea nuking the DMZ and pulling us into a ghastly foreign war, or how to balance domestic security concerns with civil liberties? Questions like these are all massively complicated, and much of the complication is not sexy, and well over 90 percent of political commentary now simply abets the uncomplicatedly sexy delusion that one side is Right and Just and the other Wrong and Dangerous."

Edited by MLeary, 14 October 2008 - 12:16 PM.


#17 Andy Whitman

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Posted 30 October 2008 - 09:30 AM

God bless The Onion:

Shock, grief, and the overwhelming sense of loss that has swept the stock car racing community following the death by apparent suicide of writer David Foster Wallace has moved NASCAR to cancel the remainder of its 2008 season in respect for the acclaimed but troubled author of Infinite Jest, A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, and Brief Interviews With Hideous Men.

In deference to the memory of Wallace, whose writing on alienation, sadness, and corporate sponsorship made him the author of the century in stock car racing circles and whom NASCAR chairman Brian France called "perhaps the greatest American writer to emerge in recent memory, and definitely our most human," officials would not comment on how points, and therefore this year's championship, would be determined.

At least for the moment, drivers found it hard to think about the Sprint Cup.




#18 Christopher Lake

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Posted 02 November 2008 - 12:02 AM

I'm not the biggest fan of Rolling Stone and haven't been for many years, but the latest issue has an incredible (though heartbreaking in parts) article of some length on David Foster Wallace that sheds much light on the brilliance and the struggles of the man. All who loved, and who still love, his work should read this article. I'm going to buy the issue just for this one great piece of writing.

#19 J. Henry Waugh

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Posted 02 November 2008 - 09:50 PM

QUOTE (Truetruth @ Nov 2 2008, 12:02 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
I'm not the biggest fan of Rolling Stone and haven't been for many years, but the latest issue has an incredible (though heartbreaking in parts) article of some length on David Foster Wallace that sheds much light on the brilliance and the struggles of the man. All who loved, and who still love, his work should read this article. I'm going to buy the issue just for this one great piece of writing.

I read it this morning also. So very sad. I tend to forget that our literary heroes are so very human.

I also read Shipping Out for the first time in a decade. The jokes are the best part.

#20 Christian

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Posted 27 November 2008 - 09:36 AM

Clicking through some of the sites I regularly read, I came across this appreciation of Wallace.