in memoriam: David Foster Wallace

in David Foster Wallace a great part of the american landscape of literature and language was lost. As an addendum to Scott's last post, i wanted to point out the ways DFW touched invented usage.

better than Dave Eggers

when we decided to book club on invented usage, our first (and so far, only) attempt was Dave Eggers's A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. i was still reeling from my first encounter with Wallace, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, and those discussions showed it. in both part 1 and part 3, i really revealed how much he influenced all the reading i did afterward. if you'll permit me to quote myself...
and the thing that sets the gimmickry of ahwosg apart from that of, say, david foster wallace, is that eggers never turns the lens around. he never makes the reader speak to him, never comes out with 'the only access you have to these tragedies is what i'm choosing to tell you about it, and you can't trust me!'. (part 1)

i think that witty, po-mo, self-referentiality was, at one time, a very new idea. but now we've read david foster wallace and the whole new generation of writers that he and Eggers spawned, so i feel like the style has lost some freshness. (part 3)

for a certain genre of writing, DFW has informed, if not outright spoiled, innumerable readers of our generation.

death of a SNOOT
in the summer of 2006, i came across an article by DFW, Harper's Magazine: Tense Present, that i felt compelled, as a usage liberal, to engage with. the resulting post, the SNOOT fallacy, generated a lot more comments than average, and in turn compelled me to write one of my favorite posts, the deconstruction of a stradivarius.

it's an understatement to say i was surprised to find out that DFW was a SNOOT. really, it shook the core liberal values that have inspired this blog from the beginning. if a writer like DFW, who so clearly knows and respects the value of language, calls himself a SNOOT, maybe SNOOThood isn't as bad as i'd previously thought?

i stood my ground, obviously, and those posts explain why, but DFW was the most worthy SNOOT adversary i can imagine. that confrontation is a moment worth pointing out in the blog's history.

suicide the internet
DFW is called a postmodern writer for several reasons. not the least of these, i think, is his engagement with media in a lot of different forms. what little of his writing i've actually read involves characters who realize that their whole lives are built by text and so on. for me, he really brought home the ways in which we are surrounded (in some cases trapped) by the texts that surround us (writing and speech about us, by us, for us).

i'm not sure whether it's ironic or appropriate, then, that he's now the subject of an extensive online obituary. gawker's compilation points out the fact that DFW will now continue to reach out, via the internet -- from beyond the grave -- to new readers. mcsweeney's probably has THE example of this postmodern obit. their 'memories' page collects the eulogies of anyone and everyone who ever met DFW -- especially those who got kind notes from him -- so that seemingly every word he wrote is collected and instantly accessible.

but this new DFW is surrounded by his suicide. if his work was somewhat disquieting before, it will now be a road map into depression or an extended suicide note.

suicide presents all kinds of questions, and writings like DFW's provide lots of possible answers. i predict, the commentary (see all the comments on the links above) from readers will no longer be about our modern times or about technology, but about the man himself. and who knows whether he would have wanted that?