David Foster Wallace

News comes this morning that David Foster Wallace has died. He hung himself. I find myself surprisingly upset by this. He was almost precisely my age, and I began reading him in the early ‘90s, with “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments,” a collection of essays the centerpiece of which is an eponymous report of his voyage on a Caribbean cruise ship. I remember reading that piece with an almost giddy delight, not quite believing the wordplay and the almost supernatural power of comedic observation. I promptly consumed everything that he’d written to that point, including “The Broom of the System,” his very good first novel. I then graduated to “Infinite Jest,” his very best work. One of great literature’s most joyously addictive properties is its ability to transport you to a fictional universe that is somehow more magically real and interesting and textured than the one you actually occupy as you read. And I have never had that particular pleasure more intensely than during the several weeks it took me to read “Infinite Jest.” It creates a remarkable world -- hilarious and gorgeous, sad and confused. It contains everything you have ever thought in and about your life. It is the finest thing I have ever read. Foster Wallace went on to write a number of other things, all very good, including “Everything and More: A Compact History of Infinity,” and “Consider the Lobster: And Other Essays,” the latter consisting of more magazine-commissioned essays about his experience with various forms of Americana, like the Illinois State Fair, the Adult Video News awards in Las Vegas, and the Maine Lobster Festival. Here is a clip of him reading from the essay on the Illinoise State Fair, wherein he describes a girls’ baton-twirling competition. So what was it about him that led me to hang on pretty much everything he wrote, and that causes me to be so sad this morning? Ultimately, I guess, it was his deep moral sense. Amid the brilliantly manic prolixity of Infinite Jest, there is always and everywhere compassion, an ache for goodness’ weakness against the overwhelmingness of modern life, a deep empathy for our confused, fragile souls as we struggle to make our way through everything we have created. His essays on America and its oddities are, yes, bitingly funny and acerbic, but they are also, and more deeply, loving and empathetic. We Americans, all of us, are epically weird, but in all of our very bizarre manifestations we do, almost always, the thing that Foster Wallace treasured most -- we try to be good. The literary brahmins assuredly will talk about him in that particular way they have, as if the person was subordinate to, less significant than, the work and the ways it may be deconstructed. But, apart from the sheer majesty of “Infinite Jest,” I suspect that what I will remember most about Foster Wallace was his now near-cult status address to the graduating class of Kenyon College in 2005. It is moving and genuine, and true. I obviously do not know why Foster Wallace killed himself, though his work includes allusions to his having suffered from depression when young. Perhaps it returned, or perhaps he never really escaped it. But I can only pray, and I will do so, that his soul -- a soul as worthy of admiration as any I have found in modern literature -- finds its peace. --

That's how it is on this bitch of an earth.


That's how it is on this bitch of an earth.


That's how it is on this bitch of an earth.

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Last Words, by Sylvia Plath


I do not want a plain box, I want a sarcophagus
With tigery stripes, and a face on it
Round as the moon, to stare up.
I want to be looking at them when they come
Picking among the dumb minerals, the roots.
I see them already -- the pale, star-distance faces.
Now they are nothing, they are not even babies.
I imagine them without fathers or mothers, like the first gods.
They will wonder if I was important.
I should sugar and preserve my days like fruit!
My mirror is clouding over --
A few more breaths, and it will reflect nothing at all.
The flowers and the faces whiten to a sheet.

I do not trust the spirit. It escapes like steam
In dreams, through mouth-hole or eye-hole. I can't stop it.
One day it won't come back. Things aren't like that.
They stay, their little particular lusters
Warmed by much handling. They almost purr.
When the soles of my feet grow cold,
The blue eye of my tortoise will comfort me.
Let me have my copper cooking pots, let my rouge pots
Bloom about me like night flowers, with a good smell.
They will roll me up in bandages, they will store my heart
Under my feet in a neat parcel.
I shall hardly know myself. It will be dark,
And the shine of these small things sweeter than the face of Ishtar.

Say What You Want About Sylvia....(and Ted Hughes Will...)


...she was a hell of a poet.

Thank you for these lines.

(no slamming of Mr. Hughes intended...his was a tough road also, {I still think far tougher than Ms. Plath's}. I was just having some fun)


Ted Hughes was a bastard, no getting around it.


He left a trail of dead women in his wake. Self-excusing wretch, The Minotaur is his un-apology for his infidelities and jackassery.

The bloody end of the skein
That unravelled your marriage,
Left your children echoing
Like tunnels in a labyrinth.

Left your mother a dead-end,
Brought you to the horned, bellowing
Grave of your risen father
And your own corpse in it.

Life, Very Literally, Does Not & Cannot Get Any More Difficult..


...than this:

Six years after Plath's suicide by asphyxiation from a gas stove, on March 25, 1969, Assia Wevill murdered her four-year old daughter by Hughes and committed suicide in the same way as Plath had done; Alexandra Tatiana Elise, nicknamed Shura, had been born on March 3, 1965.

For those that do not know or do not remember, Sylivia Plath was the wife of Ted Hughes when she killed herself.

Maybe I'm a guy's guy always defending men and maybe Ted Hughes was a bastard....but a bastard enough to drive two women to kill themselves and one of them to kill their daughter also?

Or, conversely, did he just pick nuts women?

(I have some experience in this....lol)


I Feel You Are Far Too Stingy in Your Selected Quote From...


The Minotaur
Ted Hughes

The mahogany table-top you smashed
Had been the broad plank top
Of my mother's heirloom sideboard-
Mapped with the scars of my whole life.

That came under the hammer.
That high stool you swung that day
Demented by my being
Twenty minutes late for baby-minding.

'Marvellous!' I shouted, 'Go on,
Smash it into kindling.
That's the stuff you're keeping out of your poems!'
And later, considered and calmer,

'Get that shoulder under your stanzas
And we'll be away.' Deep in the cave of your ear
The goblin snapped his fingers.
So what had I given him?

The bloody end of the skein
That unravelled your marriage,
Left your children echoing
Like tunnels in a labyrinth.

Left your mother a dead-end,
Brought you to the horned, bellowing
Grave of your risen father
And your own corpse in it.


Sounds like the essential truth laid bare, Blaise, of many marriages. The truth is not the fault of anyone in a relationship.

It is simply the truth of what they were together.

Lastly, I quote the entire poem because the entire thread, and certainly your contributions more than mine....may say something essential.

I think I'll copy and paste this entire section of the thread for later use.



Heh. I see no essential truths. I see bitter self-exculpation.


my mother's heirloom sideboard-
Mapped with the scars of my whole life.

and then this bloody-minded excuse
Demented by my being
Twenty minutes late for baby-minding.

and this sort of demonic encouragement:

'Get that shoulder under your stanzas
And we'll be away.' Deep in the cave of your ear
The goblin snapped his fingers.
So what had I given him?

No "our". Only "you" And who the hell says "your marriage" ? That's appalling. That's "our" marriage, regardless of who's right and who's wrong. Did an imaginary goblin grabbed the skein, Ted? Or was it you who absentmindedly wandered off into another woman's bed?

Ted Hughes chooses a very stupid metaphor, he obviously never read his Plutarch. Ariadne, she who gave Theseus the thread with which to find his way out of the Labyrinth was the half-sister of the Minotaur. But the parallels thereafter are very good, for Theseus only uses Ariadne and abandons her on Naxos. She comes to a bad end, Ariadne ends up dead, either by her own hand, or one of the gods kills her.

Who The Hell Says...."Your Marriage?"


...a thousand people, countless souls reflecting in rueful memory on marriage that they never felt a part of...both men and women.

Mr. Hughes obviously felt outside the essential dynamics of their marriage, that somehow, weirdly, the marriage ticked to her clock...moved to her whim, willy-nilly, independent of him and...whatever he might wish or want to share or desire to be a part of...

But this was her plate,
That marriage of theirs,
And he was only incidentally there,
By choice certainly,
But by accident even more so.

Best Wishes,


I'm with you on this, Traveller.

mmghosh's picture

Hughes was possibly the best poet of this century. A little ahead of R.S. Thomas.

freedom is a fundamental value that does not need to be justified in terms of some other value like efficiency




Not to Move This Back to the Prosasic, But Vince Young..Titan QB


...and his depression is what first came to my mind. Another ruined soul by...too much talent and crushing expectations?

"I spoke with Mr. Fisher. I asked him what was going on and he proceeded to tell me about getting a call from Vince Young's therapist and she was worried about him. I asked him, 'What made her worry about him?' He stated, 'His mood, his emotions, he is injured, he wants to quit, and he mentioned suicide several times.' He went on to state that [Young] left his house with a gun.''
-- Andrea N. Swisher, Nashville Metropolitan Police officer, in her report of the Vince Young drama Monday night.

While there are some people too blissfully stupid, (may we not all envy these simple, happy souls?), to be depressed...I think it equally dangerous to assign the rigors and terrors of depression only on the super-intelligent....

It's prevalence is much wider than this sub-set, and a sub-set that gets a taste of romantic self-destructive affirmation from thinking the affliction belongs to them.

And hence dangerous to everybody.

Best Wishes, Traveller

Just thanks for this, Inigo



I can't help comparing DFW's suicide to the suicides of some close friends who were also brilliant, empathetic + suffered from depression.

In some ways i think the extreme mental anguish that goes along w. depession can be part of what drives someone's compassion and understanding. DFW illustrates this. On the other hand when you're as creative, brilliant, and outside-the-box as DFW it's got to be isolating.

My experience has been that there are creative, intelligent + depressed people who at once understand/can appreciate + empathize w. others to an amazing extent but at the same time are more subject to getting lost in their own warped world than anyone.

If that describes DFW, I imagine it must have been extremely difficult for him and to be close to him. As someone who's had to deal w. the body of someone I cared for and lost to suicide, I feel terrible for his wife. No one should have to find someone they love hanging from the ceiling.

I Suspect You're Right


To a degree I've not experienced with other writers, I had the sense when reading Foster Wallace at his best -- as, for instance, in Infinite Jest -- that his perception of reality was almost too acute; that he saw and grappled with issues and contradictions most of his blithely glide over. Combine that with depression (whether it is a function of the depression or contributes to it), and, yeah, life can be hell.

That's how it is on this bitch of an earth.

"Federer as Religious Experience"


First things first: I've read more or less no David Foster Wallace; I'm a sucker for reading obscenely long novels (because I'm vain), but "Infinite Jest" always seemed a bridge too far. I do, however, strongly remember an essay he wrote for the New York Times called "Roger Federer as Religious Experience," which is, in the main, a paean to the immense and mind-boggling talents of the tennis great. It's a very fine piece of writing, but it rubbed me the wrong way at the time - mostly because I was sick of Federer winning all the time, and of all the paeans and the praise. And it struck me as a bit heavy on the aestheticizing side, which is fine, but all a little much for me. Steve Tignor, who writes for tennis.com, described the essay as "allegedly brilliant," and I thought that a very apt way of putting it.

So I looked at it again today, and I was wrong about it, about an overly aestheticized sensibility. I'll just copy the line that showed me how wrong I was (+ the footnote appended to it):

The human beauty we’re talking about here is beauty of a particular type; it might be called kinetic beauty. Its power and appeal are universal. It has nothing to do with sex or cultural norms. What it seems to have to do with, really, is human beings’ reconciliation with the fact of having a body.

And the footnote:
There’s a great deal that’s bad about having a body. If this is not so obviously true that no one needs examples, we can just quickly mention pain, sores, odors, nausea, aging, gravity, sepsis, clumsiness, illness, limits — every last schism between our physical wills and our actual capacities. Can anyone doubt we need help being reconciled? Crave it? It’s your body that dies, after all.

There are wonderful things about having a body, too, obviously — it’s just that these things are much harder to feel and appreciate in real time. Rather like certain kinds of rare, peak-type sensuous epiphanies (“I’m so glad I have eyes to see this sunrise!” etc.), great athletes seem to catalyze our awareness of how glorious it is to touch and perceive, move through space, interact with matter. Granted, what great athletes can do with their bodies are things that the rest of us can only dream of. But these dreams are important — they make up for a lot.

My condolences, of course, to those who loved him; and to those for whom he was only an admired writer, my condolences, too. If he saw the world in a remarkable way, in a way most of us can only dream of - that's also important; that can make up for a lot.

A man must be orthodox upon most things, or he will never even have time to preach his own heresy.


Excellent . . .


As for Infinite Jest, it is a great mighty slab of a book. I don't particularly disagree with those who've said it would be much better at 700 pages than 1,100, and its refusal to provide a real ending (or was there one?) seems a bit unfair to those who've made the journey. But I was hooked after the first paragraph. It's just studded with observations like the one you quote -- things that are miles beyond my power to produce.

That's how it is on this bitch of an earth.

Infinite Jest was beyond wonderful. It couldn't have an ending


of the standard sort? Do you remember toward the end, Don Gately is at an AA meeting, with one guy telling of his climb out of addiction. I paraphrase "now I'd always been a confarmed bowl-splatterer, but there it was in the bowl, a proper BM ... a turd with a pulse."

I first met up with Infinite Jest at a used bookstore in Louisville KY in late 1999. I'd do more than buy, I'd talk to the store owner. He gave me Infinite Jest outright, said he'd been urged to read it, never had the time, and said I'd love it. I did.

Over time, I've bought everything DFW had in print. He shaped me as a writer. I often wonder if I'm not the summa of the writers I've loved. Robertson Davies, William Vollmann, Fowles, the poets, the list goes on and on. I am comforted somewhat in knowing books live on, the very best of friends, waiting for us, containing our bookmarks, ready to resume the conversation at a moment's notice.

Ahh, Don Gately


and Hal Incandenza, the screwed-up tennis prodigy (as was Foster Wallace himself). Howling Fantods and The Entertainment . . . . I have half a mind to break that bad boy out again and start reading.

That's how it is on this bitch of an earth.

I'll make the effort now.


Well, sooner or later.

A man must be orthodox upon most things, or he will never even have time to preach his own heresy.


From my quotes.txt, David Foster Wallace


The cost of freedom is that you have to occasionally let 3,000 people die in terrorist attacks.

“The reason why doing political writing is so hard right now is probably also the reason why more young (am I included in the range of this predicate anymore?) fiction writers ought to be doing it. As of 2003, the rhetoric of the enterprise is fucked. 95 percent of political commentary, whether spoken or written, is now polluted by the very politics it’s supposed to be about. Meaning it’s become totally ideological and reductive: The writer/speaker has certain political convictions or affiliations, and proceeds to filter all reality and spin all assertion according to those convictions and loyalties. Everybody’s pissed off and exasperated and impervious to argument from any other side. Opposing viewpoints are not just incorrect but contemptible, corrupt, evil…

“… 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. Which is of course a pleasant delusion, in a way—as is the belief that every last person you’re in conflict with is an asshole—but it’s childish, and totally unconducive to hard thought, give and take, compromise, or the ability of grown-ups to function as any kind of community.”

Indeed, Indeed


I never heard him say, or saw that he had written, anything containing cant of any variety. His politics were generally leftish, and mine are not, but I always found him to be bracingly clear-eyed and honest about everything he chose to consider. My sense was that his politics were simply a tool to dig for the truth, which is what they should be for everyone but almost never are.

That's how it is on this bitch of an earth.