I was told yesterday that David Foster Wallace is dead. He committed suicide, by hanging, on the 12th of September just passed. DFW was one of those writers that other writers want to be like; a crafter of thought and observation, someone who tries to express to be understood or explain, first, and next, if by consequence, there was beauty or profanity or wisdom, then something worthwhile had been written. But it had to be honest.
The day that followed was one that brought me back to thinking of him again and again. My favourite feeling of connection to DFW was tennis. He was a successful junior tennis player and that, presumably had granted him an insight into the professional side of the sport. This was best expressed in an essay contained in his book, ‘A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again’. The essay was called, ‘Tennis Player Michael Joyce’s Professional Artistry as a Paradigm of Certain Stuff about Choice, Freedom, Discipline, Joy, Grotesquerie, and Human Completeness.’ and it is the single best piece of sports writing I have ever read. It doesn’t explain a point or a match. It doesn’t profile a particular event or delve into a quirk of history. It captures a context and meaning of an existence in a field of endeavour that demands commitment and skill and obsession at the cost of vestigial potentials. It is also damn funny. It actually offers understanding one would likely have never found on one’s own. This is a typical feature of DFW’s writing, in both his fiction and non-fiction.
There was an undeniable sadness to a lot of his writing, even when he was uproariously funny, a certain pain expressed through obsessive thinking. One of the first things that popped into my head was that he wasn’t able to think the pain away.
He is probably best known for his gargantuan novel, ‘Infinite Jest’. A work of fiction I have yet to finish, much to my shame. But I prefer his short non-fiction collections: ‘A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again’ and ‘Consider the Lobster’, it is here I’ve found his power of expression to connect with me best.
Here’s the article my friend Sally sent to me when she told me of his death, a wonderful piece of writing on Roger Federer as a religious experience that all tennis lovers can appreciate. I highly recommend finding something of DFW’s to read. I said to Sally in my return email that I had looked forward to reading him as an old man writer – he had always struck me as someone who would learn more and more as he aged. I had hoped he would tell me this secret knowledge, expressed so beautifully. Now I don’t like to think of what he must have learned. Infinite sadness.
Here’s a piece I found online about him and his death that I liked.
There’s some great essay somewhere that has a line about irony being the song of the prisoner who’s come to love his cage. – DFW