Monday, September 15, 2008

David Foster Wallace: In Memorium

David Foster Wallace apparently committed suicide over the weekend.

We were the same age and also attended the same creative writing school together (University of Arizona) and I was very excited for him when he published his first book. In classes, he was that rare bird: a guy who already had a book deal, and who was willing to take on the professors about their romantic notions of writing, and could argue with them with authority. In a way, for those of us interested in a more culturally connected fiction, he was our hero - championing the idea that writers could read theory or that philosophy, culture, heightened language, and thought need not be strangers to fiction. Willing to go to the mat to defend his understanding of form and fiction. And worth taking seriously when he didn't like something you wrote. He certainly influenced my writing and my ideas about what writing could be - as well as many of my classmates - and his influence is something for which I'll be eternally grateful.

It was a thrill to see him go on to have a brilliant career, and even as he became successful he was always accessible and open to any writer who wanted to talk to him or wanted help. I remember calling him as my first novel was to be published and asking him for advice. He gave his usual snarky reading of publishing mixed with carefully chosen words of encouragement and his usual illuminating forays into bouts of quoting Wittgenstein and waxing nostalgic for the simple beauty of math. We talked for over an hour and he was always available for a chat if I ran into him at a book signing or other event. There couldn't have been a nicer guy with his talents.

David was always someone who processed things deeply and whose mind raced along multiple paths at once, as you can tell from his fiction. He also loved philosophy as much as he loved writing, and was both a student and master of some of the deepest philosophical texts. He was also a real leader in the kind of "McSweeney's" post-postmodernist cultural collage that typifies the thrust of our generation of fiction. It always seemed to me that his fiction was a bit of a Scheherazade-like effort to use storytelling to forestall peering into the abyss, but I always thought his passion and talent would keep the abyss at bay. I wonder what was going on that depressed him so, what philosophical black hole swallowed his optimism, but knowing David, it could have been one of a hundred things that somehow possessed his mind. But he was a great guy with no ego and always a help to writers. I’ll miss his talent, his fierce intelligence, and his generosity, as will his legions of fans.

No comments: