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David Foster Wallace dead at 46

 
 
Reply Tue 16 Sep, 2008 03:50 am
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/14/books/14wallace.html?ref=books
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Type: Discussion • Score: 3 • Views: 2,255 • Replies: 8
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farmerman
 
  1  
Reply Tue 16 Sep, 2008 04:40 am
I read Infinite Jest and liked his style. I loved his love of the quirks of languaqge. I heard him on Charlie Rose years ago and said then that this guy would blow out like a candle. He always had an air of fragile conection to existence, like a guy photographing buffalos in the middle of a stampede.
Sorry to see him dead, he was one of a few contemporary writers I liked.
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kickycan
 
  1  
Reply Tue 16 Sep, 2008 03:00 pm
@Joe Nation,
Dude, I posted this yesterday and nobody responded! I always knew Farmerman liked you better than me. Well, fine! You two have a good time! I know when I'm not wanted!
kickycan
 
  2  
Reply Thu 18 Sep, 2008 11:55 pm
@kickycan,
Ah, screw it. You can have the official David Foster Wallace mourn thread.

His writing seemed so playful and fun, it didn't feel like the kind of writing you'd get from a person depressed enough to hang themselves. Weird.

I'm sort of reading Oblivion right now, which is a bunch of short stories. I have been sort of reading it for about the past year or so, actually. It's kind of my go-to, book-between-books, backup subway read.

I hated the way Infinite Jest ended, but what a wild ride it was. I was blown away by that book.

Here is an excerpt from, "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again," which is an essay about his experiences on a cruise.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"... advertisement that pretends to be art is, at absolute best, like somebody who smiles warmly at you only because he wants something from you. This is dishonest, but what's sinister is the cumulative effect that such dishonesty has on us: since it offers a perfect facsimile or simulacrum of goodwill without goodwill's real spirit, it messes with our heads and eventually starts upping our defenses even in cases of genuine smiles and real art and true goodwill. It makes us feel confused and lonely and impotent and angry and scared. It causes despair. ...

...This is related to the phenomenon of the Professional Smile, a national pandemic in the service industry; and no place in my experience have I been on the receiving end of as many Professional Smiles as I am on the [cruise ship] Nadir: maitre d's, Chief Stewards, Hotel Managers' minions, Cruise Director -- their PS's all come on like switches at my approach. But also back at land at banks, restaurants, airline ticket counters, on and on. You know this smile: the strenuous contraction of circumoral fascia with incomplete zygomatic involvement, the smile that doesn't quite reach the smiler's eyes and that signifies nothing more than a calculated attempt to advance the smiler's own interests by pretending to like the smilee. Why do employers and supervisors force professional service people to broadcast the Professional Smile? Am I the only consumer in whom high doses of such a smile produce despair?

And yet the Professional Smile's absence now also causes despair. Anybody who has ever bought a pack of gum at a Manhattan cigar store or asked for something to be stamped FRAGILE at a Chicago post office or tried to obtain a glass of water from a South Boston waitress knows well the soul-crushing effect of a service workers scowl, ie. the humiliation and resentment of being denied the Professional Smile. And the Professional Smile has by now skewed even my resentment at the dreaded Professional Scowl: I walk away from the Manhattan tobacconist resenting not the counterman's character or absence of good will but his lack of professionalism in denying me the Smile. ..."

Shapeless
 
  1  
Reply Fri 19 Sep, 2008 09:26 am
Such a tragedy. For sheer verbal gymnastics, he's been my favorite writer for a few years now. Every time I read him, I find myself trying to write like him even in my day-to-day email and such, which I take to be a sign of a great writer (him, not me, that is).

Here's an excerpt--an eerie one, in retrospect--from the commencement speech he gave at Kenyon College in 2005:

Quote:
As I'm sure you guys know by now, it is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive, instead of getting hypnotized by the constant monologue inside your own head (may be happening right now). Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. 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.
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Shapeless
 
  1  
Reply Fri 19 Sep, 2008 10:25 am
@kickycan,
Love that story, Kicky. Here are some of my favorite excerpts (the same ones I posted on Green Witch's old thread).

In this passage, he's describing the amenities of his cruise ship room (Room 1009):

Quote:
But all this is small potatoes compared to 1009's fascinating and potentially malevolent toilet. A harmonious concordance of elegant form and vigorous function, flanked by rolls of tissue so soft as to be without the usual perforates for tearing, my toilet has above it this sign:

THIS TOILET IS CONNECTED TO A VACUUM SEWAGE SYSTEM. PLEASE DO NOT THROW INTO THE TOILET ANYTHING THAN ORDINARY TOILET WASTE AND TOILET PAPER

Yes that's right a vacuum toilet. And, as with the exhaust fan above, not a lightweight or unambitious vacuum. The toilet's flush produces a brief but traumatizing sound, a kind of held high-B gargle, as of some gastric disturbance on a cosmic scale. Along with this sound comes a concussive suction so awesomely powerful that it's both scary and strangely comforting--your waste seems less removed than hurled from you, and hurled with a velocity that lets you feel as though the waste is going to end up someplace so far away from you that it will have become an abstraction... a kind of existential-level sewage treatment.



And in this passage, he's describing an afternoon spent in the cruise ship's recreation room and being challenged to a game of chess by a 9-year-old:

Quote:
I'm not nearly as good at chess as I am at Ping-Pong, but I'm pretty good. Most of the time on the Nadir I play chess with myself (not as dull as it may sound), for I have determined that--no offense--the sorts of people who go on 7NC Megacruises tend not to be very good chess players.

Today, however, is the day that I am mated in 23 moves by a nine-year-old girl. Let's not spend a lot of time on this. The girl's name is Deirdre. She's one of the very few little kids on board not tucked out of sight in Deck 4's Daycare Grotto. Deirdre's mom never leaves her in the Grotto but also never leaves her side, and has the lipless and flinty-eyed look of a parent whose kid is preternaturally good at something.

[...]

We start. I push some pawns forward and she develops a knight. Deirdre's mom watches the whole game from a standing position behind the kid's seat, motionless except for her eyes. I know within seconds that I despise this mom. She's like some kind of stage-mother of chess. Deirdre seems like an OK type, though--I've played precocious kids before, and at least Deirdre doesn't hoot or smirk. If anything, she seems a little sad that I don't turn out to be more of a stretch for her.

My first inkling of trouble is one the fourth move, when I fianchetto and Deirdre knows what I'm doing is fianchettoing and uses the term correctly, again calling me Mister. The second ominous clue is the way her little hand keeps flailing out to the side of the board after she moves, a sign that she's used to a speed clock. She swoops in with her developed QK and forks my queen on the twelfth move and after that it's only a matter of time. It doesn't really matter. I didn't even start playing chess until my late twenties. On move 17 three desperately old and related-looking people at the jigsaw puzzle table kind of totter over and watch as I hang my rook and the serious carnage starts. It doesn't really matter. Neither Deirdre nor the hideous mom smiles when it's over; I smile enough for everybody. None of us says anything about maybe playing again tomorrow.
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sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Wed 11 Mar, 2009 06:32 am
I knew of him but didn't read much -- I remember being saddened by his death in a general way but also not "knowing" him well enough to really comment here, for example (though I read it at the time).

Just read this profile of him in the New Yorker -- whoa. Really affecting, and there is a lot that I get/ identify with (not the extreme depression stuff but general outlook sorts of things). Plus I didn't really realize that he was Dave Eggers before Dave Eggers (and I like Dave Eggers).
Gargamel
 
  1  
Reply Wed 11 Mar, 2009 08:47 am
@sozobe,
Hey Soz,

If you're interested in just a taste, here is perhaps my favorite DFW short story, and maybe one of my top 50 favorite short stories all time.

http://www.theparisreview.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/2547
ossobuco
 
  1  
Reply Wed 11 Mar, 2009 11:02 am
@Gargamel,
Same with me, Soz - just finished the NYer piece a day or two ago.
Read something else, I forget where right this minute, ranting against his fiction but extremely positive about his non-fiction.
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