David Foster Wallace, in Memoriam

by Jess

Wait, wait, wait: David Foster Wallace is dead?  Why didn’t anyone tell me?  How can his passing have received such little notice?

David Foster Wallace, for you, the uninitiated, was a prosodic and syntactical genius.  He pushed the envelope of the definition of story.  I loved Brief Interviews With Hideous Men, his short-story collection, and I’ve been working on Infinite Jest for a while now, but each time I pick up the heavy tome, I practically have to start over again, such is the complexity and depth of the narrative.  Brief Interviews, though, I can speak to, since I’ve read it twice.  Formally, it ranges from interview (obviously) to outline to dictionary-esque entries, with a few stories in between.  Wallace is the kind of visionary whose writing inspires either deep hatred or respectful adoration.  If you’re one of the unfortunates who fall into the former category, consider that he was the recipient of recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, the Lannan Award for Fiction, The Paris Review Aga Khan Prize, the John Train Prize for Humor, and the O. Henry Award.  As Dr. Kemp told us at ol’ MWC (and I paraphrase), Shakespeare has been praised for hundreds of years, so if you don’t like him, it’s probably something wrong with you, not with Shakespeare.  Not to say Wallace was any sort of equivalent of Shakespeare; it’s just a metaphor, geez.

I do think Wallace was a genius, though.  My favorite comment on epinions.com regarding Brief Interviews: “Read with patience, and get over being intimidated by his erudition. A wise, joyous, agonizing book.”  So he has a big vocabulary.  Get over it.  Some say Wallace was too gimmicky, showy, or meta.  I say he was awesome.  His writing inspires.  It is wide and ranging and wonderful.  Vince Passaro of Salon.com said, in 1999, “His work is bitingly funny and remarkably, even wildly, imaginative; at the same time he aims for very large psychological, emotional and social issues, issues of how we live or fail to live, love and fail to love, survive or destroy ourselves.”

In a manner hauntingly apropos, Wallace destroyed himself.  We will miss you.