Saturday, September 13, 2008

A Supposedly Sad Thing I Wished He'd Never Done

I'm at a loss for words tonight hearing the news that author David Foster Wallace was found dead of apparent suicide. Ironic given the verbosity(1) of my once favorite author's work. That work, whether fiction like Infinite Jest or non-fiction like A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, was always smart, funny with a hint of an underlying sadness. His essay of John McCain from 2000, McCain's Promise: Aboard the Straight Talk Express with John McCain and a Whole Bunch of Actual Reporters, Thinking About Hope was recently published for the fourth time(2). At the time, it was a good writing challenge for Wallace, saying recently "my own politics were about 179 degrees from his," yet he was able to write a piece that showed a deep admiration for the Presidential candidate.

The danger, of course, in republishing this book now, is that the portrait is taken as something directly relevant to the 2008 version of McCain, and Wallace sees nothing of the man he followed for that piece some eight years ago. In a recent interview for Wall Street Journal Wallace says:
...that context now seems a long, long, long time ago. McCain himself has obviously changed; his flipperoos and weaselings on Roe v. Wade, campaign finance, the toxicity of lobbyists, Iraq timetables, etc. are just some of what make him a less interesting, more depressing political figure now—for me, at least. It's all understandable, of course—he's the GOP nominee now, not an insurgent maverick.
One can't help but wonder if the recent sleaze coming from his one time subject helped further Wallaces depression even more?

Whoah... did I say I was at a loss for words?(4) Instead of blathering on with more footnotes, I'll leave you with this great profile of the author, featuring DFW himself reading his work and shedding some light on how he ended up as a writer:

Song: "David Foster Wallace" - Tsunami

UPDATE: James Wallace, DFW's father, gives more background on his son's battle with depression:
His father said Sunday that Mr. Wallace had been taking medication for depression for 20 years and that it had allowed his son to be productive. It was something the writer didn’t discuss, though in interviews he gave a hint of his haunting angst.

In response to a question about what being an American was like for him at the end of the 20th century, he told the online magazine Salon in 1996 that there was something sad about it, but not as a reaction to the news or current events. “It’s more like a stomach-level sadness,” he said. “I see it in myself and my friends in different ways. It manifests itself as a kind of lostness.”

James Wallace said that last year his son had begun suffering side effects from the drugs and, at a doctor’s suggestion, had gone off the medication in June 2007. The depression returned, however, and no other treatment was successful. The elder Wallaces had seen their son in August, he said.

“He was being very heavily medicated,” he said. “He’d been in the hospital a couple of times over the summer and had undergone electro-convulsive therapy. Everything had been tried, and he just couldn’t stand it anymore.”
(1) - Aided, of course, by a propensity for footnotes
(2) - First abridged as an essay in Rolling Stone, then the full piece in ebook form, then in the collection of non-fiction Consider the Lobster (2005)
(3) - My own emphasis
(4) - And, in truth, I was at a loss for words. But the exercise of adding even one footnote to my sparse dedication set off a chain that ultimately required a YouTube video to stop the words from vomiting forth on the laptop.

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