Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Lost and Found: David Foster Wallace

Photo courtesy of

I had no idea who David Foster Wallace was a week ago. I heard the name once, but the great body of his work fell outside the borders of my knowledge. Then, on Friday, Wallace died. Committed suicide, actually, something that seems to happen far too often with great writers. I became aware when I saw the announcement of his passing on Saturday while keeping tabs on college football via Yahoo's web page. I Googled his name but saw nothing familiar so I went back to the sports page. Over that evening and into Sunday, I observed various kinds of tributes appear; Facebook postings in my email, Google status messages under the names of my friends, news tickers on TV, everywhere I looked. On Monday, my curiosity got the best of me and began digging around for information.

(My discoveries, observations and links after the jump)

Full articles and tributes had begun to appear and painted the picture of a well-liked and phenomenally talented author. He was as essayist, one of those guys who writes the amazing stuff written in high-class mags like Harper's, Time and The Atlantic. His biggest critical acclaim came as a result of his epic novel Infinite Jest, which I obviously haven't read since Monday and, at over 1000 pages, I have to admit that I don't plan on reading anytime soon. His articles are readily available, however, and I was impressed with the first Wallace paragraph I ever read from his essay The Compliance Branch:
My audit group's Group Manager and his wife have an infant I can describe only as fierce. Its expression is fierce; its demeanor is fierce; its gaze over bottle or pacifier or finger-fierce, intimidating, aggressive. I have never heard it cry. When it feeds or sleeps, its pale face reddens, which makes it look all the fiercer. On those workdays when our Group Manager, Mr. Yeagle, brought it in to the District office, hanging papoose-style in a nylon device on his back, the infant appeared to be riding him as a mahout does an elephant. It hung there, radiating authority. Its back lay directly against Mr. Yeagle's, its large head resting in the hollow of its father's neck and forcing our Group Manager's head out and down into a posture of classic oppression.
That paints a pretty vivid picture and impressed me immediately. One of the hardest things I find to do in my own writing is to recount or describe the mundane in a manner that is interesting and vivid.

I don't want to drag this on, but, aside from the general Wikipedia entry, there are hundreds of tributes to him should you want to learn more. Some of the more interesting: legendary publishing house McSweeney's has dedicated it's site to posting reader's personal memories of Wallace; John Hodgman, as is his wont, finds fascination in Wallace's minutiae; Paul Collins offers a look at Wallace through the eyes of those who revered him; and, finally, Levi Asher makes observations on those making observations on Wallace's passing.

FURTHER READING: You can join me in discovering the writings of Wallace by virtue of some of the magazines which published his work and have the class to offer them for free in honor of his passing:

Harper's Magazine: David Foster Wallace: In memoriam.
Time Magazine: The Journalism of David Foster Wallace

UPDATE: Also, here is some lighter reading for my fellow lazy-asses: Interview
WikiQuote: Selections of some passages

No comments: