Monday, March 09, 2009

David Foster Wallace

Interesting article on David Foster Wallace in this week's New Yorker. The newest issue isn't online yet, or I'd link to it. If you're a fan of Wallace, or even if you're not, it's an important read. Also in the issue is an excerpt of his soon-to-be posthumously published novel, THE PALE KING-- a book which seeks to argue for the transcendence that comes through abject boredom.

I never could sit still long enough to get through Wallace's verbal hyjinks in INFINITE JEST, but I admire the intensity and energy of Wallace's writing--his unapologetic wrestle with language. His ambitious and arrogant approach to the relationship between thought and word, image and concept, idea and paradigm.

And I say "arrogant" partly to stir the bee's nest, and partly to elevate the notion of arrogance, because, let's face it, writers are a study in chutzpah. Who else would deign to invent a human, give him language and hire him to carry out the stray thoughts and conundrums of wholesale invention other than a writer? Well, maybe George Double-ya, but he's old news.

Wallace suffered. Geniuses tend to suffer. Do you know any geniuses who don't suffer? The New Yorker piece digs into the pain of Wallace's inability to accept praise of his various efforts. He always fell short, in his opinion. Writing drove him mad. It was his salvation. And it drove him mad again.

When I was younger, I was afraid I might also be swept into madness exacerbated by creative endeavors. Fortunately, it was only youthful craziness in my case--being blessed by overall favorable bio-chemistry, my pendulum won't let me swing too far one side or the other. Nevertheless, I find the connection between madness and creativity both scary and fascinating. The piece on Wallace was a reminder of the fragility of the psyche. It left me feeling extremely sad. The despair and hopelessness that squeezes in on incredible artists, like Wallace, like Cobain, like Sexton--stemming their gifts to the generations who might have otherwise experienced transcendence from their art.

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