Tuesday, September 16, 2008
David Foster Wallace
I have never read Infinite Jest, but the novel means a lot to a dear friend of mine, so I've been meaning to read it for some time. I'm sure many others will be motivated to do the same now that the man behind it is dead . . . for understandable reasons suicide creates a shroud of mystery around the artist's work which gives it another level of permanence.
I have, however, read several of David Foster Wallace's essays, and found them quite intelligent and entertaining. There's also a sense of pain and raw emotion present in his writing that my favorite book reviewer, Sam Anderson, pegged as almost a feeling of "self-help" in his memorial on New York Magazine. In it, he mentions Wallace's commencement address to the 2005 Kenyon graduates. Here are a few lines that really spoke to me:
"If you're automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won't consider possibilities that aren't annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-type hell situation not only as meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the starts: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.
Not that the mystical stuff is necessarily true. The only thing that's capital-T True is that you get to decide how you're gonna try to see it."
Things can be bad. I, for one, know that I make them worse when I let my anxieties and insecurities get the best of me. I know what's quoted above seems flouncy and Buddhist, and perhaps it is, but I can't hear advice like this often enough. So much of my reality is often colored by my negative perception. If I could learn, as DFW suggests, to seek the positive, even in times of stress, I think the world would seem less fruitless and that people would seem more kind.
I only wish his own advice had been able to sway him from giving up. My thoughts are with his family and friends. His words survive.