David Foster Wallace

Today, you are in for yet another special treat.  To begin with, it is the first blog post under a pseudonym.  Second, it’s better than what I was going to post today… nothing.  The author is a lifelong (or close enough) friend who we’ll just refer to as Jack Thunder.  “Jack” and I have known each other since junior high.  We were college roommates during our freshman year at OSU.  And he was best man in my wedding. When I started thinking about people to write a guest post, he was one of the first that came to mind.  You’re about to read why…

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I’ve been reading Ronnie’s blog for a while now, and when he invited me to write a guest post I knew it was because we were old friends and not because I was an expert in one of his normal blog topics—the top five being, according to my rough count:  the mandolin, aviation, rocking out, management theory, and inspiration.  In fact, I’m not really an expert in anything, except maybe the topics of toaster oven usage or zen pragmatism, both of which I had to create.

But I’ve actually had a rush of inspiration, lately, so I think I can be relevant, after all.  This inspiration is the religious kind, full of wonder and amazement and transcendental heart-warming feelings of happiness and hope, though it’s not about religion.  In fact, it all started a few weeks ago with a hurricane, a dim view of current events, and a death. 

I want to tell you about my favorite writer, David Foster Wallace.  

Another reason I want to do this here is that this blog is a very pro-Christian venue and DFW demonstrates the most solid Christian values in very creative ways.  This is not how he’s best known, and don’t go looking for him in your Christian bookstore, but I’ve read almost everything by him and just trust me on this one. 

But before I get to that, I have to address his textual side and how he will blow your mind.  DFW’s writing is the main reason I gave up ever aspiring to write seriously.  I can’t find enough superlatives for his talent.  It is virtuosic.  It is inconceivably impressive.  I find other writers impressive and wonderful, but I can always understand them as exaggerations of a plain-old-good writer; DFW is incomparable. 

It’s not just his linguistic facility that’s incomparable but his breadth of knowledge and thought, too.  In his nonfiction, he wrote in great depth on the subjects of language, math, tennis, pop culture, politics, and more.  Perhaps my favorite essay of his is a 60-pg book review of a new English usage dictionary.  The essay confirmed for me DFW’s linguistic genius but also demonstrated his unashamed love of language and unhip desire to be earnest.  His most famous essays discuss the culture of state fairs and cruise ships (see, “Getting Away from Already Being Pretty Much Away from It All” and “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again,” respectively). 

But that’s just the nonfiction.  He’s probably best known for fiction, especially his 1,000+ pg. novel Infinite Jest.  His nonfiction is a little more relevant to my point here, but the fiction is of course mindbending and great.

Hopefully someone’s still reading all this.  Okay, I’ll get to my point:  I challenge anyone to find an artist more intelligent and talented and with better values. 

DFW’s work strives to make sense of the world fully knowing that language can only communicate a fraction of what we all feel and that irony and sarcasm, while major cultural currencies (well, in the ‘90s, anyway), distance us from the truth.  His work shows a compassion and populism that I’ve never seen in anything a tenth as thoughtful. 

DFW has been on my mind ever since a bad night two months ago when hurricane Ike was about to make landfall, the political news was awful, and I heard that DFW had killed himself.  For some reason, I wasn’t very shocked.  His talent was so exceptional and transcendent that his death almost makes more sense than his life.  That’s what it’s like to be inconceivable. 

Over the next week or so, tributes rolled in from every corner of the book world in words more glowing than the previous oft-guarded book reviews.  Finally I was able to see reviewers acknowledge what I had always loved about his work:  that it combines brilliance and earnestness like nothing else. 

DFW was the only writer of my generation I loved and respected equally, and I had looked forward to reading his work for decades.  I am consoled, though, by what he left behind and know that its quality and density will keep me rereading. 

Let me close by being very explicit and unliterary.  If you’re like me, an important activity in your life is looking for proof of a higher power in the world around us.  This author’s work is clear proof to me.

Recommended reading (in rough order of my pref.):

–two short tributes HERE and HERE from the NYT and Salon, resp.

Consider the Lobster (nonfiction collection)

A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again (nonfiction collection)

–commencement address, 2005, HERE

Girl With Curious Hair (short fiction collection)

Infinite Jest (novel)

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