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David Foster Wallace

I read an interview with David Foster Wallace in '96, right after Inifinite Jest was published. He said he considered himself a baby boomer rather than a Gen Xer (1962-2008). I don't blame him for distancing himself from our death-centric generation. In '96 the blood was already in the water. Maybe we'd been sickened by our hippie elders' lame attempts at explaining failure with compelling tales of "fun", so we took the drugs and played the music, but eschewed the responsibility of social metaphor. Without purpose, we died in droves. Ginsberg may think he lost a lot of great minds in his generation, but in terms of percentages he had nothing on us.
As you probably know, Wallace hung his ass last weekend and I'm pretty bummed about it. Maybe he was a boomer, but he talked and bled like us. I caught wind of his final chapter last Sunday morning at 7am (EST) on the news. Maybe it affected me so much because one of my best friends, the guy I named my son after, hung himself almost two years ago. But it's more than that. Other than maybe Denis Johnson or Haruki Murakami, there was no contemporary author I loved more. I hung on every word this man wrote. Not because every word was perfect, but because he managed to swallow the several million fire hoses of modern information we get blasted with every day into works of monstrous prose. Infinite Jest is a book that viscerally lassoes the sweet confusion of real life in a beatific halo. It was so influential, it ruined me as a writer for about two years. Consider Wallace's foreshadowing; his vision of this sponsor-driven, capitalist/addict world of 2008. It was a literary achievement that ranks among Jules Verne and William Gibson. Yet his prose transcended those two. It was as great as Joyce and better than Pynchon. Yes, better than Pynchon.
Damn, his writing was laugh-out-loud-in-the-airport funny and so self-assured. Read that damn essay about the cruise ships (hell, read everything he wrote) and tell me you don't feel better about how absurd this world is. When I, as a reader and a human, felt shaky and frightened by American society, his steady sleight of hand reminded me that the absurd was not my problem, it just was. I was merely an Alice in a maddeningly bland fucking Wonderland.
Don't forget you're smarter than this blind social juggernaut, Wallace told me, you may not dodge the bull, but you can take the horn in your guts with style.
Thanks, Wallace. Bummed you couldn't hang, but I understand.

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Got it.

Well said. I think it was the right thing to say on this site and it shows what a pussy site this is that it has hardly caused a stir here. Every contemporary writer should be aware and in awe of what DFW achieved.

But while I definitely agree that he writes better prose than Pynchon, better than Joyce? I don't thiink so. That's maybe going a little too far. I also think that Pynchon's ideas were more ground breaking and more fully realised. I think the Pynchonesque elements in IJ were a weakness, at least so far as they didn't measure up to the more realistic down beat weird love story elements that made the book great and Pynchon couldn't do. Also the socio political elements while they're hilarious, maybe DeLillo does them better(also maybe not, I'm not sure).

Anyway I always felt that DFW was always the guy most likely to drop the big one and I always imagined he was hard at it somewhere. I hope it's tucked away in some draw down in LA. I'm sure pretty soon Elvis type rumours will start to emerge. It's just that I think that as you said for a merely good writer to try to emulate DFW could ruin a guy and I suspect there may be other ways to move forward. Unfortunately I always felt that DFW was within a fingertip of grasping them and that is truly heartbreaking.

Cheers JS. DFW lives!

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DFW on Red Room

John, as a huge David Foster Wallace fan and such a big Red Room advocate that I work here, I hope you'll reconsider your description of our community with regard to (or "w/r/t," as Wallace would say) his death and reactions to it on the site. If you do a little searching, you'll find many Red Room authors and members who expressed heartfelt grief when the his suicide became known. Just because they didn't comment on this particular (very fine) post doesn't mean it went unnoticed.

In The New Yorker, Deborah Treisman wrote about Wallace:

"He was one of the few satirists able to avoid meanness; he was moral without being judgmental. He took on the absurdities of modern life in an attempt to understand or to parse them, not to mock them."

We envision Red Room as a place where everyone will follow Wallace's fine example.

Huntington Sharp, Red Room

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DFW

Hey, thanks for the response. Couple things. First, I dig this site a lot. I probably don't contribute as much as I should, but I really spend a lot of time reading others' blogs and I've even been inspired to go out and pick up some Red Roomers' books. Second, I didn't say Wallace was better than Joyce. Joyce's achievement as a writer is pretty much incomparable in my opinion. Third, I can see where you're coming from when you're saying Wallace's Pynchonesque elements were a weakness. I love Pynchon to death, but sometimes he was a little too clever for his own good. I refer anyone who's really interested in some great, creative Pynchon lit crit to Terry Riley (University of Alaska Fairbanks). Riley has some really cool, fresh takes on Shakespeare and Marlowe too. But finally and most importantly, it simply sucks I can't look forward to the next article or book from Foster Wallace. It really, really sucks. But so it goes.

 In empathy and with respect,

 Ryan