David Foster Wallace
Blog Post by Ryan Masters - Sep.18.2008 - 5:19 am
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.
Born and raised in the Santa Cruz Mountains, Ryan Masters grew up tromping through redwoods and surfing the Central Coast from Big Sur to San Francisco. He briefly attended the University of London before receiving a BA in Anthropology from the University of...