Ok, I never read Infinite Jest, but at over 1,000 pages I’ll bet a lot of folks who think of themselves as bookworms didn’t read it either. What I loved was the non-fiction stuff of David Foster Wallace that I ran across in many different formats–mostly in magazines or on the ‘Net. I’m going to have to track down the collections of non-fiction that were published.
His article Roger Federer As Religious Experience in the New York Times was the most interesting thing on tennis I’d ever read, a sport I’ve loved and played since a young kid. His musings on animal cruelty and eating, in the guise of a review of the Maine Lobster Festival for Gourmet Magazine is astounding. Not only does Wallace write about the science and morality of boiling an animal alive for the pleasure of a meal, he uncorks this gem about modern American life, culture and economics:
To be a mass tourist, for me, is to become a pure late-date American: alien, ignorant, greedy for something you cannot ever have, disappointed in a way you can never admit. It is to spoil, by way of sheer ontology, the very unspoiledness you are there to experience. It is to impose yourself on places that in all noneconomic ways would be better, realer, without you. It is, in lines and gridlock and transaction after transaction, to confront a dimension of yourself that is as inescapable as it is painful: As a tourist, you become economically significant but existentially loathsome, an insect on a dead thing.
David Foster Wallace suffered from depression and he took his own life on Friday. The loss is shocking and causes anyone who values good writing to ponder what we have lost. I guess what I take away from all such tragedies is that a great career, love of family and intellectual brilliance are often no match for the power and fury of depression. That is what is frightening to us all left behind, someone with everything to live for could not see beyond the pain.