Monday, 15 September 2008

Certainly the End of Something or Other - David Foster Wallace 21/02/1962 – 12/09/2008

I can’t remember why I bought ‘A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again.’ Maybe someone recommended me it or it was one of those hideous Amazon recommendations you get when you buy a ‘similar’ authors book (like writers fit in genres like the shelf guides in music shops).

It took me a while to get into it. I mean, I had not seen anything like it. I was immature, the titles were complete sentences and the language so detailed I longed for something easier. That was until I read the essay ‘Tennis Player Michael Joyce’s Professional Artistry as a Paradigm of Certain Stuff about Choice, Freedom, Discipline, Joy, Grotesque and Human Completeness.’ To read in utter detail the way the mechanics of Joyce’s serve, without pause, worked, changed the way I would view structure, grammar and influence the overall way I would write. It screamed of love, utter love for language and the subject that he was covering. I couldn’t put it down. I couldn’t put ‘David Lynch Keeps his Head’ down (I read it three times in a row). I recommended him to everyone. I knew I couldn’t, but I wanted to love writing as much as this guy.

When I got into work this morning and habitually skipped the data entry by venturing onto the Guardians website, I was speechless when it said Foster Wallace had committed suicide. It was only yesterday I tried to find out whether he had any new work coming out and only a month ago that I ordered ‘The Best American Essay’s of 2007,’ just because he edited it.

Being an admirer of a writer is a strange one, say, compared to a musician, band or whatever. It’s myopic. Nobody can hear what you’re reading, it’s you and this person’s language taking you on a journey nobody on the outside of the cover can imagine at that moment. Unlike an Ipod, you have to work for it. It’s intimate. But reading his work also made me want to write.

Not that some of his work couldn’t be difficult. His short story collection ‘Oblivion’ was in some parts intrinsically detailed hard work, but in others phenomenally beautiful. Most encountered the fragility of the human position and each character’s struggle with life, but the most tragic story, ‘Incarnations of Burned Children,’ moved me so much I dedicated a poem of loss to it during my final year poetry dissertation.

His breathless way of creating a gasping narrative to encounter the situations of the protagonist and the humour in his essays and stories helped me to form my own use of, what I thought was, unique grammar and structure during my degree. I wasn’t sure why I was at Uni but reading his work made me understand that working creatively was the only way forward, even if I fucked up my first year. I can specifically remember skipping my English Lit class to go to Borders on Charing Cross Road with my last ounce of Student Loan to purchase his newest book. It was called ‘Consider The Lobster,’ and I remember reading ‘Big Red Sun’ (his essay on the American Porn industry) on the 188 crossing Waterloo Bridge back to my university for the creative writing class I was only really there for. I laughed all the way.

I’m sure there will be a lot more interest in David Foster Wallace’s writing now. I’m sure people will pour over his work looking for theories into his death. I’ve read some blogs saying he was the ‘greatest writer of his generation.’ I’m not amazingly read so I’m not too sure about that, but he was and still is definitely the most forward thinking and inspirational one in my life.

In a writer you can build up a picture of that person through their language you read. Reading the obituaries today, the universal praising and messages of mourning, I came to the conclusion that everyone came to the same close – he was just an intensely intelligent guy, without pretensions, who was constantly trying to understand a way to write about and comprehend life.

That is why I don’t understand his death at the moment, the violence in it, and the way he’s now going to be almost, fictionalised. But then again, maybe his ambition to question his existence, to be this huge brain coupled with depression and this celebrated prodigy was all too much. That’s not for now. Or maybe ever.

I want to remember the endless footnotes. The way he made me understand American politics and McCain in particular in ‘Up, Simba – Seven Days on the Trail of the Anticandidate.’ The way he wrote without sides, not forcing his opinions on the reader. About his clear passion for tennis and the absolutely funny and brilliant ‘Hail the Returning Dragon, Clothed in New Fire,’ a short essay about Aids I had to order a while back from America.

On the snide, I’ve just printed out his 2006 essay about Roger Federer and I’m going to read it on my way home from work. To not be able to read and be set the challenge of his new piece of fiction or non-fiction is a terrible thought, but I still haven’t read his supposed 1,000 odd word masterpiece ‘Infinite Jest,’ so I’ll hold that thought. Like I said before, the highest accolade I can give him is that he made me want to write. And he will continue to do so.

On Updike’s protagonist in the novel ‘Toward the End of Time’ –

‘Updike makes it plain that he views the narrators final impotence as catastrophic, as the ultimate symbol of death itself, and he clearly wants us to mourn it as much as Turnbull does. I am not shocked or offended by this attitude: I mostly just don’t get it. Rampant or flaccid, Ben Turnbull’s unhappiness is obvious right from the novel’s first page. It never once occurs to him, though, that the reason he’s so unhappy is that he’s an asshole.’ – David Foster Wallace – ‘Certainly The End of Something Or Other (1998).


1 comment:

Eyeballs said...

So glad to read your enthusiams for Wallace. I'm in the same boat and have been since the day 12 years ago I encountered that mammoth novel in a bookstore, opened to the endnotes, read a bit of the oeuvre of James Incandenza, and knew that I needed to read the entire book.

Which I did. Far more than once.

I envy that you get to encounter it for the first time. It's colossal, in every sense of the word. And quite beautiful. And of course, very very sad. Fittingly.