On this day in 1962, the great writer and thinker David Foster Wallace was born. He’d be 53 today and no doubt still entertaining and enlightening us. Sadly for us, it is not the case. He’s been gone over six years now.
He still boggles my mind. His nonfiction is as brilliant as his fiction. He was a very creative thinker. It’s easy enough to be smart and knowledgeable. And certainly Wallace was both of those things. But he looked at things differently than people normally do. Just yesterday, without realizing that today would be his birthday, I mentioned Wallace in, Bravery in Art. The more that I’ve read of his work, the more clear it is that above all, his greatness is dependent upon looking at reality directly. I do not have the ability. I find myself constantly peaking around corners so I can jump back if there is something too horrific staring back. And there often is and I do jump back. In fact my second novel now uses this as a device. I hope that I render enough that the reader knows what happens next because I can’t bear to render it for them.
And I’m not talking about torture scenes. I’m talking about things like the horrible stuff we think to the awkward relationships that never gel but never separate. Most of Wallace’s work concentrates existential matters and the work that is required to live. But I was really impressed to find this quote in Wikipedia, “I want to convince you that irony, poker-faced silence, and fear of ridicule are distinctive of those features of contemporary US culture… I’m going to argue that irony and ridicule… for aspiring fictionists they pose terrifically vexing problems.” I’ve never read any of Wallace’s writing on the subject of writing. But that’s an idea that I probably picked up from reading him more generally. One of the great problems with much modern writing is the inability to commit — for the writer to constantly be reassuring the reader that this is all nonsense and we don’t take it seriously. But if we don’t take it serious, what is the point? The constant sarcasm of the hipster is just a cover for her cowardliness.
I don’t really know what else to say other than that everyone should read Wallace. He has much to teach and he is enormously entertaining. I’ve learned a great deal from him. That’s not something I can say for many modern writers.
Happy birthday David Foster Wallace!