Monday, September 15, 2008

I can't believe this. I really can't. I have no idea what to do with it. Suffice to say that this will be fucking me up for a long, long time.

I've always had a complicated relationship with David Foster Wallace's fiction, his way of concealing these beautiful glimmering gems of soul-expanding human insight and empathy in artfully arranged layers of total showoffy confusion and obfuscation. Those novels and short story collections felt like chores. I'd read them, always, and I'd spent most of the book feeling like a complete idiot, like I was missing something and it was my fault, which is not really a good mode for fiction-consuming. But there'd be these sentences or brief asides here and there that just killed me. Still, I never quite forgave Infinite Jest for forcing me to plow through 1100 pages of tiny type and then not quite giving me an ending.

But DFW's nonfiction pieces, his experiential postcards (his term) and essays and whatnot, these things were pure gold. Most of the best pieces I've written were pretty much just my most accurate ripoffs of Wallace's style in these pieces. Just last week I reread "Up, Simba!," his 2000 McCain campaign piece, for the millionth time because I felt like I needed a reason to feel OK about McCain. That didn't happen, but I've still never read a better piece of political writing. This guy, at his best, was just so far beyond everyone else writing words in English that comparisons don't seem fair.

And beyond the unparalleled facility for arranging words into sentences and paragraphs, I've always read a sort of deep and emphatic hope at the heart of these pieces I've reread however many bazillion times. Like, for instance, there's the last couple sentences of "The Host," the profile of a snarly right-wing talk-radio guy he wrote for the Atlantic a couple of years ago. He spends a couple tens of thousands of words depicting the intricate apparatus behind this bile-distributing agent, and he ends it thusly: "Because one can almost feel it: what a bleak and merciless world this host lives in - believes, nay, knows for an absolute fact he lives in. I'll take doubt."

And this guy committed suicide by hanging? I'm sorry, I don't know what was going on in his personal life or whatever, not sure I even care. Suicide by hanging. That's about the most extreme rejection of doubt I can imagine. I cannot accept this.

If you haven't already, read this today.