Saturday, April 26, 2014

David Foster Wallace: A review of D.T.Max's biography, EVERY LOVE STORY IS A GHOST STORY

David Foster Wallace was a writer who wrote for other writers.  In this way his fiction is analogous to jazz.  It's been said by the musicians themselves that jazz is a concert-level music played by virtuosi for other virtuosi.  It isn't, however, necessary to be a jazz musician to appreciate jazz.  Nor is it necessary to be a writer to appreciate David Foster Wallace.
            But it helps.  Critical writing about Wallace's work is laced with academic terms like Post-Modernism and Post-Post Modernism.  Professors of literature struggle to place  Wallace in a "school" of writing, as if that will make them more comfortable with a literature that breaks every rule of writing yet succeeds in communicating with anyone willing to put a little effort into reading his work.
            I suspect that some writers read Wallace without enjoying the experience.  They read him just to have read him.  To enjoy Wallace is pure delight. Wallace observed human and societal behavior with the skill of a world-class brain surgeon.  He was then able to translate his observations into a prose that was fiendishly complex but thoroughly entertaining.  The fact that his vocabulary was gargantuan, that his ideas were informed by deep studies in philosophy, mathematics, linguistics and semiotics does not make his prose incomprehensible.  It just makes it challenging, and ultimately rewarding. 

            In my opinion, biographer D.T. Max got it right.  He gave us a view of DFW as a human being.  He didn't psychoanalyze, he didn't build up the suicide to promote a spurious climax.  David Foster Wallace's suicide came at the end, that's all.  He was a haunted man and there is no story of childhood abuse upon which to build the scaffolding of his pathology.  He had a normal, stable and reasonably happy childhood.  He had an illness.  It emerged in adolescence and it caused him untold suffering.  It eventually proved fatal.
            Biographer D.T. Max gives us the impression that if Wallace was haunted by one thing more than anything else it was the failure of a novel to emerge after the hit of INFINITE JEST.  Wallace put a lot of pressure on himself; he felt he was expected to produce another masterpiece.  He was writing a lot of non-fiction, taking plum assignments from The New Yorker, Esquire and Rolling Stone.  His novel in progress, THE PALE KING, accumulated in boxes of manuscript paper and on floppies and computer drives.  Hundreds of sheets of paper piled up but never gelled into the novel with which Wallace struggled.  It was finally published posthumously, and generally well received.
            It is so sad.  His suicide seems a matter of bad timing.  His psychiatrist  had taken him off the medication Nardil and was preparing to prescribe a more 'modern' anti-depressant.  This procedure, the flushing of the old medicine from the body, the incremental build-up of the new medication, can take several months.  During that time, a patient suffering clinical depression can face a period of intense vulnerability.  It seems that David Foster Wallace got caught 
in a pharmacological bear trap.  He couldn't find a better way out.  People who suffer serious depression know this aspect of its manifestation: while it's happening it seems as though it is permanent.  And, while it's happening, they will do anything to avoid another five minutes of feeling the way they feel.
            The suicide notes are everywhere in Wallace's fiction.  One of INFINITE JEST's protagonists, Hal Incandenza, said it best (and here I paraphrase, being without a copy of the book): "If I knew I had to feel this bad some time in the future for even a week, I would kill myself right now."

            He was describing a plummet down the slippery walls of a deep dark well, a mood of total despair and emptiness. 
            D.T. Max  wrote a beautiful biography.  He enjoyed access to Wallace's family, friends, papers and letters.   He was not worshipful.  He describes Wallace's life as one in which not much happened outside the events of his literary world.  He taught MFA classes in a handful of universities.  He got the McArthur Grant, won other  lucrative prizes and did not have to worry about money.  He was too shy and reclusive to enjoy fame or publicity.  He didn't like parties and dreaded interviews and television appearances.  He was a private man who was very careful about establishing deep bonds of friendship and devotion.  His best friends, it seems, were his dogs.  At the time of his death he was recently married.  He was only forty six years old.  He was just beginning what may have been the best time of his life.
             I is so sad.   


  1. Hello, Νeаt pοst. Тhere's a problem with your web site in internet explorer, would check this? IE nonetheless is the market chief and a huge element of other folks will leave out your magnificent writing due to this problem.

    my page ... nyc jobs

  2. When I get anonymous comments that are about my web site and its functions, it's usually a form of spam. I'm letting your comment through because at least you call my writing magnificent. Thanks for that.

  3. Hi, I dο think this iѕ an excellent site. Ι stumblеduρоn it
    ;) I may come back onсe аgain sincе і hаve book-marked іt.
    Monеy and freedom iѕ the gгeatest wау to
    change, may yоu be rich and cоntinue to help οthers.

    my blog - Towel sales

  4. And, I repeat: anonymous comments selling various products are the only comments I seem to get. This makes me very sad.

  5. Greetings from California! I'm bored at work so I decided to check out your blog on my iphone during lunch break. I really like the knowledge you present here and can't wait to take a look when I get home.
    I'm shocked at how fast your blog loaded on my mobile .. I'm not even using WIFI,
    just 3G .. Anyhow, very good blog!

    My website :: Home Page

  6. I like the helpful information you provide in your articles.

    I'll bookmark your weblog and check once more here frequently.

    I am reasonably certain I'll be told plenty of new stuff proper right here!
    Best of luck for the following!

    Also visit my web page; mouse click the following website page ()

  7. Hi! I'm at work surfing around your blog from my new iphone
    3gs! Just wanted to say I love reading through your blog and look
    forward to all your posts! Carry on the outstanding work!

    My site ... aumento peniano

  8. Your style is very unique compared to other folks I have read stuff from.
    Many thanks for posting when you've got the opportunity,
    Guess I'll just bookmark this site.

    My site ... aumento peniano -

  9. Attractive section of content. I just stumbled
    upon your web site and in accession capital to assert that I acquire in
    fact enjoyed account your blog posts. Any way I'll be subscribing to your feeds and even
    I achievement you access consistently fast.

    Look at my page - como agrandar el pene (

  10. Google's Blogspot is free and offers a wide range of templates from which to choose. It's easy to set up and allows a wide range of colors, fonts, etc.

  11. What i do not understood is actually how you are now not really a lot more neatly-liked than you might be now.
    You're very intelligent. You recognize thus considerably relating to
    this subject, made me for my part imagine it from so many numerous angles.

    Its like women and men don't seem to be involved unless it's something
    to accomplish with Lady gaga! Your own stuffs nice. Always handle it up!

    My weblog; lets play the sims 3

  12. I'll immediately clutch your rss as I can not find your e-mail subscription link
    or e-newsletter service. Do you've any? Kindly allow me understand in order that I may subscribe.

    My web page ... lupek dachowy

  13. Wonderful work! That is the kind of information that should be shared around the web.
    Shame on Google for not positioning this submit higher!

    Come on over and visit my site . Thanks =)

    Also visit my homepage: pesto z bazylii

  14. Thanks for your personal marvelous posting! I quite enjoyed reading it, you might be a
    great author.I will make sure to bookmark your blog and may come
    back later in life. I want to encourage yourself to continue your great job,
    have a nice holiday weekend!

    Here is my webpage; załatwianie się w sukni ślubnej

  15. Hello there! I just want to offer you a huge thumbs up for
    the excellent information you've got here on this post.
    I'll be coming back to your web site for more soon.

    Look at my website; inspiracje ślube

  16. naturally like your website but you need to take a look at the spelling on quite a few of your posts.
    Several of them are rife with spelling problems and
    I to find it very troublesome to inform the truth nevertheless I'll surely
    come back again.

    Feel free to surf to my site ... przewodnik turystyczny

  17. I would be thrilled to take spelling lessons from a native speaker of Polish. Although a risky click at your website takes me to an almost-empty page with a heading in Chinese and another link, so I'm not sure what is your native language. I, however, do not make spelling mistakes. My keyboard makes them.

  18. That is very attention-grabbing, You are an overly
    professional blogger. I've joined your rss feed and sit up for in quest
    of more of your great post. Also, I have shared your web site in my social

    My web-site :: darmowe ogłoszenia radom

  19. fantastic post, very informative. I ponder why
    the other specialists of this sector do not understand this.
    You must continue your writing. I am sure, you've a great readers' base already!

    Look at my webpage; best dating sites

  20. Wow! I'm a specialist of this sector!


If you have enjoyed any of my work, please leave a short comment. It may not appear immediately because it comes to me first for moderation. I get a lot of spam. Your comments help raise my spirits and support my belief that someone cares enough to say so.

Featured Post

Bankruptcy Blues (from The Road Has Eyes)

Bankruptcy Blues             One morning I woke up, did some simple addition and concluded that I was thirty seven thousand dollars...