This is water: David Foster Wallace and other literary suicides.

I am, to put it mildly, baffled.

David Foster Wallace was one of the most intelligent writers that ever roamed the earth. His kind of intelligence transcends mere erudition and excels at looking into the heart of man and describing the most intricate self-deceptions and the most hopeful truths about mankind in words only he ever found. Try this for a start, and go on read Infinite Jest if you need something to keep your mind busy for the rest of your life.

Infinite Jest is a pain in the ass to read, because sometimes he bores us with 50 pages of hyperrealistic technical description of a building before he goes on, but the insight into what makes us tick that he shares in this monster of a novel still rings in me 2 years after I read it. And having read that book it gets even harder for me to read anything else he wrote, for a simple reason: he understood it. He really got it. This man has thought long and hard about some of the eternal questions of man, found an answer that is tough but somehow uplifting, and then he killed himself.

He is neither the only nor the first writer who did away with himself, he is in good company: Sylvia Plath killed herself shortly after writing the Bell Jar, but if you read that (and I think you should) you understand why. There is an almost unbearable coldness and a tangible pain in her description of her way down the spiral that makes it less of a sensation that she “eliminated her own map” as Wallace would have put it. We also have Ernest Hemingway, whose brother was also a writer who kicked his own bucket. Kurt Cobain wasn’t exactly cracking jokes wearing funny costumes before he offed. Virginia Woolfe, Tucholsky, Trakl, Vonnegut are all writers of eminence and erudition, and all shoved off their mortal coils themselves, but these suicides don’t disturb me like Wallace’s does, for a simple reason: David Foster Wallace is side-splitting fun to read.

The actual problem beneath all this blabbering of mine is that all I ever strive for in this life is silence, and clarity of vision, in order to be free from myself. Reading Wallace I felt a calmness of spirit I have not found elsewhere, and an awareness and insight that continues to baffle me to this day, together with a knowing twinkle of the eye that is unique to this man. Now, if that man kills himself, despite all he has found out about life, the universe and everything, I begin to seriously doubt the philosophical path I have been walking on, as it got him nowhere, although he was down that path a lot further than I can hope to get.




One thought on “This is water: David Foster Wallace and other literary suicides.

  1. robinlord says:

    Wow, this is a really good post! I suppose you can’t help but quote Hemmingway “Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know.” – something I’m inclined to agree with. Unfortunately that quote was used recently by Brett Easton Ellis whose reaction to DFW’s death I could not find more publicly inappropriate or childish

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