David Foster Wallace was brilliant, infuriating, hilarious, sobering. He was everything you wanted in a writer - sometimes too much, given his digressions, his rich language, his determination to get every single observation right and in context. He was like a painter who kept creating masterpieces, even if he sometimes couldn’t let his brushstrokes alone - or, for that matter, couldn’t stop obsessively adjusting the frame on the wall.
And now he’s gone.
He drove me crazy with his footnotes and his footnotes-upon-footnotes. He dazzled me with his essays and magazine articles on talk radio, pornography, pleasure cruises and - especially - John McCain. (Regardless what you think of the GOP presidential candidate, you should read “Up, Simba,” his piece on following McCain and a shameless press corps for a week during the 2000 presidential campaign. Here's the shorter version published in Rolling Stone.) I never got through “Infinite Jest,” his 1,000-page Pynchonian masterwork. I couldn’t put down “Consider the Lobster,” a collection of his nonfiction work.
He was so very obviously talented, so very obviously special, that love him or loathe him - or both - you couldn’t deny his ability.
But he wrestled with it, daily.
In a tribute in Monday’s Chicago Tribune, Mark Caro quotes Wallace’s 2005 Kenyon College commencement address. “Learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think,” Wallace said. “It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.”
With Wallace’s death, we’ve lost somebody who thought intensely. Right now, I feel totally hosed.
– Todd Leopold, CNN.com Entertainment Producer
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