September 15th, 2008
10:33 AM ET

David Foster Wallace, 1962-2008

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


Filed under: Uncategorized

soundoff (34 Responses)
  1. pertuchio

    Suicide is never easy on the family of those left behind. It stigmatizes the living for the rest of thier lives unless they are able to come to terms with it. There are two types of suicide. One is caused by the imbalance of chemicals that causes depression which is a severe disease in this country which again places a "stigma" with the bearer. Those who choose to end their own lives due to depression are not in control of what they do. Their reasoning functions of the brain are not working correct. Being a spiritual person, I have to beleive that this type of suicide does not equal eternal damnation. The other suicide i believe is just a selfish way of getting out of a life they no longer feel is fair or do not wan to cope with the day to day life. This will lead to everlasting pain in hell. I have a friend that killed himslef one night, I had no idea he was having mental problems, or that life was being unfair to him. I wish I knew. I feel like I could have helped him.

    Judge not so quickly less ye be judged unfairly. Keep that in mind the next time you open your mouth and spout judgment on others Violet. I feel you may have had this happen in your life. You may yourself one day or lonely night looking down the barrel of a gun and wonder "How did I get here? When you pull the trigger, you will find final judgement. Are you ready?

    September 22, 2008 at 12:10 pm | Report abuse |
  2. revolted by violet

    I lost my husband and the father of my only child to suicide. Just over three months ago he shot himself in the head in front of me in our bedroom. He suffered with depression for many years and had other health issues. He could not find peace in this life and so chose to leave it behind. As much as I have been able to cope with the devastation in my life, the hardest thing for me is still telling others who did not know us how he died. There is a ridiculous stigma surrounding suicide and it is unfortunate because I find myself essentially lying when asked about it. People constantly are asking this or that about my husband in passing, unaware of my circumstances. I usually let people think it was an accident because people would just assume that my husband was constantly miserable or that I must have been a horrible wife for him to leave me in such a way. That is 100% not true. Most people that knew him saw his as full of life, always the life of the party, and fun-loving.

    I am not glad or happy that he is gone, but I can sleep at night knowing he is no longer in agonizing psychological pain and he is at peace.

    There is already too much pain in this life without people spouting hateful and ignorant things. So, please, if the topic is something you don't know anything about, keep your mouth SHUT! (If I can realize this at 24 years old, certainly real "adults" should already know.)

    Also, I wanted to add that while I am not aware of any of this author's work I sympathize with his friends, family, and fans. Please enjoy what he was able to give the world in his life and celebrate his accomplishments instead of focusing on the negative!

    September 21, 2008 at 3:21 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Lara

    David Foster Wallace was an amazing man. He struggled with the usual darkness that surrounds an artist's mind. But in all that, he was stellar. I was lucky enough to have had him in my life, and spent every other day for a full semester with him. Being lectured for driving from Atlanta, GA to Normal, IL, without stopping, so I could make it to his class on time. And being told, "You're missing your next class, go home, go to sleep." As well as, "Quite trying to write on the level of a professor. Write on your level, as if you're talking to a friend." He also told the entire class, "If you need to talk to me, about an assignment or anything in life, please call me. Here's my number, don't give it out, but I will always be awake for you."

    That is not the sign of a selfish man. That's the sign of a selfless man. And when you're like that, sometimes you just give too much.

    September 19, 2008 at 11:04 pm | Report abuse |
  4. david

    We don't know that he is at peace. That is an ignorant thing to think. If anything he is still suffering, suffering through you and your incomplete thoughts and emotions regarding his actions. We cannot judge him, we can never ever comprehend him or his journey. We can only work to fathom our own dance on the precipice. We think that somehow this reflects badly on us, those of us who found him there swinging between the ceiling and the floor. He was not an artillery piece, he was not chopping down his own beanstalk. He made a choice to push the chair away from where he had stood a minute before, breathing, beating out frequencies that only he perceived. We need incomplete thoughts to ponder. Half-baked brilliance that did not want to go gently into that good night. It is courageous to look into mediocrity and go forward and find meaning between the gas ovens and the guillotine and complacencies of the penoir's extending wings of darkness. And for the mob, the crowd gathered at the shattered window each one picking up a piece of glass like a piece of the Berlin Wall, brushing up against the cut and wanting to put a little toe across that threshold though which he leaped. Only challenge is you have to trade breath for a look into that uncertain finality.

    September 19, 2008 at 10:58 pm | Report abuse |
  5. wecannotjudge

    We should pray fort his man's soul and ask that he is forgiven

    September 19, 2008 at 5:45 pm | Report abuse |
  6. angry candy

    Any number of us know depression. I do. It exists in an infinite scope. Its like your best friend,,always with you,,Always. It clouds every thought, every feeling, every moment of your life. This relatively young man, DFW, is now at peace. And it is a peace that many of us yearn.

    September 19, 2008 at 12:27 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Theresa M

    Violet Weed,
    Your ignorance really saddens me. How dare you be so judgemental! I lost my brother to suicide 2 yrs ago, he suffered from depression .Depression is a mental illness, it's a disease, as is cancer. My brother left 4 teenage boys. He did not hate them, he loved them, he thought they would be better off with out him. He was an amazing man, that couldn't beat his depression. He tried, he was on meds, he was seeing a professional, he tried so hard. My brother felt helpless,hopeless, and worthless, this is what leads to suicide. it's not about hating someone, it's about ending the pain. Before you open your mouth, and judge, like I said in my brother's eulogy, unless you walk in someone elses shoes, do not judge. I am making sure my brother did not die in vain, by educating people like you, and the stigma of suicide is erased.

    RIP DFW, and to his family or friends, please let me know if I can help any. I go to an amazing support group that helps me cope with my loss and pain.

    September 18, 2008 at 5:15 pm | Report abuse |
  8. mary Kinney

    imagine if you will, ABSOLUTE MENTAL darkness so profound that it leaves you restless, sleepless, angry, lost and desperate. now multiply that times infinity. how would you have coped with suicidal depression?????????

    IT IS AN ILLNESS THAT IS COMPLEX AND DIFFICULT TO COMPREHEND. to level any blame or judgement is to add to the illness. DFW probably struggled beyond anyone's imaging-like getting up and wrestling with an invisible 20 ton octopus-again. one day you just give in to the embrace of death hoping ironically that you will arrive at bliss and peace.

    September 18, 2008 at 1:41 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Ash

    Very sad times for the family indeed: heartfelt thoughts & prayers go out...

    @ Violet – pretty much not worthy of attention, but CLEARLY this person has anger and attention issues, to offer such dross. Seriously, take care of your own issues and get some help.

    @ ANP – 'little compassion' for people who commit suicide? You've been 'touched by it'? Really?! Sounds like a mere brush or a distant someone of someone, because if you TRULY have been affected by the suicide of a loved one immediate to you, that's the last thing that one would write, so spare me.

    @ Tabitha – you too. Truly been affected?

    My brother hung himself in our basement when he was 21; I was 19. Selfishness was never the thing that crossed my mind very much about what he did. I acknowledged it, but never dwelled on it. You see, the thing that no one will ever understand, is the absolutely incomprehensible, fathomless, exclusive pain that the heart and mind of a suicide is going through. We did not see it coming; we did not know. We felt we should have; we felt we had failed him, as you go through this too.
    NO ONE will never know, so don't even bother with your comments about rage and selfishness. It is sad, period, and the pain of the family is very private.

    September 16, 2008 at 9:39 pm | Report abuse |
  10. lb

    I never met DFW, but I cried yesterday when I heard the news... He was brilliant and it's hard to accept that bright light is gone.

    September 16, 2008 at 8:37 am | Report abuse |
  11. Trisha

    "Is it all right to boil a sentient creature alive just for our gustatory pleasure?" This was the question posed by the renowned late author David Foster Wallace in "Consider the Lobster," his August 2004 feature on the Maine Lobster Festival for Gourmet magazine. Wallace, who was hailed by critics as a literary genius, wrote this article “to work out and articulate some of the troubling questions that arise amid all the laughter and saltation and community pride of the Maine Lobster Festival.” Gourmet editors may have gotten more than they bargained for, but Wallace’s words echoed the concerns of thinking people everywhere.

    For Wallace, the Maine Lobster Festival inspired an unflinching inquiry into the ethics of boiling an animal alive. His article highlighted two specific coping mechanisms that people adopt when confronted with the reality of animal suffering—avoidance and denial. Wallace admitted that his “own main way of dealing with this conflict has been to avoid thinking about the whole unpleasant thing.” However, upon arrival at the Maine Lobster Festival, he found that “there is no honest way to avoid certain moral questions.”

    Wallace’s article explored the excruciating pain that lobsters feel when they are boiled alive, taking both scientific evidence and his own observations into account. He expands his analysis to consider the question of eating meat in general, as well as the deeper question of how humans relate to other animals. Read the full article here.

    http://www.lobsterlib.com/feat/davidwallace/page/lobsterarticle.pdf

    September 16, 2008 at 7:28 am | Report abuse |
  12. Greg Wallace

    I almost felt sad after reading Infinite Jest knowing that I had just finished something so brilliant It would forever change how I viewed reading books. It seemed to be a work of inspired genius of breathtaking proportions, It tested my every bit of patience and persiverance and was the greates payoff I could dream off. It is a sad day that this truely gifted man has left us. It did change literature for me and I thank him, rest in peace Mr. Wallace

    September 15, 2008 at 11:01 pm | Report abuse |
  13. ANP

    Many of us who have been touched by suicides have very little compassion for this act- and yes, it is a selfish act. But in the end, we only answer to ourselves, and these people do not live for us even though we would like to think differently. I feel sorry for his family and what they go through but we cannot take away what glorious literature this man gave us while he was alive. Thank you.

    September 15, 2008 at 10:41 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Colleen

    About violet weed's post – I am disappointed that this blog would print such an ugly, hostile comment from someone so wholly ignorant about suicide. Her remarks reflect a total lack of understanding on so many levels that it's obvious they were made only to provoke readers. Out of respect for Mr. Wallace's family and his many friends & fans, kindly refrain from printing such comments. They only add to the unbearable pain that suicide leaves in its wake.

    September 15, 2008 at 10:07 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Tabitha

    He hanged himself in his own house, knowing full well that his wife would find him. Until you have had a loved one die in this manner, you will never realize how truly selfish this is.

    September 15, 2008 at 9:17 pm | Report abuse |
  16. kevin delaney

    @violet weed

    get yourself a therapist and work on that anger - it wouldn't be a cowardly thing to do

    September 15, 2008 at 8:07 pm | Report abuse |
  17. Sean H.

    @violetweed

    I am just finishing Consider the Lobster after a few of DFW's other great pieces. Wow Violet, you should consider your comments and learn more about life...I am sad for you....

    RIP David and thanks

    September 15, 2008 at 6:51 pm | Report abuse |
  18. upstater

    @ violet weed

    Only someone who was unable to understand DFW's writing would deem it not worth remembering. Don't malign what you don't understand.

    Perhaps I can guess a few authors you might think worth remembering, people who are still alive and apparently have no intention to commit suicide? Susanne? Rowling? Crichton?

    I am so disgusted.

    September 15, 2008 at 6:37 pm | Report abuse |
  19. Jon S.

    violetweed: what gladdens me is that your comment is responded to with kind words, and not the vitriol it deserves.

    Shame on you for showing so little compassion for a fellow human being – you have no idea what his mental state was, or what he was going through.

    September 15, 2008 at 6:36 pm | Report abuse |
  20. j3black

    Let him have some peace.

    September 15, 2008 at 6:35 pm | Report abuse |
  21. Elizabeth

    @violet weed
    Depression is a medical illness the way cancer is a medical illness. If you would not judge a cancer patient for dying, then do not judge this man. (I'm assuming he was depressed based on his writing about depression/suicide and the fact that depression is the leading cause of suicide in this country).
    While suicide is certainly an aggressive act (representing simultaneously the urge to kill, be killed and to die), none of us can know what led him there. It is certain there was much pain involved, and for no one more than for him.
    I'm moved by his writings and saddened by his loss.

    September 15, 2008 at 6:20 pm | Report abuse |
  22. Simon Drax

    @violet weed

    Violet Weed, you are an unthinking, unfeeling, functioning-illiterate moron. I think you should stick to Barbara Taylor Bradford rather than presume to pass judgement on David Foster Wallace. The fact that you consider DFW's suicide "good" is rather telling. Get a life and stick to the trash you no doubt know, before someone sneers at YOUR exit from this mortal coil. How dare you.

    September 15, 2008 at 5:10 pm | Report abuse |
  23. daisymae

    @violet weed

    Until you have the walked in the shoes of someone with a long term mental illness I implore you not to make judgments. I'm sure that he did not hate his wife and I'm betting that she and the rest of his family have a full understanding of why he did what he did.

    September 15, 2008 at 4:19 pm | Report abuse |
  24. Brad

    @violet weed

    It is not up to us to judge the final actions of a man we did not even know. We are not aware of the pain that led him down this tragic path. All we can do is be thankful he chose to share his gifts with us for the short time he was around. Unlike you, I am also aware that Infinite Jest, in particular, will stand up for generations as the masterwork it is. Personally I greatly prefer his shorter work. Nevertheless, it is an unspeakable tragedy that we lost a mind like his in times like this.

    September 15, 2008 at 3:48 pm | Report abuse |
  25. Violet Weed

    It is terrible for the family and friends of this man that he killed himself. As for the man himself, he, like Hemingway, was a narcissist who took the coward's way out of life. For David Wallace I have absolutely no sympathy. For his wife, I am deeply saddened by her husband's last, totally evil, act... an act that will likely haunt her for the rest of her life. How he must have hated her, to do this to her.

    As for his writings, they will not have a lasting impact on the world, they are not writing that will shine forever. Good. A suicide such as Wallace does not deserve to have anything remembered 'forever'. He was, at best, a flash in the pan writer, and at worst a coward.

    September 15, 2008 at 2:04 pm | Report abuse |
  26. Dale

    My heart goes out to DFW's family, his students, and the future
    writers that looked up to this oddly ordinary, brillant human being.
    We put such high expectations on the gifted. I will forever miss
    that special reading I would have shared with daughter, now a pre-teen so ready to be a college student. Look closely into eyes of
    loved ones, notice when the spark is gone and take action!!!

    September 15, 2008 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
  27. angelica grieco

    Sconvolti, anche n Italia.Lo studiamo nelle scuole di scrittura creativa-E' un modello di stile.Brevi interviste a uomini schifosi e' geniale.
    Che brutta giornata e' questa.
    DFW i miss you

    ange

    September 15, 2008 at 1:51 pm | Report abuse |
  28. TJ Mckenzie

    Can CNN please take the obituary out of the "entertainment" section.

    September 15, 2008 at 1:25 pm | Report abuse |
  29. Amy

    My husband and I have spent many late nights reading aloud to each other from "Consider the Lobster" and "A Supposedly Fun Thing..". My heart goes out to his family, foremost, but the rest of the world has lost a wondrous thing.

    September 15, 2008 at 12:35 pm | Report abuse |
  30. Erik Ryberg

    I am absolutely stunned to hear this news. I don't think anything could have shocked me so much as this did this morning. I was looking forward to a lifetime of reading his work and following his career. This news is really a blow, that such an enormous talent could go this way and this soon. It's like the premature deaths of Camus, Hendrix, and Barthes rolled into one.

    September 15, 2008 at 12:11 pm | Report abuse |
  31. Brent

    Infinite Jest will always be one of my favorites, and he one of my favorite authors. I met him at a reading and he was exactly how you want someone whose work you admire to be (which is rarely the case). My signed copy of Infinite Jest means all the more to me now. It's a shame.

    September 15, 2008 at 11:54 am | Report abuse |
  32. Steven Jackson

    I once walked into a coffeeshop with Infinite Jest under my arm, and a woman across the room saw me with it. I saw her eyes light up as she walked over and asked How was I doing? How far along was I? It was asked in an awed tone, a secret shared between two readers who Understood what they were going through and, like marathon runners, needed some encouragement from the side of the road from others who had been where they were now running. I left the shop, finished the book (some weeks later), and immediately started reading it again. DFW changed forever the way I read, the standard I hold against other works, my appreciation for words and meaning. He will be missed.

    September 15, 2008 at 11:24 am | Report abuse |
  33. abby

    i loved DFW so very much (and glad to see his commencement address from my alma mater quoted). pure genius. i owe him so much.

    September 15, 2008 at 11:20 am | Report abuse |

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