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death by excruciating self-awareness

On September 14th covering

The world is a diminished place since last Friday, when David Foster Wallace killed himself. I am shocked and saddened, but should not be surprised. His fiction and essays are from a mind that finds self-awareness nearly unbearable. His public appearances showed that his literary voice was no contrivance — the paralysis of a hall-of-mirrors of a mind reflecting endlessly on itself seemed to be the painful condition of his life, even if it could make for wildly entertaining reading.

I don’t like the g-word because it invokes a magic status that takes us regular people off the hook for our mediocrities … but if he wasn’t a genius then there’s no such thing. I also have many reasons to believe that he was a mensch, a genuinely decent fellow and a gifted teacher. He had attained the sweet life for a literary writer: a MacArthur fellowship and an endowed chair at a college with earnest, bright students, a newly minted marriage, the fast track into comfortable grey eminence at age 46. All of us who love his work had hope, in the face of all the evidence, that he could become happy.

The temptation for a psychological post-mortem, to which I am not immune, is a desire to feel relief from the sick helplessness I have in my stomach this morning, and the result is often not much better than a superstitious explanation for earthquakes. But something needs to be learned from this awful thing.

But not now. I’m too sad.

One Response

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Larry Gross

Sep 15 at 5:06


Got here through a link from Howling Fantod. Your concise, eloquent statement about DFW’s passing, so far the best thing I’ve read on the web on this tragic subject–what a gruesome award to win! Peace be with you.

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