“I don’t really know what the interior of anybody else is like – I often feel very fragmented, and as if I have a symphony of different voices, and voice overs, and factoids, going on all the time, and digressions on digressions…” David Foster Wallace
David Foster Wallace was always Meta-thinking – thinking about thinking. He could be insightful, and engaging, and interesting, but get lost in recursions and riddles of semantics, and in puzzles of grammar.
He lived inside his head.
He would talk about the “special sort of buzz” logical thinking could give him.
“a gorgeously simple solution to a problem you suddenly see, after half a notebook with gnarly attempted solutions, you about hear a . . .click“.
Boredom was terrifying. He suffered severe writer’s block. There was this constant, oppressive feeling of something not feeling right, that he wasn’t really, somehow. . . him. He felt a menacing sense of disconnection with himself.
Being a person was like being a ghost.
Substance use gave him great relief, it helped him feel whole. He became addicted with a natural ease.
At a Kenyon College commencement, speaking to an audience of avid readers and writers, he tried to warn them about the dangers of the mental life: be careful! mentation isn’t all it is cracked up to be! you can be a fish swimming in water, and not know what water is. Stay grounded in simple truths, he said, somehow they are really true.
” The word despair is overused and banalized now but it’s a serious word, and I’m using it seriously. It’s close to what people call dread or angst, but it’s not these things, quite it’s more like wanting to die in order to escape the unbearable sadness of knowing I’m small and selfish and going, without a doubt, to die. It’s wanting to jump overboard.”
Julian Jaynes famously noted that the mind of Achilles, in the Iliad – a mind solely and completely in the present – is very different from the mind of Odysseus, in the Odyssey – a mind scheming to manipulate appearance and orchestrate the future. Sometime in antiquity, between the Iliad and the Odyssey, Jaynes thought, the human mind had changed. Perhaps it was the advent of writing, and the emergence of the reading mind. Reading ignites the imagination.
With people like David Foster Wallace, reading can take the imagination too far.
With endless digressions, and foot notes to foot notes, the writing of David Foster Wallace is more a psychiatric exposition than it is literature. He conveys for us his lost, unmoored, and painful experience of being. That is his sad contribution.
“He waited two more days for an opportunity. In the early evening on Friday, September 12, Wallace suggested that his wife go out to prepare for an opening…After she left, he went into the garage and turned on the lights. He wrote her a two page note. Then he crossed through the house to the patio, where he climbed onto a chair and hanged himself.”