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David Foster Wallace's Biblical Fall from Grace

David Foster Wallace's Biblical Fall from Grace

I've been reading "Every Love Story is a Ghost Story" by D. T. Max. It is the biography of David Foster Wallace, rife with many disappointing truths, and sad lengths of time, and heart-plucking anecdotes. It has been helping me heal after investigating his troubled abusive relationship with Mary Carr.

The past two weeks of high-school, as well as the week after graduation, were uncomfortable and hectic and blurry. I fell into some cynicism, and felt guilty about falling in, and felt guilty about not taking time to appreciate the moment, and ended up stuck between the blur of moments. To make things worse, I began seriously digging into the Mary Carr stuff after hearing about it come up again and again from every person who knew about it and knew how much I idolized him. A teacher, a friend, a girlfriend, a grandparent, another friend, a person I never really knew, a person who disliked me. . . Since I had so closely held David up to myself as a person to compare, the re-labelling of him and his work as false hit me deep. Of course, his work is not "false," and should be held separate from the author. And of course, he is not false, but real, and deeply troubled past what I had known before. I felt intensely shaken and unnerved.

I don't regret getting close to DFW, but I do regret attaching my identity to only his good parts. He is incredibly charming, and so is his writing, and brilliant. Like a mirror, I compared myself with him, and I saw myself in his work.

I belong to an online community of people re-reading Infinite Jest over the summer. I simply wasn't in the place to re-read it after graduation, but I nonetheless joined in order to hear and be a part of the discussion. 

I think it’s more complicated than that. . . . it’s very, very unlikely that an artist is ever completely separate from his/her work; there are definite influences and undeniable parallels between DFW’s inner demons and those within the novel. However, beyond circumstantial influences, I think it’s unnecessary for the reader to consider the writer when appraising his/her work. Yes it’s difficult, but that’s only because there is a voice for narratives, which we unconsciously brand as the writer. To the extent that the writer WROTE the work, yes - but it’s such a disservice to the work itself to hold any pre-determined grudges because of the writer. Because of the intimacy we associate with writing/speech and writer/speaker respectively, we tend to forget that writing is a form of art.
— anonymous from Infinite Summer Discord channel

There's a quote that I am reconsidering through this lens of re-imagining David Foster Wallace.

Entertainment is soothing, entertainment concludes, solves problems, offers self-forgetting; nonentertainment settles, remains incomplete, remains static.
— Understanding David Foster Wallace, page 175

By digging deeper into his wounds and addictions, his abusive and disgusting sides, behind the facades and walls he built and through his pathetic moments, I can use him as a more realistic mirror into myself.

I would like to share with you two images in the biography following the third and fourth times David Wallace had to come home to live at his parent's house—the "Mr. and Mrs. Wallace Fund for Aimless Children"— post-breakdown. After the third time of coming home, Wallace returned to Arizona. 

In Tucson, Wallace first stayed with Heather Aronson’s sister Jack, in a house with a swamp cooler. He slept in the living room, where there was a stereo, so he could listen to meditation tapes he had brought. He ate all the Pop-Tarts in the house andtried to get his hostess money for them and never unpacked his computer, saying he was worried about the humidity. With Heather’s help, Monicca’s, a local bakery, hired him. His job was to come in early and prepare the sourdough bread for baking.
— Every Love Story is a Ghost Story, page 112

When Wallace came home the fourth time, it was because he had tried to take himself off of his depression medication (Nardil) cold turkey after trying to come clean through his AA program. Perhaps he might have believed that quitting Nardil would make him an "exceptional" AA member, or perhaps it was out of some profound sentiment. Nardil takes time to get out of the system, and once it was out, he collapsed. His mother drove him home, and his psychiatrist recommended they put him back on Nardil. The Nardil didn't work. At the end of his rope and after one suicide attempt, they tried Convulsive Therapy.

Wallace felt he had no choice but to try it. His sister came andsat with him the day before the treatment. She tried to distract him, but she could see how terrifiedhe was. He had six courses of ECT, and afterward Wallace’s mother remembers that he emerged as delicate as a child. “He would ask, ‘How do you make small talk’ ‘How can you know which frying pan to pick out of the cupboard?’”
— Every Love Story is a Ghost Story, page 117

I found these images striking in the way that they situate him in a light I had never understood him. I still haven't gotten to the Mary Carr sections of the book, and I still haven't settled my thoughts. I wanted to post this, though, so I can look back upon it and see the process of how I viewed him at various places in my life.

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Litmag 2018

Litmag 2018