Re-introduction via DFW…Morbid, I know…
I realized this weekend that I really haven’t developed an area of expertise (pretend or valid) for this site. And I think I want to. Ironically (in the contemporary usage) I think there would much less pressure on me to create good posts if I painted myself into a niche. Being set to the task of writing about anything I could possibly want is too overwhelming for me. I guess that’s why I started the 23 question column thing (yes, I owe you an update vis-a-vis [i have no idea if I'm using that correctly] 23 Reasons to Love RustedJesus). It’s allowed me to focus my writing and my humor (or lack thereof). So, on the morrow of David Foster Wallace’s untimely and tragic death, I am re-introducing myself as a literature guru. The great thing about positing myself as a literature guru is that I can still basically
bullshit talk about anything I want. So essentially I’ve accomplished nothing of significance, just thrown some words around and appointed myself an expert of literature/everything.
Yesterday, David Foster Wallace was found dead in his home by his wife. He had apparently hung himself. This is crazy. For several reasons. I’m currently reading DFW’s collection of essays, A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again. I went to a reading last Thursday in which DFW was mentioned several times. I was planning on doing this re-introduction post in regards to DFW, I just didn’t think I’d be talking about him postmortem. That’s all kind of fucked up right? I think so. But his death via suicide (and the fact that it was suicide is important) made me realize a few things about writers, and really, celebrities and public figures in general. It made me realize that no matter how hard I might try or believe, I do not know these people AT ALL.
This happens to me to with my favorite writers. DFW has very quickly become one of my favorites. A friend of mine introduced me to him after we had conversed about what John McEnroe has since labeled, “the greatest tennis match of all time.” The match was between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal at this year’s Wimbeldon final. I watched a lot of the match, and now, in retrospect, I wish I had watched the whole thing. But I guess that’s what happens when you are retrospectively told by one of the most colorful tennis players of all time that you have just witnessed “the greatest match of all time.” And to be honest, when the match was over, I did think it was a phenomenal match, but I didn’t think it was “the greatest of all time” until McEnroe told me it was “the greatest of all time.” And while this may speak to my apparent inability to make such categorical statements myself, or to how easily I am influenced by supposed experts, I do believe McEnroe now, not because he told me, but because I watched the match again, with skepticism, and still nearly teared up with McEnroe during his post-match interviews.
ANYWAY, after discussing the match and truly awesome experience of witnessing sports history, my friend pointed me to DFWs recent article in The NYTimes about Roger Federer as a religious experience (it was published in 2006, though it probably should have (re)published after Wimbledon this year). I was floored by the
article essay. I sent it to my dad, who never reads anything out of the Times, and my brother, who would if he wasn’t so busy fixing bunions (he’s a foot doctor). They also were floored by it. My friend then gave me DFW’s A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again. It’s an incredible collection: humorous, insightful, extremely intelligent. There are essays in ASFTINDA that can be a little difficult to get through, mostly because they are rather epistemological and exhibit the sort of diction and syntax that one would expect from such essays. However, I found them quite fascinating and extremely intelligent (which basically means I had to use a dictionary and wikipedia quite often; but unlike some, I don’t find this a turn off, I find the activity of learning quite enjoyable and distracting, especially from more important things like wondering why certain women won’t call me back). After reading several essays of DFW’s, I remarked to my friend, “He’s the type of writer I wish I was. I wish I could write exactly like him.” My friend agreed and went on an extremely long monologue about his experiences reading DFW and meeting him at a book signing, most of which I don’t recall because I was day dreaming about playing tennis with DFW and chewing the fat about the trivial things of life that utterly perplex us to the point that they are no longer trivialities, but rather extremely important existential clues as to the meanings of our lives.
Stop-Time by Frank Conroy made David Foster Wallace want to be a writer and ASFTINDA by DFW makes me want to be a writer. I am certain that I’d like Stop-Time as well. But that is the absurdity of pretending to know someone. You believe with every bone in your body that you would be best friends and like the same exact things. But the reality of that misconception is that I don’t like the same things as my best friends (which is probably why they are my best friends). If DFW and I liked the exact same things and I tried to explain this to him, he would most certainly excuse himself from the conversation and notify the nearest policeman of my unsettling, creepy behavior.
This is also the absurdity of celebrity crushes. I am absolutely convinced that Megan Fox and I would make the perfect couple. This is incredibly creepy and would predetermine the relationship to failure. In reality, I usually end up dating someone I initially had no interest in whatsoever. Meaning, Britney Spears and I are doomed to marry. Another aspect of this I find myself obsessively contemplating is that I think it is entirely within the realm of possibility and completely inevitable that I will marry someone as beautiful as the women I see on TV, in movies, and in magazines. And I’m completely aware of how absurd this is, and yet I continually find myself negotiating how to accomplish such a task.
As a graduate student in English Literature at a major university in the southern United States, I am confronted nearly everyday with people who think they know the authors they are familiar with. I am guilty of this same indulgence. This is not something limited to aspiring experts in a particular academic field. People do the same for their favorite musicians, actors, sports figures, politicians, etc. We study and absorb all available information in regards to their work, accomplishments, habits, and public and private lives. We incorporate this information into our psyche and develop penchants for them and whatever it is they produce. We believe we form a connection with them. We start to believe that we know them. For me, this happens with certain types of writers. Those who we (I) label as introspective and humorously self-deprecating. (Humor writers in general fall into this category because the nature of humor requires a certain personal connection with the audience). DFW is one such writer, as is Chuck Klosterman (Chuck, if you read this, ha!, don’t kill yourself, a lot of people you’ll never meet like you and will be extremely disappointed. I know this may seem like a lot of unneeded pressure, but trust me, the only expectations we have of you is for you not kill yourself. That’s meant to cheer you up). Their writing requires an extremely personal voice, so much so that when reading we feel the writers are talking directly to us and only us. This creates the illusion of exclusion and thus kinship. So once this essentially one-sided relationship is formed, we become ridiculously interested in every move of this public figure. We anticipate their future works, we look for opportunities to “get to know” them better. All of this builds into a sort of virtual relationship that can never realistically live up to its expectations. These figures we have invested so much in, inevitably disappoint us. They stop releasing new work, they get arrested, they die, they commit suicide.
Since yesterday, I have witnessed the same general reaction to DFW’s death. It is one of disbelief and disappointment. Such remarks as, “I can’t believe it,” “Why would he kill himself?” “I didn’t know something was wrong.” As I heard more and more of these remarks and saw more and more of people who seemed to be personally devastated as if a very good friend, if not their best friend, had committed suicide, it struck me how absurd we all are. I’m not saying it’s absurd to feel sympathy or even sorrow for someone you admire who has decided to take their own life. I’m saying, it’s somewhat absurd for us to personally believe that this person has disappointed us in some way or to think that they have betrayed us in some way by not revealing their hurt. It dawned on me that it is absurd to believe that we know these people. We may know their work and their performances, but we certainly do not know who they are.
That being said, I am saddened by DFW’s death. The fact that he decided to take his own life seems to emphasize to me exactly how distant I actually am from the writers I admire. I’m sad that he will not be producing any more work for me to enjoy. I am sad for and sympathize with those who did know him (such as his wife and parents) have lost someone they loved. And for them I can pay my respects.