Monday, March 02, 2009

Never no never no more

There's an unbearably sad piece on David Foster Wallace in this week's New Yorker. Have you ever had that feeling, not just that you wish something hadn't happened, but that, all evidence to the contrary, there's just no way it can actually have taken place? That it simply is not compatible with our universe? And that if you wish really, really hard, you might be able to make it not have happened by sheer force of will? Yup, that's how his death makes me feel.

Obviously, this isn't rational; the only reason I think it "shouldn't" have happened is that I'm laboring semi-consciously under the delusion that we live in a world that operates along the lines of a Hollywood movie, where depressed artists get over their depression via a heroic effort of will and the help of a good woman, and go on to glorious artistic achievement. Yeah, good luck with that.

(Actually, that's not the only reason; the other reason is that I'm a selfish jerk who finds it so depressing in large part because now I'll never be able to read any more of his great long essays or the completed Pale King. Full disclosure, but I suppose it kind of went without saying.)

According to the article, he knew the dangers of going off his antidepressants, but staying on them was proving untenable for his physical health, he felt it was stunting his artistic growth, and he imagined that he would be able to push through the pain after the manner of DW Gately in Infinite Jest. That he was unable to do this tacks a sad coda onto IJ's ambiguous ending.


Blogger :-| pontificated to the effect that...

Yes, very sad. For his wife.

I was a couple of pages into 'Infinite Jest' a few years back when I realized he was quite mad so I pressed on until I reached around 300 pages and I quit, finding it unreadable in spite of all the hoopla. I couldn't stand it anymore. Sorry, maybe I'll finish it after the next Pynchon novel comes out. And maybe not.
So I guess he will leave behind a brace of Wallace scholars who will try to figure out the mental illness angle in post-postmodern literature. Nothing new in that.

I will not say I told you so because that would be cruel and insensitive to the multitudes that adore his writing but I knew there was something not right about him and his suicide confirms it. You don't have to be crazy to be an artist but I guess in his case it helped but on the other hand being misunderstood doesn't make one an artist either. Substance is everything I guess as his book sales show. Does that make him an artist? A voice of mental illness, of crushing depression so severe that he would steal his life away from his family? I dunno. All I can say is: The selfish bastard.

10:37 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. pontificated to the effect that...

Yeah, there was something wrong with him. He was fighting crippling depression for years. I have no idea what point that's supposed to prove, and I will NEVER understand what impulse leads some people to piously accuse suicides of being "selfish," as if clinical depression were something you could just walk off. Some people survive it, some people don't, but you might just as well get moralistic about cancer patients. In either case, it's kind of a dickish thing to do.

Also, I would note that while you are quite free to hate the man's work like I hate Delillo's, but if "he was quite mad" was all you could get out of IJ, I kinda think you weren't reading very carefully.

12:07 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. pontificated to the effect that...

And incidentally, I would highly recommend the New Yorker article in question. It's very good, and it might imbue you with a little empathy.

12:40 AM  
Blogger :-| pontificated to the effect that... now Gx, I never implied or meant to imply piously or otherwise that clinical depression is something one could walk off like a fucking sprained ankle or having stage 4 lung cancer was somehow the smoker's fault and they should be ridiculed. No, by 'selfish bastard' I imply he robbed everybody that loved him of his presence and influence, depressed or not for fuck's sake, it doesn't HAVE to be terminal and if it interferes with your art, so the fuck what, go hit the beach or find another line of work but kill yourself? The demons DFW lived with indeed consumed him. I read The New Yorker article and stuff elsewhere and there was nothing new there. Like him or not, he was a brilliant and somewhat flawed writer but I personally wasn't that into him and I may be a lot of things, but dickish aint one of em. Assholiness maybe but not dickish.

I've caught flack for several years now from IJ seminarians for my opinion of DFW's work to which I say whatever...

10:37 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. pontificated to the effect that...

Okay, but what I'm trying to say is that clinical depression is an organic thing that is caused by chemical imbalances in your brain. You can't just get over it by sheer force of will. "Hit the beach or find another line of work" is very glib and not at all helpful. It doesn't work that way. Some people do manage to recover, and good for them, but we don't have any idea what he was going through. I've never been clinically depressed; for all I know maybe you have, but you have no way of knowing how it stacked up to the depression of Wallace or anyone else who's suicided out. We just have no right set ourselves up as judges like that.

11:10 PM  
Blogger :-| pontificated to the effect that...

glib? come on mane, we all know when that black dog wanders in. Been on both sides of the tile myself. I'm shuttered like a cheap hotel an the little motherfucker creeps up and wants some kinda downpayment to go away. Fuck that this aint Kansas anymore but you're right. There's no room for judgmental dithering without the experience to go with it and you have a good point but Grandma Moses wasn't all that great a painter either and I can say so if I want to. Agreeing is an option.

Suicide Grade Depression is no doubt an issue for the educators at all levels and I can assure you that my dog just farted and I'm still in the 7th grade.

2:16 AM  

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