Books Laura Miller on David Foster Wallace
posted by September 15 at 11:38 AMon
He talked about how difficult it was to be a novelist in a world seething with advertisements and entertainment and knee-jerk knowingness and facile irony. He wrote about the maddening impossibility of scrutinizing yourself without also scrutinizing yourself scrutinizing yourself and so on, ad infinitum, a vertiginous spiral of narcissism—because not even the most merciless self-examination can ignore the probability that you are simultaneously congratulating yourself for your soul-searching, that you are posing. He tried so hard to be sincere and to attend to the world around him because he was excruciatingly aware of how often we are merely “sincere” and “attentive” and all too willing to leave it at that. He spoke of the discipline and of the abrading, daily labor such efforts require because the one imperative that runs throughout all of his work is the intimate connection between humility and wisdom.
Like a lot of us at The Stranger, I found out in the aged grandeur of the Moore’s lobby, at the Genius Awards party on Saturday night, when someone handed me an iPhone with a news story on it. It seemed impossible that the pixels on the screen were actually shaped into these letters, spelling out this news. David Foster Wallace? Hanged? Wife found him? Wha—? There were things to celebrate on Saturday, but gravity had just shifted, the lights had just flickered, and it was with a lot of stomach sadness that we went on celebrating.
Here is Laura Miller talking about stomach sadness with DFW in 1996, right after Infinite Jest was published. (The whole interview is fascinating—click on the link at the bottom of that first page to keep going.) And here is DFW’s most recent—generous, intrepid, unlikely—short story for The New Yorker. (Representative sentence: “The appointment was for afternoon, but when the doorbell had rung so early and his mother’d called to him up the stairs, he had known, and a terrible kind of blankness had commenced falling through him.”)