Sunday, September 14, 2008

So It Goes... R.I.P. DFW

"My vocabulary fails me, it's a sesquipedalian thing..." -- Jim's Big Ego

As I mentioned in my post about his death, I anticipated Vonnegut's end for quite some time. David Foster Wallace's suicide, not so much. I am not sure how to respond. He always presented slightly Not Right[1], but given his capacity for self-articulation and the borderline narcissism[2], his fully examined life (with apologies) seemed Worth Living.

Marisa introduced me to his fiction (for which I am thankful) but it was always his non-fiction that energized me the most. I remember with amusement and humility how appalled I was reading "Supposedly" on my way up to NYC for NYE to see Phish at MSG back in 1997. As someone who has the occasional propensity to succumb to sesquipedalian onanism[3], I found his profligate use of uncommon words clear evidence of Communicative Insouciance. I circle words I do not know when I read something and look them up when I have the opportunity. By the time I arrived at Penn Station, I had 30 or so words to investigate. As word after word revealed itself to be not le mot opaque but le mot juste, I began to realize that the fault was mine. Yes, proponents of effective communication would be appalled, but that does not mean he was wrong to marshall the full capacity of human expression; there was nuance to his writing.

Perhaps the greatest example of his ability to render interesting what he found interesting was the fascinating 100 page review of a dictionary found in "Lobster". If you think I am kidding, I am not. That was one of the most enjoyable essays I have read in years. Also of note in this volume is his detailed experiences following McCain's 2000 campaign as a passenger on the Straight Talk express.

I found it fascinating (not morbid or shameful) that one of my first reactions to the news today was to wonder about what a DFW suicide note would look like. I don't know if he left one, but I would sure like to read it. I imagine perhaps a highly-footnoted and impassive dissection of how he had come to his conclusion.

I will miss your work, DFW.

Kind thoughts to your friends and family.

1. Equal parts agoraphobia, an obsessive propensity for deliberate and detailed footnotial annotations and a hint of sadness at the loosening grip Man had on the full articulative [sic] nature of his language.

2. I do not mean to suggest for a moment that DFW was an actual narcissist, but it would be understandable for an outside observer to come to that conclusion given the attention he paid to his own life and experiences [cf. A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, Consider the Lobster, etc. ]. The Myth of Νάρκισσος has many variants through the ages including Ovid, Pausanias, Oscar Wilde, Bob Dylan and Genesis (the band, not the first chapter of the Pentateuch). The common interpretation is a morality tale against self love, but several versions reject this notion as an implausible and unspectacular literary device. Instead, authors such as Pausanias prefer the idea that he had a twin sister whom he loved. When she died, he pretended that the reflection in that water was her given the similitude of their appearance. Still, DFW qua Narcissus was apparently indifferent to the affections and affectations of Contemporary Echoes. I believe he saw in his own (self) reflection an opportunity to focus his profound attention productively, nothing more. Proximate narcissism, perhaps, but not the Real Deal. [a]

3. It was recently advised that I excoriate the phrase "interstitial flux" from a report about the applicability of semantic technologies to a customer in the scientific publishing industry.

a. DFW the Professor would be disappointed if I didn't cite my source even if he might disapprove of its authoritative credentials. 


Blogger Glen Daniels said...

Nicely done, sir. Fitting.

2:18 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home