Infinite Jest

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Writer, David Foster Wallace, committed suicide yesterday.

I think it was 2004, when I received a hardbound edition of Wallace’s collection of short stories, “Oblivion”, as a Christmas gift.[1] It took me a while to penetrate the collection, but like a good, pure narcotic, I was unable to stop once I indulged myself. I was hooked on David Foster Wallace. This time coincided with the peak of my own self destructive behavior, and David Foster Wallace’s work was one of the more benign habit forming substances I enjoyed during my undergraduate years. Those days are long gone, and I haven’t read his work in quite some time, one of those things I left in South Oakland over three years ago.

Shortly after my holiday introduction to David Foster Wallace, I was assigned “The Girl with Curious Hair”, another of his short story collections in one of my Fiction Readings classes at Pitt. I recommend it; the story, Little Expressionless Animals, naturally, depicts the day-to-day of Alex Trebek and Pat Sajak, among other things.

Post-Modernism is kind of like licorice; not everyone likes licorice, but people who like licorice really like licorice. [2] Reading DFW led me to experiment with the application of a, somewhat stylistically forced, po-mo frame work to a large portion of my undergraduate writing. As a writer, I’ve never been a huge fan of the traditional story arc, party due to my inability to master a straight forward, start to finish short story and partly because that’s what everyone else was doing and I felt a need to do something different and more grandiose, I failed often. The way I think doesn’t lend itself well with traditional story telling. I have a hard time lining up all my Ducks in a row. David Foster Wallace introduced me to post-modernism, and while many consider the genre to be self aggrandizing and condescending, (they [whomever they are] may be right in some instances or maybe they are jealous, or don’t get it. I may not “get it” entirely) but by reading his work I’ve been exposed to previously unknown (to myself) ideas of what is acceptable and possible in terms of structure, content and style. I may never title the chapters in one of my stories with line drawings, but elements of post modernism leak into much of my fiction writing.

The literary world has suffered a tragic loss which pales in comparison to the loss of David Foster Wallace’s family.

I will revisit his work with a clear head; that’s the best thing I can do to honor the memory of an author who has shaped the way I approach writing more than any other.


[1] I’ve always had a fondness for hardcover books, they look wonderful on the shelf, and through my pillaging of discount and used book stores I have accumulated almost an entire shelf of hardcovers which, I contend, give me the appearance of a serious reader, and literary type.

[2] This is a saying I saw on a T-shirt of a girl I was friends with in high school and related to LSD.

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