I can’t think of a writer who has consumed more of my friends’ time—-debating on the phone, lamenting/praising/giggling over those footnotes, completely digging his essays, wishing we had written those essays, getting lost in his short stories and novels—-than David Foster Wallace.
News came that he apparently hanged himself on Friday night. This should be bigger news. I flicked on the cable and it’s still news reporters hip high in hurricane water, Palin lies, and a WETA pledge drive.
I called the friend who not only finished Infinite Jest but I believe sometimes re-reads parts of it. He already knew. Three other friends had called.
I then dialed Utah to the literary pal in grad school, the one working on filling libraries with detailed stories about Altoona and heavy metal churches. He didn’t know.
He said something like that.
“I can’t believe it.”
There just isn’t a lot to say at the moment.
“If you, the writer, succumb to the idea that the audience is too stupid, then there are two pitfalls. Number one is the avant-garde pitfall, where you have the idea that you’re writing for other writers, so you don’t worry about making yourself accessible or relevant. You worry about making it structurally and technically cutting edge: involuted in the right ways, making the appropriate intertextual references, making it look smart. Not really caring about whether you’re communicating with a reader who cares something about that feeling in the stomach which is why we read. Then, the other end of it is very crass, cynical, commercial pieces of fiction that are done in a formulaic way — essentially television on the page — that manipulate the reader, that set out grotesquely simplified stuff in a childishly riveting way.
What’s weird is that I see these two sides fight with each other and really they both come out of the same thing, which is a contempt for the reader, an idea that literature’s current marginalization is the reader’s fault. The project that’s worth trying is to do stuff that has some of the richness and challenge and emotional and intellectual difficulty of avant-garde literary stuff, stuff that makes the reader confront things rather than ignore them, but to do that in such a way that it’s also pleasurable to read. The reader feels like someone is talking to him rather than striking a number of poses.
Part of it has to do with living in an era when there’s so much entertainment available, genuine entertainment, and figuring out how fiction is going to stake out its territory in that sort of era. You can try to confront what it is that makes fiction magical in a way that other kinds of art and entertainment aren’t. And to figure out how fiction can engage a reader, much of whose sensibility has been formed by pop culture, without simply becoming more shit in the pop culture machine. It’s unbelievably difficult and confusing and scary, but it’s neat. There’s so much mass commercial entertainment that’s so good and so slick, this is something that I don’t think any other generation has confronted. That’s what it’s like to be a writer now. I think it’s the best time to be alive ever and it’s probably the best time to be a writer. I’m not sure it’s the easiest time.”