November 1, 2008

"This is the paradox of Dave: The closer you get, the darker the picture, but the more genuinely lovable he was."

"It was only when you knew him better that you had a true appreciation of what a heroic struggle it was for him not merely to get along in the world, but to produce wonderful writing."

Jonathan Franzen, from a long Rolling Stone article called "The Lost Years & Last Days of David Foster Wallace."
"David began to have anxiety attacks in high school," his father recalls. "I noticed the symptoms, but I was just so unsophisticated about these matters. The depression seemed to take the form of an evil spirit that just haunted David." [His mother] Sally came to call it the "black hole with teeth." David withdrew. "He spent a lot of time throwing up junior year," his sister remembers. One wall of his bedroom was lined with cork, for magazine photos of tennis stars. David pinned an article about Kafka to the wall, with the headline THE DISEASE WAS LIFE ITSELF....

[After he dropped out of college,] Wallace would visit his dad's philosophy classes. "The classes would turn into a dialogue between David and me," his father remembers. "The students would just sit looking around, 'Who is this guy?' " Wallace devoured novels — "pretty much everything I've read was read during that year." He also told his parents how he'd felt at school. "He would talk about just being very sad, and lonely," Sally says. "It didn't have anything to do with being loved. He just was very lonely inside himself."
Here's a passage from a story about how bad he felt on anti-anxiety medication:
You are the sickness yourself.... You realize all this...when you look at the black hole and it's wearing your face. That's when the Bad Thing just absolutely eats you up, or rather when you just eat yourself up. When you kill yourself. All this business about people committing suicide when they're "severely depressed;" we say, "Holy cow, we must do something to stop them from killing themselves!" That's wrong. Because all these people have, you see, by this time already killed themselves, where it really counts.... When they "commit suicide," they're just being orderly.
I liked this description of his living conditions at one point:
Wallace spent a year writing in Syracuse. "I lived in an apartment that was seriously the size of the foyer of an average house. I really liked it. There were so many books, you couldn't move around. When I'd want to write, I'd have to put all the stuff from the desk on the bed, and when I'd want to sleep, I would have to put all the stuff on the desk."

Wallace worked longhand, pages piling up. "You look at the clock and seven hours have passed and your hand is cramped," Wallace said. He'd have pens he considered hot — cheap Bic ballpoints, like batters have bats that are hot. A pen that was hot he called the orgasm pen.
And let me highlight this;
Wallace was always dating somebody. "There were a lot of relationships," Amy says. He dated in his imaginative life too: When I visited him, one wall was taped with a giant Alanis Morissette poster. "The Alanis Morissette obsession followed the Melanie Griffith obsession — a six-year obsession," he said. "It was preceded by something that I will tell you I got teased a lot for, which was a terrible Margaret Thatcher obsession. All through college: posters of Margaret Thatcher, and ruminations on Margaret Thatcher. Having her really enjoy something I said, leaning forward and covering my hand with hers."

He tended to date high-strung women — another symptom of his shyness. "Say what you want about them, psychotics tend to make the first move." Owning dogs was less complicated: "You don't get the feeling you're hurting their feelings all the time."
There's much more at the link, and I won't attempt to summarize it. But if you were wondering why this brilliant man killed himself, you will have your explanation.

5 comments:

Palladian said...

"Here's a passage from a story about how bad he felt on anti-anxiety medication"

Very painful to read all of this as it mirrors my own experiences with anxiety and severe depression. But I'll add that no matter how bad I felt on anti-anxiety medication and anti-depressants, the alternative was worse. Is worse. For as terrible as those medications are, they saved my life.

Lem said...

In a gradually unsubtlizing progression, within a couple more sales-quarters most consumers were now using mask so undeniably better-looking on videophones than their real faces were in person, transmitting to one another such horrendously skewed and enhanced masked images, that enormous psychosocial stress began to result, large numbers of phone-users suddenly reluctant to leave home and interface personally with people who, they feared, were now habituated to seeing their far-better-looking masked selves on the phone and would on seeing them in person suffer (so went the callers phobia) the same illusion-shattering aesthetic disappointment that, e.g., certain women who always wear makeup give people the first time they ever see them without makeup.

From - Infinite Jest

It too bad the extent of his genius will probably not be realized for generations.

Richard Dolan said...

Isn't a kind of voyeurism what gets people to stop and read a story headlined, Depressed Artist Kills Self? Those cliches keep getting in the way of seeing the individual, seeing how he dealt with his particular sickness unto death. It's the drama of a life fully lived, within the confines created by a condition he could do nothing about, that holds our attention. The paradox may have turned on darker/lovable, but that's not what anyone is likely to take away from this portrait.

Darcy said...

Wow. Thanks for this. How very sad.

I'm so glad the medication helped you, Palladian.

I was prescribed these kinds of medications after I lost both of my parents within a very short time, among other things. I found them very effective, but only for a short time. I think I have since been convinced that it was that I only needed them for a short time, but this story does make me wonder.

Still, I can't be anything but grateful for what these medications helped me through.

somefeller said...


You said that irony was the shackles of youth.


Sad story.