Off Topic: R.I.P. David Foster Wallace

by Ostatic Staff - Sep. 13, 2008

It was with great sadness that I just read that writer David Foster Wallace is dead at age 46, apparently having hanged himself.  From bloggers like the ones who keep OStatic fresh every day, to journalists at magazines and newspapers where I've worked, I've often told fellow writers to read David's stuff. I loved his 1996 book Infinite Jest, a 1,000-page, Ulysses-like, uber-tome that I learned to read in the same way it was composed--non-linearly--where you can enjoy Wallace's mastery of the language by flipping it open and reading any passage. Experiencing it is more like listening to great music than anything else.

In my opinion, David was the most talented young writer around, in a world where people don't read books, short stories and essays so much anymore, favoring blogs and other shorter-burst online vehicles. Every magazine left that preserves fiction talent published his writing, including Esquire and The New Yorker. David was also a teacher of creative writing. Infinite Jest appears on Time Magazine's list of "100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005."

David was perhaps the greatest living master of Nabokov-style wordplay, and was wickedly funny--especially when it came to black humor and sly humor. I laughed out loud at his famous essay "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again." It's a diatribe against cruise ships where David can be found using his tennis shoes to precisely measure his justification for how much he loathes the size of his cabin. Ten shoes by twelve shoes just doesn't cut it.

Many of the bloggers and writers I've worked with shared my affinity for David's work. He once wanted to be a professional tennis player, but couldn't make it. An essay he wrote for Esquire, where he followed the 109th best tennis player on the ATP rankings around for weeks, is one of the best magazine articles I've ever read. It chronicled the guy's frustrations so meticulously that Esquire published footnotes delivered in micro-fonts, and, even though it was filled with compassion, it was also  take-your-breath-away hilarious.

In an eerie piece of evidence of David's unusual powers of observation, I noticed this post providing the following quote from a university lecture he gave:

"Think of the old cliché about the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master. This, like many clichés, so lame and unexciting on the surface, actually expresses a great and terrible truth. It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with firearms almost always shoot themselves in: the head. They shoot the terrible master."

Rest in peace, David. This shouldn't have happened.