Sunday, April 17, 2011

What Life Requires: David Foster Wallace

"Truth is about life before death"
David Foster Wallace has just released a new novel, The Pale King, two and half years after his suicide. Much credit goes to his editor, Michael Pietsch, for piecing it together from formal drafts and abandoned scraps that Wallace left lying around his studio in Claremont, California. I haven't read it, but by all accounts it succeeds in making boredom exciting and extending his pursuit of a meaningful existence in the face of oppressive monotony.

The longer we live without Wallace, the more his absence is felt. He appears as the singular embodiment of the post-boomer generation aesthetic, the voice of quirk, complexity and geek. He resonates like a hybrid of Chandler Bing and Franz Kafka. In 2006, he told Michael Silverblatt:
"I may have a kind of pessimistic view of it, but it seems to me that the situation, the environment which nervous systems receive these communications [novels] is vastly more complicated, difficult, cynical and over-hyped than it used to be..."
Wallace felt acutely that our epoch was far more complex than others. He set out to match it by composing works of Wittgenstein-inspired prose that left his contemporaries tangled in his accordion sentences and infinite subtexts.

“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world” - Wittgenstein
In his short-story collection, Girl With Curious Hair, Wallace illuminates the struggle to transcend the soul-crushing systems that permeate our culture. As he said in his 2005 commencement speech at Kenyon College, "It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive, day in and day out." In the story, "Luckily the Account Representative Knew CPR," it takes a heart attack to blast away the shackles that keep two executives bound to their isolated complacency.
"Bent to what two lives required, below everything, he called for help again and again."
The tragedy is that Wallace couldn't sustain his own consciousness and do what life requires to stay alive. Thankfully, his work achieves that and endures.

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