Not said in jest

That’s a photo of David Foster Wallace shot by Steve Rhodes. I can’t find the review of Infinite Jest that I wrote for Wired Magazine’s web site Hotwired, and I haven’t read Wallace (or much fiction, other than my unfinished but in-progress marathon read of Pynchon’s Against the Day, but I’m affected by his suicide, by the sense that that amazing aggregation of words and ideas and hot synapses could suddenly be still, just like that, and we’ll hear nothing more from him. Authors are smart and sensitive and vulnerable. The best think about everything and try to find, and tell, the truth. I wanted to be one of those but didn’t follow the discipline, and I clearly wasn’t prepared to suffer for my art, and it hadn’t sunk in that the suffering is there anyway, a condition of life. That’s not meant to be fatalistic, but I’m acknowledging the Buddhist sense of suffering as attachment. I’m not a great Buddhist, but I practice enough to have a sense of that attachment, what it means, why the Buddha connected attachment to suffering in expressing his Noble Truths. The attachment is as much as anything a grasping at words and ideas and concepts and supposed-but-not-really truths, all churning forth from some emptiness within. I can imagine any author, surfing the terrible waves of consciousness and trying to hold a vertical position against the forces of the universe, frustrated by grasping, unable to go with the flow, and ultimately considering that death might bring peace. That’s a terrible tragedy.

My editor at Hotwired wondered that I hadn’t mentioned the tennis in the book. The thousand plus pages has threads about tennis and about drug rehab. I recall that I as more interested in addiction than tennis at the time, but I suppose they could be the same thing (and related to the titular samizdat). I was sinking into the long lucid passages and losing their connection to the whole sometimes.

I knew I needed to go back and read it again with no rush against deadline, and I wanted to read Wallace’s other works. One of those things you put off. The books are still there to read, but I’ll never have a conversation with Wallace… it’s like finding out that Bill Hicks died after saying for so long that I’ll have to catch him sometime.

Speaking of comedy, Frank Bruni wrote of Wallace, in the New York Times Magazine in 1996, “Wallace is to literature what Robin Williams or perhaps Jim Carrey is to live comedy: a creator so maniacally energetic and amused with himself that he often follows his riffs out into the stratosphere, where he orbits all alone.”

In 2005, he gave a commencement address at Kenyon Collegein Ohio, saying that it “is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive, instead of getting hypnotized by the constant monologue inside your own head.” He went on to say that “learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.”

Author: Jon Lebkowsky

Co-wrangler of Plutopia News Network, cohost Radio Free Plutopia. Podcaster, writer, dharma observer, enzyme. Former editor/publisher, FringeWare Review; associate editor at bOING bOING and Factsheet Five; writer at Mondo 2000, 21C, Wired, Whole Earth Review, Austin Chronicle; sub-editor at Millennium Whole Earth Catalog; blogger at Worldchanging. Digital culture maven, podcaster, writer, dharma observer, enzyme. On The WELL, Cohost of VC (virtual communities), Media, and Civil War (.ind) conferences.