Awful, awful news. My sincerest condolences to those who loved him. (God, his poor wife... )
It's hard to know how to even begin to express how important David Foster Wallace was to my artistic development, and how much joy his writing has brought me.
I came to DFW's work via Infinite Jest, right when it came out in 1996. I basically devoured the damn thing -- I've never read a book so quickly or avidly in my life. And when I was finished, I read it again immediately, all 1079 pages. Officially obsessed, I began voraciously consuming his interviews, short stories ("Lyndon" is probably my favorite short story of all time), essays, his flawed but fascinating first novel... I joined the David Foster Wallace listserv, and had a few real-life encounters with people in that virtual community, back when that sort of thing was still a novelty. I became a kind of evangelist for Infinite Jest, basically forcing the book on the people I was close to, with surprisingly decent results. (Pretty much everyone I know who started it ended up loving it.) And, of course, I eventually ended up writing a tune inspired by one of Infinite Jest's infamous endnotes -- and, more generally, by DFW's brilliantly discursive style.
I thought it was interesting that David Foster Wallace's name came up again in this summer's complexity wars. As I alluded to at the time, reading DFW caused a radical shift in my thinking about art. His writing was vivid, undeniable proof that you could be simultaneously erudite and accessible, experimental and addictively entertaining, structurally complex and heartrendingly sincere, high-minded and embracing of pop culture, and seriously fucking funny. His best work (Infinite Jest, the stories in Girl With Curious Hair, the longform essays) remains an inspiration and a constant reminder of the ways in which I need to shape up my game.
I saw David Foster Wallace read at the Strand back in January 2006. He is someone who has written about depression with acute insight, from a place of obsessive familiarity -- his story "The Depressed Person" is brutal and unflinching -- but from all surface appearances, he seemed long past that dark period. He was at ease in front of the packed house, thoroughly charming and engaging. He did not seem at all the tortured, self-destructive, inward-looking type. He was married, well-established, from all reports he loved his teaching gig, he was sought-after by magazines and publishers, worshipped by younger writers... I never would have expected this from him.
I still can't quite grasp that his voice is gone. For years, I've been hoping for a third David Foster Wallace novel. I guess I'll give Infinite Jest another go-round instead. For a book that is so wickedly funny and entertaining, it's also ultimately very sad, with an ending left deliberately, almost cruelly unresolved.UPDATE: I remember being really knocked out by Laura Miller's interview with DFW in Salon back when it was first published. It's still my favorite interview with him. She has written a beautiful tribute:
He talked about how difficult it was to be a novelist in a world seething with advertisements and entertainment and knee-jerk knowingness and facile irony. He wrote about the maddening impossibility of scrutinizing yourself without also scrutinizing yourself scrutinizing yourself and so on, ad infinitum, a vertiginous spiral of narcissism -- because not even the most merciless self- examination can ignore the probability that you are simultaneously congratulating yourself for your soul-searching, that you are posing. He tried so hard to be sincere and to attend to the world around him because he was excruciatingly aware of how often we are merely "sincere" and "attentive" and all too willing to leave it at that. He spoke of the discipline and of the abrading, daily labor such efforts require because the one imperative that runs throughout all of his work is the intimate connection between humility and wisdom.Read the whole thing.