Oct 3, 2015

David Foster Wallace

As well as drawing your attention to overlooked filmmakers of the past, we also wish to point you in the direction of authors of various other overlooked works (the mediums are very similar in their world building). So without further ado, we’d like to introduce you to an author now gone, by an author still here doing his thing…


[by Nathan T. Dean]


“There are these two young fish swimming along and they
happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way,
who nods at them and says ‘Morning, boys. How’s the
water?’ And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and
then eventually one of them looks over at the other and
goes, ‘What the hell is water?’.”
– David Foster Wallace


When the world was graced with David Foster Wallace, he wrote long things. That was his terminology and not mine, though certainly I imagine many a literature buff has gone “I’m going to try and read that long thing tonight darling.” It certainly is an apt description, in the exact same way David Foster Wallace wouldn’t have approved of the word grace in the first sentence. Early next year ‘The End of the Tour’ will appear in silver-screened glory for us to devour. Directed by James Ponsoldt and written by Donald Margulies, the film will depict the mythologised time when journalist David Lipsky met David Foster Wallace, and they talked about pretty much everything. It is to be released in the UK February 2016, and I know I will probably cry watching that film, lost to David Foster Wallace’s beauties and anguishes.
There is this kind of writing, a form of genre, known as Hysterical Realism. The term to me instils an image of a mad god, having created the universe, squealing in fright and confusion at all the strange patterns and chaotic ephemera that suddenly began happening in their little creation; it’s the image of a creator deity watching the watch they just made no longer just keeping time, but starting cults, social unions, marriage, setting each other on fire, and doing all the other odd little things that watches are just not usually meant to do. It is writers like David Foster Wallace that distil that confusion into literature that depicts a reality, beautiful and terrifying (in the best possible way), due to that confusion. Hysterical Realism is, in itself, not some screaming thing, but rather the antidote to that befuddlement that the universe offers. In his commencement speech, ‘This is Water’ (see below), David Foster Wallace discusses the human, individualistic reaction to that screaming-god complex, that we believe we are important, that we may not be, that self-centred thought is destructive but natural, and in the end we just have to be kind to one another. That horrid realisation that our altruism and our arrogance is in constant war is perhaps the reason why we were not given ‘The Pale King’ in his own hand, but rather in a garage, with an apology note.
‘Infinite Jest’, his previous “long thing” before ‘The Pale King’ (which though long, is unfinished) is seen as one of the greatest novels in the last twenty years, and just reading the odd extract here and there, dipping in and out of the pool that is Wallace, is enough of a proof that this man wrote of reality in a hysterical manner that all must at some point attempt to devour. It is the book that weighs down the bedside table, not just because it is heavy, but because it will tell you things both absurd and wonderful. Eschatological tennis court-sized boardgames come to mind, as an example of what Wallace will let you experience, through his “long thing” (innuendo left aside).
As much as one can try and persuade you to give this man praise through the usual critique – embellishing his writing with terminology such as transrealism, metamodernism, and the kind – the easiest way I can show my praise is an emotional one. David Foster Wallace only wished to show us how vast and complex this world is. In his words “meaningful and sacred”. They are powerful words, words that this little writer has yet to get his head round, words which I often cast aside into the trash-can of my soul, so I can pursue other less-palatable flavours. But my praise is that David Foster Wallace is a writer who can show me those words, without me immediately discarding them. That is water.