D.T. Max has a totally stunning piece in The New Yorker: The Unfinished - David Foster Wallace's struggle to surpass Infinite Jest. I've now read it twice once online and once in print (Anna brought the issue home for me). It told me an awful lot about Wallace's life that I hadn't known and, perforce, explained a lot about how he performed some of the magic he did:
Wallace was trying to write differently, but the path was not evident to him. "I think he didnt want to do the old tricks people expected of him," Karen Green, his wife, says. "But he had no idea what the new tricks would be." The problem went beyond technique. The central issue for Wallace remained, as he told McCaffery, how to give CPR to those elements of what's human and magical that still live and glow despite the times darkness." He added, "Really good fiction could have as dark a worldview as it wished, but it'd find a way both to depict this world and to illuminate the possibilities for being alive and human in it."
And a few days ago, Rolling Stone finally put the full text online of what's if anything an even more stunning piece: The Lost Years & Last Days of David Foster Wallace:
He published a thousand-page novel, received the only award you get in the nation for being a genius, wrote essays providing the best feel anywhere of what it means to be alive in the contemporary world, accepted a special chair at California's Pomona College to teach writing, married, published another book and, last month, hanged himself at age 46.
"The one thing that really should be said about David Foster Wallace is that this was a once-in-a-century talent," says his friend and former editor Colin Harrison. "We may never see a guy like this again in our lifetimes that I will shout out. He was like a comet flying by at ground level."
And, most stunningly of all, I have learned that his unfinished, mammoth, magisterial last novel which he started doing research on after Infinite Jest came out in 1996, and which he had been trying to write since 2000, and which is called The Pale King is going to be shuffled into some kind of shape and published in 2010.
I took the occasion of his death last year to read Infinite Jest for the third time. It was better than ever. Much better. But it may not be his best work. It may not be my favourite novel of all time, starting next year.
I feel I should close on some note other than excitement about the new novel. But nothing's coming. All I can think is that I wish I could have talked to him some time many of his laments about struggling with life in the world sound so familiar. But my idea that I could somehow have helped him is rather like how his goal had been to show readers how to live a fulfilled, meaningful life. "Fiction's about what it is to be a fucking human being," he once said. Good writing should help readers to "become less alone inside." But, of course, the poor man had no idea how to live. Other people's problems are easy to solve.
Almost forgot on a lighter note: NASCAR Cancels Remainder Of Season Following David Foster Wallace's Death:
Shock, grief, and the overwhelming sense of loss that has swept the stock car racing community following the death by apparent suicide of writer David Foster Wallace has moved NASCAR to cancel the remainder of its 2008 season.
"All race long on Sunday, I was dealing with the unreality presented me by his absence," said #16 3M Ford Fusion driver Greg Biffle, who won Sunday's Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, the first race in the Chase For The Cup, and would therefore have had the lead in the championship. "I first read Infinite Jest in 1998 when my gas-can man gave me a copy when I was a rookie in the Craftsman Truck Series, and I was immediately struck dumb by the combination of effortlessness and earnestness of his prose. Here was a writer who loved great, sprawling, brilliantly punctuated sentences that spread in a kind of textual kudzu across the page, yet in every phrase you got a sense of his yearning to relate and convey the importance of every least little thing. It's no exaggeration to say that when I won Rookie of the Year that season it was David Foster Wallace who helped me keep that achievement, and therefore my life, in perspective."
"And now he's gone. We can't possibly race now."