starlady: A typewriter.  (tool of the trade)
David Foster Wallace took his own life a little more than a year ago, in November 2008. Quite aside from the private tragedy of every suicide, Wallace's death was a great blow to American letters (NB: I'm using this phrase more or less self-consciously, meaning "literary fiction, its adherents, acolytes and apologists," amongst whose numbers I sometimes count myself), as reading one his books of collected essays, Consider the Lobster, makes heart-breakingly clear. Though probably the best-known fact about Wallace's magnum opus Infinite Jest is that it's more than 1500 pages long, the pretension of which elicited a certain amount of derisory mocking after hours in my high school English classroom, Consider the Lobster reveals on nearly every page that Wallace was in fact the exact opposite of pretentious--he was a deeply ethical, deeply engaged humanist in the fullest sense of the term, whose desire for an American letters that is unafraid to wrestle with the big questions of life is made clear in several pieces, and which stands out in incandescent contrast to the lazy, small-minded self-absorption of supposedly 'great writers' like John Updike (whose Toward the End of Time Wallace skewers mercilessly and accurately in this book).

Given Wallace's eventual fate, it's admittedly slightly chilling to come across, in some of the essays, interpolative passages on suicide: the propensity of suicides to happen in hotels in "Up, Simba," the propensity of porn stars to suicide in "Big Red Son." I'm sure these were cut for publication (just as the paragraph talking about suicide was cut from the book form of the commencement speech Wallace delivered in spring 2008), but hindsight is perfect, and perfectly sad. Ave atque vale, DFW.

Up, Simba, or some observations on contemporary political campaigns )

No, really, think about the lobster for a moment )

American literature and its need to grow up )

Postscript: Dear Little, Brown & Company: Philadelphia's 180-year old major news daily is the Philadelphia Inquirer, not the Philadelphia Enquirer. Fire your copy editor.

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