Monday, September 15, 2008

David Foster Wallace

I know there are many people blogging about David Foster Wallace and that it will happen for a long time. Here is an excellent remembrance from NPR.
I wasn't the hugest fan of his fiction, though I liked much of it. But I love his non-fiction, especially "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again."
Here's a link to one of his stories from The New Yorker. And a link to his essay on Roger Federer from the New York Times.
But my overwhelming response, besides sadness for another human being and writer, is a question.
Is it possible to be a successful writer, a wildly productive one, and still be a happy, normal (not just seemingly normal) person?
Unfortunately, the longer I live the more the answer seems to be no. And not just no, but NO!

10 comments:

lis said...

I hate that there is this link between writing and depression/ suicide. It's stupid and self-indulgent (as, I think, is suicide). I have never tried to be a succesful or productive writer, so perhaps I do not know what I am talking about, but. . .

Perhaps the question here is do we expect too much of writing? What do we assume about writing in its craft and its potential impact that we do not assume about, say, housepainting? Even though that is an extreme example, I am not asking this question flippantly. Do we expect too much of writing as an "art" that we render its avid practitioners eventually impotent?

I was obsessed with this idea as an undegrad, but have not explored it much sense. I will look forward to what other folks have to say.

Dr. Write said...

I guess the longer I'm around the less I see suicide as self-indulgent and the more I see it as an act of utter despair. How far down does a person have to be to think suicide is the only answer? I've never been that far down and I hope I never am. I guess the suicide that really brought that home was Elliot Smith. You have to really want to be dead to stab yourself. That's despair (in my opinion).
I guess I ask the question because I am always asking myself, why am I not more productive? I think I lack the intense focus that many productive writers have. I know this focus is not always lethal. But sometimes it seems incompatible with happiness.

Lisa B. said...

I agree with you, Dr. W., about the despair. I don't like the link, either, between writing and depression--and yet there's actual evidence that certain artists, poets among them, have a higher rate of depression and its attendant ills.

I'm not saying the relationship is absolute; I'm saying that it's there.

I hope that there are some good examples of brilliant writers who seem to be functional human beings. I think there are. I read a wonderful comment on the WPA list about DFW, which talked about the influence he had had upon his students because of his respectful and careful attention to their writing. Apparently, he was a pretty good guy, according to his students and colleagues. I just feel so sad about this.

lis said...

I agree that suicide is an act of utter despair, but there is a bit of selfishness in that response to the despair. I keep thinking about his wife, coming home, finding him there. Of course he knew that she would find him there. That seems selfish to me. (And I say this as someone who has had moments of pretty severe despair).

I just wonder if there is a link between art and depression (and whatever follows) because we perpetuate the myth? I don't know, but I think it's unfortuate if we say that the only way to productively write or create art is to embrace depression, mental illness, etc.

lis said...

And I should say that my comments aren't meant to negate the tragic sadness of DFW's suicide. Of course it's awful and any suicid speaks to great despair. But I wonder if we encourage that despair in some way by creating a sometimes romanticized link between art and depression.

AJ said...

Someone in my life tried to commit suicide this summer--and while there must have been some original thoughts of this extreme measure, the side effects of the meds, prescribed by nice and caring doctors for depression/anxiety, are increased chance of suicide and suicidal thoughts. So sadly I think many are helped along that path, a path they may not seriously or rationally intend, by the very things that are supposed to be helping them.

will said...

Very sad indeed.

Just last year I finished Infinite Jest (it took me three years), including the 100 or so pages of dense footnotes. I liked his writing, and I agree with Dr. Write, that his non fiction stuff (sftinda) read of his was great and more grounded.

Perhaps in these modern times we reward the special type of artist that derives their artistic vision from the intense catharsis of manic depression. Here, the disease enables incredible analysis of our inner selves in a sort of mystic ecstasy. In other times of history that are less focused on the isolated individual, perhaps other artistic processes that required a more level head were more favored.

Lis and I had this discussion yesterday about if this sort of incredibly inward self-indulgent artistic expression will fall out of favor in the haute literati world as it has in the non fiction realm. I have no idea because I don't read enough...

ErinAlice said...

I think you would be the exception to this rule and then again "normal" is a relative term isn't it?? I do think that all creativity comes with a price though.

Angela Foster said...

There are so many people who have negative thoughts and are plagued by negative thinking. These negative thoughts create fear, suicidal thoughts, anger, and agitation and there is seemingly no apparent reason for these thoughts to occur. Everyone who has this habit must try to learn how to stop it and must try to bring on a more positive way of thinking. http://www.xanax-effects.com/

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