Sunday, September 14, 2008

RIP DFW

So David Foster Wallace hung himself last Friday, on my birthday. I feel stupid saying this, but I feel like I've lost a friend. This feeling is only made more intense by Wallace's frustratingly ever-present self-loathing and his questionable politics. I've greeted all these pieces of news about DFW as a person with the same emotions that accompany my brother's Republican sympathies and huge house in Scarsdale: he's a lunatic, but I know what he's about deep down, and we're ultimately the same, so I love him enough to take his lunatic choices in stride.

Infinite Jest
saved my life when I first read it in 1998. I'd just gotten sober, and it made sense to me in a way that the approved AA literature just never ever did. Honest and heartbreaking and self-conscious and funny, Wallace made me believe that sobriety could be the beginning of something, not just a bleak ending. That my life could undergo a transformation as radical as what Wallace was able to do with the form of the novel. The sense of Identification Wallace inspired in me as a writer made me able to Identify in meetings, and I'm not exaggerating when I say that this is probably why I'm alive at all to try to eulogize him in tragically (appropriately) insufficient terms.

So, in the spirit of Identification, here is an incredible passage (long, but that's the only way with him) chosen essentially at random from Infinite Jest. I hope you're smoking cigarettes with Elliot Smith at the big meeting in the sky, my friend.

"If you listen for the similarities, all these speakers' Substance-careers seem to terminate at the same cliff's edge. You are now Finished, as a Substance-user. It's the jumping-off place. You now have two choices. You can either eliminate your own map for keeps--blades are the best, or else pills, or there's always quietly sucking off the exhaust pipe of your repossessable car in the bank-owned garage of your familyless home. Something whimpery instead of banging. Better clean and quiet and (since your whole career's been one long futile flight from pain) painless. Though of the alcoholics and drug addicts who compose over 70% of a given year's suicides, some try to go out with a last great garish Balaclavan gesture: one longtime member of the White Flag Group is a prognathous lady named Louise B. who tried to take a map-eliminating dive off the old Hancock Building downtown in B.S. '81 but got caught in the gust of a rising thermal only six flights off the roof and got blown cartwheeling back up and in through the smoked-glass window of an arbitrage firm's suite on the thirty-fourth floor, ending up sprawled prone on a high-gloss conference table with only lacerations and a compound of the collarbone and an experience that has left her rabidly Christian--rabidly, as in foam--so that she's comparatively ignored and avoided, though her AA story, being just like everybody else's but more spectacular, has become metro Boston AA myth. But so when you get to this jumping-off place at the Finish of your Substance-career you can either take up the Luger or blade and eliminate your own personal map--this can be at age sixty, or twenty-seven, or seventeen--or you can get your the very beginning of the Yellow Pages or InterNet Psych-Svce File and make a blubbering 0200h. phone call and admit to a gentle grandparentish voice that you're in trouble, deadly serious trouble, and the voice will try to soothe you into hanging on until a couple hours of go by and two pleasantly earnest, weirdly calm guys in conservative attire appear smiling at your door sometime before dawn and speak quietly to you for hours and leave you not remembering anything from what they said except the sense that they used to be eerily like you , just where you are, utterly fucked, and but now somehow aren't anymore, fucked like you, at least they didn't seem like they were, unless the whole thing's some incredibly involved scam, this AA thing, and so but anyway you sit there on what's left of your furniture in the lavender dawnlight and realize that by now you literally have no other choices besides trying this AA thing or else eliminating your own map, so you spend the day killing every last bit of every Substance you've got in one last joyless bitter farewell binge and resolve, the next day, to go ahead and swallow your pride and maybe your common sense too and try these meetings of this 'Program' that is a best probably just some Unitarian happy horseshit and at worst is a cover for some glazed and canny cult-type thing where they'll keep you sober by making you spend twenty hours a day selling cellophane cones of artificial flowers on the median strips of heavy-flow roads. And what defines this cliffish nexus of exactly two total choices, this miserable road-fork Boston AA calls your Bottom, is that at this point you feel like maybe selling flowers on median strips might not be so bad, not compared to what you've got going, personally, at this juncture. And this, at root, is what unites Boston AA: it turns out that this same resigned, miserable, brainwash-and-exploit-me-if-that's-what-it-takes-type desperation has been the jumping-off place for just about every AA you meet, it emerges, once you've actually gotten it up to stop darting in and out of the big meetings and start walking up with your wet hand out and trying to actually personally meet some Boston AAs. As the one particular tough old guy or lady you're always particularly scared of and drawn to says, nobody ever Comes In because things were going really well and they just wanted to round out their PM social calendar. Everybody, but everybody Comes In dead-eyed and puke-white and with their face hanging down around their knees and with a well-thumbed firearm-and-ordnance mail-order catalogue kept safe and available at home, map-wise, for when this last desperate resort of hugs and clich├ęs turns out to be just happy horseshit, for you. You are not unique, they'll say: this initial hopelessness unites every soul in this broad cold salad-bar'd hall. They are like Hindenburg-survivors. Every meeting is a reunion, once you've been in for a while. (347-9)