America's universities sheltered David Foster Wallace—and almost ruined his writingby Julian Gough / October 25, 2008 / Leave a comment
Published in October 2008 issue of Prospect Magazine
Like James Joyce, David Foster Wallace will be remembered—and, by some, fiercely loved—for a book which 99.999 per cent of the world’s population will never read to its end.
Wallace hung himself in his home in California on 12th September 2008, aged 46. So Infinite Jest (1996), his second novel, turns out to be his final one, and lines and paragraphs throughout its 1,079 pages now flash in neon: “Help me, I’m depressed.” The neon will fade. It will be a magnificently ambitious book again. But right now it reads like a suicide note.
Wallace’s subjects were depression, addiction, language, advertising, philosophy, tennis—tennis was for Wallace what Catholicism was for Joyce—and, ultimately, America. His books (two novels, three short story collections, several collections of idiosyncratic and original journalism) sold well in the US, less so in Britain. Young writers loved him. On the small, strange planet (or, more accurately, asteroid) inhabited by novelists trying to reinvent the novel, this is the death of Kurt Cobain.