Is there a person out there who you have never met, but whose death has just made you sickeningly sad? It only happened to me recently, and only once, but its been persistent: every time I read anything about, or any work by David Foster Wallace, I just sort of drift into an unexplained fog.
The latest dirge came while reading this interview with his alma mater, Amherst College:
It took years after I’d graduated from Amherst to realize that people were actually far more complicated and interesting than books, that almost everyone else suffered the same secret fears and inadequacies as I, and that feeling alone and inferior was actually the great valent bond between us all. I wish I’d been smart enough to understand that when I was an adolescent.
I’ve written before about how wonderful his pieces are. And more than anything I’ve read, this quote above seems to sum up why his writing resonates so deeply. How many writers would acknowledge that people are more interesting than words? His pieces are never about the words, though they’re darn good, too. They have emotional heft because of the tenderness, the spontaneity, and the surprise of his insights into the travails, and ultimately, the joys of the human spirit.
What’s so terrible about the sadness I feel in his writing is that I never got to experience it while he was alive (I was a terribly illiterate youth), never without the cloud of his suicide hanging over it. His books are full of joy, even if they don’t appear that way. Another recent interview, this one with one of his editors, mentions his piece for Premiere magazine on the porn industry. His portrayal of one particular man who is addicted to porn is almost impossibly poingnant – and this in the middle of an article wholly condemning the industry. (I couldn’t find it online, but please post in the comments if you do). Don’t take my word for it, go to the library.
So, I’m inspired to give this a shot.