I was going to wait to write something about David Foster Wallace’s death, but after reading Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s comment about him in the New York Times I understood that I have something to say now. She had said that DFW’s Infinite Jest “was ironic, but at the same time it was attempting to take emotional risk [. . .] A lot of contemporary literature uses irony as a self-protective gesture, but he never did that. He was like a lot of postmodern novelists, but braver” (Williams).
I read David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest in the Winter of 1998, two years after my brother’s death and twenty-six after my father’s.1 I was, at the time, separated from myself and others to such an extent that I was having conversations without being in them. I remember, for example, one time standing on the street on a late summer Charlottesville’s afternoon talking to my friend Michele. My emotional state was such that I was nodding and responding in all the appropriate places, saying things relevant to the conversation. The problem, as I recall it, was that I would have no recollection of the conversation that had transpired even thirty seconds previous. I was losing the conversation even as I was having it. My two reigning emotions of that time period were horror and devastation.
With my dissertation more like a primal intuitiion than a considered thesis—a would-be discursus on how the shift from Freudian to Lacanian psychoanalytic discourse was pardigmatic of the shift from Modernism to Postmodernism—I decided I was going to get back to the roots of my first love, literature, to figure out what I was going to write about. I took DFW’s second novel from my shelf and read it for the first time. In five days. In an epoch of my life that seemed built of despair, DFW’s novel reminded me that thinking and compassion, together combined, still could matter. I fell in love with nearly every character in the novel and hadn’t been so moved by a work of art in years, then or since.
I wish David Foster Wallace had not had to make the decision to exit this life when he did. There is so much yet I cannot say.