This Week’s Article

In David Foster Wallace, Matt, Tuesday's Article on October 12, 2010 by Two Barbers Tagged: , ,

Thoughts on David Foster Wallace

-7th installment (the real 7th installment, not the ‘really 6th, but for the typo 7th installment’)

Discussing Suicide

Discussions contain their neurological rewards, but they are rarely satisfying the way a dinner or a good movie (or a good book) can be satisfying. Not because they don’t possess the same potential as this other stuff; a long conversation on the phone, after a dinner, in a park, at a meeting, in a school, in a place you wouldn’t expect, anywhere, can be satiating (although after dinner it might be piggy-backing on the meal you just had and your full stomach), but the difference is that, unlike the other engagements, discussions depend not only on the consent of the two participants, but the willingness and effort brought by both, and then the sustainability of each, all of which seem to loop and feed off each other and burn out in the same respect. It takes a lot of maintenance, which is probably why the best discussions or conversations seem to happen totally unexpectedly, because if either person realized beforehand how much work they were portioning out for themselves, she/he would duck out or lampoon her/himself by becoming too stressed over how to go about it that they’d never anything going in the first place.

You can cook a good meal and eat it in like an hour and a half and watch a movie in like two. A book’s a little different because it just takes longer physically, but nevertheless…And you could cut and paste lots of other activities such as exercising, cleaning, masturbating (just as long as it’s spaced out at wide enough intervals), whatever and they would all pretty much fall under the same class because their production is well within your control. But things like discussions, sex, cooperation, etc., again, are rarely satisfying the way these other things are because more has to go right in order for them to be; and then when they are, they aren’t necessarily more rewarding (although it seems we take for granted that they have more potential to be, or have higher range). Which class writing falls into could be argued forever and so I’m just not going to get into it because that’s not what this is about. Matter of fact, this plump little scan over the nature of discussion is nothing more than a set up anyway for something else, and probably not anything anyone wouldn’t already be pretty well knowledgeable of so that she/he would need explained.

It’s just a way of getting at the problem of discussing suicide, which is that it is never satisfying; that there is something inherently UNsatisfying about it. Most of it seems to be laboring to get away from the subject itself.

Two years ago, while taking classes in psychology at Stony Brook without any direction, (for what I understand now was essentially to prove to myself that I was better than 2.6 GPA I graduated with when I earned my Bachelors 3 years earlier, while, even more deeply essential, continuing to delay the maturation that, had I just accepted it in the first place, would have cancelled any possible following analog scenario and therefore desire to prove to myself in any such way) I volunteered almost a year at a suicide/crisis hotline. It also was during this period that Wallace hung himself. I remember finding out through a text message I received while in my morning class, the only one in which I was still enrolled, having dropped two others out of the three I had originally signed up for, the first early enough to avoid being lassoed with that big INCOMPLETE mark, but not the second; so I was already on my way out. It was a small, seminar style course and so, even though I felt the phone vibrate in my pocket, I couldn’t look at it until about an hour later as I was walking out of the room, half forgotten, and probably more out of general pacifier-like impulse than eagerness to find out what it said. It was a friend who knew what a big fan I was.

“David Foster Wallace RIP”.

I think my immediate reaction, which lasted only a nanosecond, was to think he was referring to Wallace’s new book, which I knew Wallace had been working on, but nothing else about it, not even the title, and which I had been anticipating. Then, I thought it was some kind of weird black humor code for saying something else, like calling him eternal or something (I don’t know…). Then the whole realization soaked in like warm water into the bottom of your sock, from a small, invisible puddle left on a carpetless floor, and I knew what the only reasonable interpretation was. All of these reactions were more like layered on top of each other rather than sequential, but this is how I order them in retrospect. He was found in the evening and pronounced dead at night, so this must’ve been the following day.

This feels a little trite to say, but it is a really weird thing to feel that kind of real mourning for someone you have never met and never spoken to. And by weird, I mean, like in a creepy way; like someone who you’ve just met but have somehow gotten into an involved conversation with veering into periodic descriptions of her/his experiences in therapy that become increasingly frequent creepy; or person in a similar situation suddenly giving an explanation about how he courted his barely legal girlfriend through a succession of temperate emails exchanged after friending her on Facebook creepy; or confiding in you personal information about his/her family without, seemingly, an inkling of awareness that you might find it strange and oblivious to you already pulling away creepy. Not really harmful to anyone, just their own image to whomever they encounter (as when we commit ourselves to judging people, we tend to go all out and judge them absolutely).

I had always viewed the people you see on TV gathering to mourn celebrities like John Lennon or Kurt Cobain, sobbing and holding candles, showing more emotion for someone they did not know than I have for people in my own family as extreme, trying to make up for some emptiness: in the words of DFW “greedy for something you cannot ever have; disappointed in a way you can never admit”. But I read all the blogs that have been written since his death (not literal); the essays, the blurbs, comments under YouTube videos. As I swim through the almost ubiquitous praise, it is divided initially into rewarding confirmations of what I feel, but that ultimately recede to the space underneath each dull, self-stimulating click of the mouse.

I’m not going to say I have shed my point of view on celebrity worship because I caught a glimpse of that same extremity in myself and suddenly felt I could understand it better. It’s a little bit more complicated. The truth is, I’ve never been as cynical as it seems I’m now making myself out to be.

Another snippet from Consider the Lobster, DFW’s essay-turned moral treatise on a Maine lobster festival, keeps repeating in my head: “hostile to my fantasy of myself as a true individual, of living somehow outside and above it all.”

If you’ll notice though, I haven’t said anything about suicide yet.


-sorry for what might seem like use of a grave subject in the manner of a cheap trick, but I really intended it to be much shorter. It’s already over 1,000 words and it’s very late at the moment of writing this. It will be continued in the one of the next two weeks.


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