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In David Foster Wallace, Matt, Tuesday's Article on November 30, 2010 by Two Barbers Tagged: , , , , , , ,

Thoughts on David Foster Wallace

-8th Installment

Discussing Suicide: Part 2

I don’t know what most people’s experience is, but I’ve repeatedly found that the topic of suicide rarely, if ever, leads anywhere past its own introduction into a conversation. (And if I’ve understood this with any irony stemming from the definition of suicide, it’s been little other than that kind of dead irony, straight out of Hamlet’s Alas! Poor Yorick.) The catalogue of responses which includes, in a nutshell, ‘Such a shame’, ‘It’s a selfish act’, ‘It’s cowardice”, the more promising but ultimately just as ineffectual and disconcerting, ‘How could someone ever take their own life?’, and (not to be overlooked for lack of conformity) seconds of blanket silence, is pretty small and tentative, and about as complete as Hollywood’s depiction of love or Hallmark’s treatment of significance. Then there are people who will get angry nine times out of ten, simply by suicide’s entry into the discussion, and will become surprisingly authoritative (and on other more basic levels, just simply surprising) in the other 10%. But this seems to suggest something like difficulty beyond what we’re accustomed to dealing with, in the normal patterns of our daily interactions and engagement in the world, rather than some unbridgeable gap of meaning.

This last sentence may come off as a little obvious and trite; and it may even be that most people feel the two statements in it really shouldn’t be juxtaposed, but more like one conjugates the other (most likely though not limited to, the people who tend to get angry when suicide is brought up). I just want to make it known that I’m aware of this and what I want to do (what I think there is an opportunity to do in this format) is try to rehash the question of whether or not we actually could go a little further to refine our assumptions and language regarding suicide, in a way that’s ultimately positive and useful, or helpful, to people.

Right off the bat there are trap doors to Wallacean grade paradoxes in this, such as the notion that whatever ways in which we try to discuss suicide must be predetermined as helpful or positive may undermine the earnestness with which the attempt is supposed to be made in order to really qualify as an honest-to-goodness attempt and that, furthermore, the recognition of crevasses like this puts the attempter, again, in no better position to deal with them than all the past attempts from which he is trying to separate himself, but possibly worse. It’s this sort of room filled with mouse traps you automatically enter when talking about it that partially explains the hypersensitivity that seems dream-like or Greek in its ability to fold the tent from the get-go on the whole endeavor. The rest is probably explained by a collection of personal issues, pressure from a Catholic-like sense of responsibility to give the right answers and anxiety over extreme, guilty notions that wrong answers could somehow be extended to personal culpability for past, future, or current suicides happening in the world, outside the realm of what anyone would rationally regard as control, and, finally, the prescient recognition of far off conclusions that feel both inevitable and unacceptable.

In Although Of Course…, Lipsky wrote, in what I imagine is one of the more memorable, quotable, passages of the book, “Suicide is such a powerful end, it reaches back and scrambles the beginning. It has an event gravity: Eventually, every memory and impression gets tugged in its direction.”

That may be true, but it may not be the whole case. You certainly can’t talk about David Foster Wallace now without getting to, or having to put in effort (possibly the amount that would take up six or seven long blogs) to avoid, the subject of suicide. But, still, and this is an unabashedly fan-boy statement to make, there is so much more to talk about in his writing and interviews, and even his apparent approach to living (of which those of us reading and writing about him have had little access except for what has come out since his death. For instance, I did not know he had MD. And I don’t think it’s totally fair when people look back on his writing and say ‘that makes sense’.), that is completely insulated from his suicide; that is life-affirming (which is a term I had used regularly when trying to describe Wallace’s writing before his death, and still do after). Like Galileo’s Paradox about infinity (Wallace’s favorite subject, other than loneliness, but I suspect they were interchangeable), the whole seems to be equal to the part.

-Matt

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