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The Illness and Talent of David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace was born on February 21, 1961, in a family of teachers. In both school and university, Wallace was an absolute honors pupil, was fond of tennis (the bandana that became the brand name of the writer is its consequence) and the philosophy of Wittgenstein. He was not even interested in literature and never read books, until one day he read “The Crying of Lot 49”. The book so impressed him that he remade his thesis work on modal logic into the novel. The debut was called “Broom System” and in 1987 came out in a fairly large edition in a major New Yorker publishing house Viking Press. The book was sold. Critics compared the child prodigy to Pynchon.

Inspired by the success, Wallace began writing a collection of fiction essays, but the idea had to be postponed because of health problems: in 1988 he was diagnosed with monopolar depression. The course of treatment did not yield results. One night Wallace just ate a pack of sleeping pills. Doctors could save him from suicide, but so he (already the second time) got into a psychiatric clinic, where he survived several sessions of shock therapy. The writer’s sister told that the electric shock briefly damaged his short-term memory.

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The treatment helped, but for a short time – a year later he returned to the hospital ward: Wallace himself called a friend and asked him to take him to the clinic because he was afraid he would “hurt himself.” As his biographers wrote, these four weeks of November completely changed the life of the writer: it was there, when he attended meetings of anonymous drug addicts, that he felt that he is gradually finding an inner balance. Wallace came with a notebook and pen for séances. He sat in the corner and carefully wrote down everything that other patients said. These notes of the confessions of drug addicts, people with a damaged psyche, will later become part of the novel “Infinite Jest,” the work on which will help Wallace get out of depression and go down in history.

Wallace writes in a unique manner. In one of his books, Wallace used the metaphor of a bee: “To stop, the bee should move very quickly.” It is great for describing the style of Wallace himself – one of the critics very aptly called his noticing machine, and indeed, this prose is a series of endless, multi-page neurotic enumerations and descriptions. In ordinary life, we notice only what, in our opinion, is important. The hairdresser looks at a hair dress, the dentist – on a condition of teeth, a tailor – on clothes. In the case of Wallace, the thing is different. He fixes everything at once: movement, creeps on the skin, sigh, scar on the collarbone, crack on the asphalt, villi on the carpet, pores on the nose, drops of condensate on the glass with water on a hot day, pigment spots on the outside of the palm and much more. His imagination is always in macro shooting mode. In the books of Wallace, there is a description of varicose veins on the legs of a stranger in three pages long and a description of a yawn – at two. He never has enough of one metaphor – he is too greedy, he squeezes out all imaginative potential of every subject. That is why many scenes in the “Infinite Jest” seem verbose and redundant, and the reader may have a feeling that the book does not move anywhere, that time seems to have frozen, and the author has been examining the same thought for three pages, highlighting it from different angles. He is a collector of small things.  Wallace adds everything that comes to hand in his book. He is absorbed in the obsessive desire to understand and systematize everything around and is ready to sacrifice the dynamics of the text for the sake of his love for the details of the world. If the reader listens to Wallace’s prose, he will feel: every image here is written so carefully that it literally buzzes with the energy hidden in it – like a bee that waves with wings so quickly that they can not be seen. But if they are not visible, this does not mean that they do not exist.

The novel “Infinite Jest” became a legend. It is rather strange and almost impossible to read. However, it has a deep meaning which can not be easily comprehended by everyone. The main thing a reader needs to know opening this novel is that the phrase “infinite jest” here is in some way an oxymoron. This is a story that supposedly fun has its final.

Wallace was a master of not only a large form: in addition to two completed novels, he published three collections of short stories, which are very different from his huge novels. His novels are characterized by high density and emotionality of the text, while essays and review contemporary are full of humor and irony, and the stories look like cold and sketchy reflections of the author on the topics of depression, suicide, and modern media. His third novel, “Pale King” Wallace wrote almost twelve years. He started it back in 1996, almost immediately after the publication of the “Infinite Jest” but did not complete. Always being a depressed person and after years of fighting with emotional disorders, he committed suicide hanging himself on the patio of his own house.


David Foster Wallace – Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Foster_Wallace

David Foster Wallace – Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infinite_Jest

Written by: Grademiners.co