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David Foster Wallace Essay

In this essay I am going to do my best to give the reader the most informative explanation (within my constraints) of one of the most brilliant authors of the age, David Foster Wallace. He was the author of many great and insightful (at times, dark) works. Some of the more popular/well-known pieces being _The Broom of the System, Girl with Curious Hair, Infinite Jest, A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, Oblivion_, and finally his incomplete novel, _The Pale King_. In all honesty, to even scratch the surface of an individual with this amount of depth would require a work similar in size and time to his “tree-killer” of a novel, _Infinite Jest_. That being said, I hold the belief that every free-thinking individual should at least know-this man’s name in hopes that it may show them the way to his works on what it means to be “a fucking human being”.

David Foster Wallace was born on 21 February 1962 and finally met his end 12 September 2008 at the age of 46. Wallace was born in Ithaca, New York, to his parents, James Wallace and Sally Foster. His father, a previous graduate student in philosophy at Cornell, was from a family of professionals. His mother, on the other hand, was an English major at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, with a more rural background with family residing in Maine and New Brunswick. She was also the first in her family to acquire a Bachelor’s Degree. At the age of 4, David moved with his family to Champaign-Urbana, Illinois for a better job opportunity. His home life was very structured (dinner at 5:45 p.m. and lights out at precisely 8:30 p.m.) and was very conducive for intellectual growth. It was a happy home.

As he gets older, Wallace starts to realize many things. First, he had a love for tennis. With his logical and calculating mind, he could easily see the geometrical angles the ball could make as it bounced off the racket, leading him to become one of the top players in his region at that time. Other things start to surface as well; sadly, these were not among some of the happier things. He started to analyze his physical and mental self, picking at each and every flaw (compared it to sort of “counting sheep”), which did nothing to alleviate his problem at being socially awkward. He eventually found his first love, Susan Perkins, who, at the time, already had a boyfriend. It’s also important to note that this was the point when Wallace discovered the joys of smoking pot.

After high school, Wallace planned to attend Amherst. He chose Amherst mostly because it meant he wouldn’t have to go to another interview. His father was an alumni, so he was pretty much a shoo-in. By his sophomore year, he was developing a reputation for his intelligence. He was earning straight A’s and was actually opening up and making friends, until he returned from Christmas break at home. He was an entirely different person when the depression took him, as his college roommates described. After a few weeks of trying to tough it out, Wallace realized he was going to have to withdraw and go home. Something was clearly wrong. He returned in Fall 1984 for his senior year. Eventually, Wallace graduated and was awarded double summas for his two honors theses. _The Broom of the System_ would eventually be published and become his first serious fiction novel. This was the point when Wallace discovered his love of writing fiction.

As an immature “adult” in an adult world, Wallace made the decision to start teaching to supplement his writing career and gain health insurance for his special needs. His first teaching job was at Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts. He hated teaching. For him, he was just wasting time with kids who didn’t even want to do their homework; when he could be spending valuable time on his career as a fiction author. Up to this point, Wallace has steadily been falling deeper and deeper in to his addictions. He had been smoking pot, cigarettes, and drinking almost every night as a way to cope with the depression that can so cripple who he is as a person. As his frustration with his inability to write worsens, so does his addiction. With his frustration and addiction worsening, Wallace again breaks down and must be hospitalized. The medical professionals said he must find a different path, or he would be dead by thirty. Wallace begins rehab, and for months, will live in nothing but rehabilitation centers and halfway homes. As part of these programs, he must attend 12-step AA meetings for recovery. These really hit home for Wallace; they work for him in ways he would never have thought possible.

The meetings he would attend ended up becoming major plot points in the greatest novel he ever wrote. Shortly after getting out of rehab, Wallace started working on his novel again, this time with renewed vigor. In a letter to his editor, he said he was going to “finish it or die.” Upon finishing the monster novel and the following editing, summarizing, and shortening pains, the greatest achievement in his literary career thus far was finished; 1079 pages, water-tight and ready for publishing. What followed were multiple interviews and readings, which Wallace had been signed up for in order to gain publicity and sell more books. All of which, Wallace summed up as “whorish.” He wasn’t even sure most of the people coming had even read his book. With fame comes pleasure… of a sort. The more famous he became, the more women seemed to flock to him. Considering how badly his relationships had been going, one night stands were just what he thought he needed. To put it another way, he was really bad about taking the “13th step” (getting involved with a fellow recovery partner).

These relationships would start out normal, maybe a little obsessive, but as time went on they would turn into violent and controlling relationships. Many of them ended terribly, which turned out to one good thing. He had found new companions. Dogs. He adopted a lab and called him Jeeves, and later adopted a stray whom he would later name The Drone. Once his fame started to settle, he no longer had book tours or things of that nature anymore. Now magazines and newspapers were going after him with nonfictions they wanted him to review, and he ended up making short stories out of them. For the most part though, these were just distractions from his real objective, “The long thing.” While he continued his progress on this novel, he was switching jobs and found a new and seemingly real relationship with a lovely woman named Karen. They would grow close over time, completing one another until they were finally married on 27 December 2004. Wallace would continue his work on “the long thing” until the day he died, never really bringing it to the point where he was satisfied with it.

David Foster Wallace’s major works include _The Broom of the System, Girl with Curious Hair, Infinite Jest, A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, Oblivion_, and finally his incomplete novel, _The Pale King_. During these later years of his life, he was a writing professor at the Pomona College in Claremont, California. The publications he worked on in his spare time numbered all of one. “The long thing” (The Pale King) had been his project for many years, and he could not see how to turn the idea of boredom in the story in to something intriguing.

David Foster Wallace died 12 September 2008 in Claremont, California. His wife arrived home at 9:30pm, after a stint at her art show, to find that her husband had hanged himself with a garden hose on the patio. After a 20 year battle with severe depression, Wallace could no longer endure. To him, the unbearable and unending pain of his depression could only be cured by death’s sweet release. Upon announcement of this tragedy, various colleges held gatherings in remembrance of one of the most influential figures in literary history, giving the friends and family who attended, a chance to grieve and say goodbye. Karen keeps his ashes in a foil-wrapped box next to a picture of both of their mothers.

_Infinite Jest_ was published 1 February 1996 by Little, Brown. It was well-received with minimal, negative reviews. It depicts our culture in the truest sense, and the fact that, beyond all the noise and false happiness, something real exists. Even though this book was released more than a decade ago, the steady continuing sales is a tribute to its realism and mesmerizing intrigue.

When most of his major works were published, they weren’t really understood, and, to some degree, they still aren’t. Most of the understanding of his works was left to people of a similar caliber, and everyone else left by the wayside. I believe the works of David Foster Wallace should be standard for college education. As far as high school, to really grasp the man and his work, a student must delve into the realities of his life that, at times, can be surreal, even inappropriately grotesque. Hence, I believe his work is better suited for a mature audience.

In conclusion, David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest is one of the most profound books in recent history, one that every man and woman should read in their lifetime. (should probably read it twice) David Foster Wallace, was a broken, yet brilliant man who left this life with profound hope in his works that we could learn to be human beings, with actual feelings and actual thoughts beyond the abyss that is our oppressive culture.

Works Cited

“Brief Interview with a Five Draft Man”. _Amherst Magazine_. Amherst College, 1999. Web. 13 April 2014.

Max, D.T.. _Every Love Story is a Ghost Story_. New York. Penguin Group, 2012. Print.

Max, D.T.. “The Unfinished”. _The New Yorker_. Conde Nast, 9 March 2009. Web.14 April 2014.

McInerney, Jay. “Infinite Jest”._The New York Times_. The New York Times Company,3 March 1996.Wen.13 April 2014.

Silverman, Jacob. “The artful mediation of Karen Green, David Foster Wallace’s widow”. _Los Angeles Times_. Los Angeles Times, 31 May 2013. Web. 14 April 2014.

Weber, Bruce. “David Foster Wallace, Influential Writer Dies 46”. _The New York Times_. The New York Times Company, 14 September 2008. Web. 13 April 2014.

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