Will The Real David Foster Wallace Please Stand Up?


As we approach the 20 year anniversary of the publication of the behemoth “Infinite Jest,” it has become all too clear that David Foster Wallace is lost to us.

In the years following his suicide, Wallace has been reduced to a caricature of his true self that is only perpetuated by his indisputably entrancing literary prowess. Those who have written of Wallace frequently entertain the idea of him as this mysterious man of half-truths that existed throughout his narrative work. He was described as a brooding depressive, a tortured genius who came up for air only to spout off a poetic maxim and then solemnly return to his dark abode. This flagrant distortion of Wallace’s identity has only grown more widespread in recent years, an act which has prompted many an autobiographical reading of his darker fictitious works such as “Trillaphon” and “The Pale King” in a futile attempt to truly understand the man behind such emotionally connective prose.  

Soon, the very nature of Wallace’s sense of self (unfortunately and ironically) slipped into the hands of the collective, and he became a bonafide cultural icon. Wallace, a man who weaved together tales of tennis prodigies and drug abusers, a man who pushed beyond the mid-century minimalist drivel, a man who constantly touted the “bullshit-ness of literary fame” and scoffed at the “enormous hiss of egos” found in modern day authors, had been pigeonholed into the near textbook definition of the very thing he despised most.

The canonization of Wallace as this vague bro-lit depressive hero of the new era can be seen most clearly through the controversial biopic “The End of the Tour,” which portrays Wallace as an iconographic tortured saint. Film-Wallace is too much of a Holy And Pure Genius to behold the mundane nature of everyday life. He waxes poetically about the relationship between masturbation and death whilst cracking open a beer and a trip to a convenience store turns into a metaphysical commentary about life. Film-Wallace, who should really be called The-Mind-Of-The-Collective-Wallace, is one ‘holy-shit-this-guy-is-oh-so-brilliant-and-unapproachable’ moment after another; this Wallace is never trivial, or colloquial, or anywhere close to (as he himself would put it) a “fucking human being.”

It is events like these that have caused the disconcerting dichotomy that exists between the Tortured Depressive Soul of the Genius David Foster Wallace, and anything that might have partially represented an actual person. His individuality, his humanity, it all has been lost somewhere in the void that we the readers love to fill with his entrancing narrative prose. “Every whole person understands his lifetime as an organized, recountable series of events and changes with at least a beginning and middle,” Wallace wrote in his essay “Fictional Futures and the Conspicuously Young;” but perhaps he is to be the exception to this rule. It seems fittingly ironic that he — the man who prided himself on incomplete narratives and fractured stories — would live on in our minds all of these years later as an equally fractured, part-fact, part-fictitious version of himself.

This article originally appeared here on WSN’s Highlighter.


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