David Foster Wallace, why he died

I’m pissed when people die.

Especially, I’m pissed when people die and had some true talent that goes wasted. You’ve got responsibilities in that case. Then he also died the day of my thirtieth birthday, and he is my favorite writer. His words are like a drug for the brain, they open it up, thoughts processes accelerate and meaning comes often through epiphanies. He is the only writer who (successfully) tries to write the way the brain thinks. And it sucks you in.

Now everyone in the world who recognizes his name is wondering, “why did he do that?”

I did too. In the attempt of trying to answer the question, I went and read the 50-odd pages story titled “Good Old Neon”, published in the “Oblivion” collection. I’d toss some quotes around but I read it in Italian and so it wouldn’t made a lot of sense here.

It’s a story of a suicide, written from the point of view of the suicide and it reads as a confession of the failure of his life (“my whole life I’ve been a fraud”) and the reasons that lead to the fact, one instant after the fact, or even during it. What passes through the mind in that exact moment. In the whole immanence of it. Only to reveal in the end, classic Wallace shocking way, that he, Wallace himself, is imagining the whole thing. Wondering why the man, one of his high school brilliant classmates, killed himself. What passed through his mind, imagining a possible story.

It comes out as a prison of the mind. Something that lures you in and then drags you into a bottomless, dark pit, and it’s scary. Because of meaninglessness, of redundancy. And yeah, also fascinating.

This dilemma, in which every layer of self-knowledge is nested inside yet another layer that scrutinizes it mercilessly for inauthenticity, is a Wallace trademark. When, not surprisingly, these contortions drive the narrator of “Good Old Neon” to suicide, he is revealed to be a childhood acquaintance of “David Wallace,” and the story itself an effort to imagine his inner life on the part of Wallace, who has recently “emerged from years of literally indescribable war against himself.” This, of course, suggests that all of “Good Old Neon” is merely Wallace’s solipsistic effort to attribute his own miseries to a man who might have killed himself for entirely other reasons.

I really wish I could quote because there’s a part that I think is the real core of it all. The way the actual central thought is “cliche”, and the way Wallace hated it because of it: the impossibility to communicate.

Everything Wallace-an is trapped into paradoxes. What kills Wallace is what he was talented doing. Writing, communicating. Yet, the man who could do it like no other, exudes frustration. Read the last line from the link above. “if you really think about it, how clumsy and laborious it seems to be to convey even the smallest thing.”

The way he writes, the way he thinks, can lead where he wants. He IS god in the way he can say everything and nothing. A mind so powerful that defies every kind of formal limit, and yet is trapped within strict formal limits. Everything is hyper-logical, but to the point that lacks any stability. There is no top and no bottom, no sky and ground.

Frustration and “failure”.

How irritating and pretentious can be reading things out of context. Just to prove a false theory. So lets do it again.

2005 Kenyon Commencement Address – May 21, 2005

Probably the most dangerous thing about an academic education — least in my own case — is that it enables my tendency to over-intellectualize stuff, to get lost in abstract argument inside my head, instead of simply paying attention to what is going on right in front of me, paying attention to what is going on inside me.

As I’m sure you guys know by now, it is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive, instead of getting hypnotized by the constant monologue inside your own head (may be happening right now). Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. Think of the old cliche about quote the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master.

This, like many clichés, so lame and unexciting on the surface, actually expresses a great and terrible truth. It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with firearms almost always shoot themselves in: the head. They shoot the terrible master. And the truth is that most of these suicides are actually dead long before they pull the trigger.

Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful, it’s that they’re unconscious. They are default settings.

The writer: making the reader feel as if every character carries some pieces of himself. “My name is Legion, for we are many.”

Every man is alone. This is another cliche commented in “Good Old Neon”. But it can kinda work like a magnet. You can “align”, and somewhat make communication pass. You never really give something yours to someone else. It can’t happen for we are finished, there’s a dermatological barrier that cannot be passed. But in some ways you can be a mirror. You can imitate in your mind some state of mind that you recognize in someone else. So, hypocritically, you can pretend to know what passed through someone else’s mind. Know how he felt.

It’s a lie, but it a lie with the best approximation of Truth it’s possible to aspire to.

It’s sucks that Wallace died and I’m pissed. The most irritating, pretentious, hypocritical thing I could do to him is pretending to know what passed through his mind.

So I did it. I wrote what passed through his mind.

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