Monday, September 15, 2008


IT WAS POTTS who first instructed me to read David Foster Wallace's article on cruise ships in the January, 1996 issue of Harper's.

IT WAS MY FIRST exposure to his brilliance and his many beautiful footnotes.


BEGIN quoted text:

But it turns out that, of these six guys [a group of skeet shooters DFW has encountered on a cruise ship].... the last has not only his own earmuffs, plus his own shotgun in a special crushed-velvet-lined case, but also his own skeetshooting ranger in his backyard (130) in North Carolina.

(130): !

END quoted text.

IT WAS JUST A LITTLE PUNCTUATION JOKE, but in it I found so much to aspire to: the cynicism undone by fearless wonder, the formal playfulness, and the utter and inspiring freedom...

THESE ARE THE THINGS that make his work so challenging, and yet also so gracious. By reading him, we all got better.

I AM NOT ONE OF THE SAD ONES who have the privilege to miss him personally. But I do miss him.

NO ONE HAS EVER INVENTED PUNCTUATION MARK that can contain all the shock and sadness we felt when we learned the news,

AND NOW THAT HE IS GONE, I am afraid that no one ever will.

That is all.


mattlatmatt said...

I have read and re-read many times the title Essay of A Supposedly Fun Thing... specifically for moments such as these. There is such an amazing pleasure here for the reader and the writer - something you yourself offer Mr. H - and while DFW in no way created pleasurable writing, he, in many ways I think, defined it for me and the people with whom I drink cocktails.

JackalFive said...

RM said...

It seems so selfish to say, but I will miss him, too. I know him only as a reader and also came to his work via his essays, stayed for the fiction, came back again and again for his truths and humor.

In his NY Times article on Roger Federer, "Roger Federer as Religious Experience," a classic I remind myself of each U.S. Open, Wallace talks about "Federer Moments." He describes these as "times, as you watch the young Swiss play, when the jaw drops and eyes protrude and sounds are made that bring spouses in from other rooms to see if you’re O.K."

The "!" footnote is a prime DFW Moment, and his work is full of them. He made such difficult writing seem effortless (witness the contortions Michiko Kakutani works herself into to try to sound even a little like Wallace). One of my own favorite DFW Moments comes in his short story "Here and There" from Girl with Curious Hair. The story, about an MIT grad student who thinks he can reduce poetry to logic and but loses his girlfriend, initially reads like any old thing from a fancy schmancy po-mo funboy, albeit a gifted one. But then the story is suddenly about the very real and relatable experience of someone using thinking as a defense against loving.

The piece ends with the grad student struggling to fix his aunt and uncle's ancient stove and failing more and more spectacularly the more he tries. Or as DFW puts it:

'My aunt comes back behind the stove and stands behind me and peers into the tidied black hollow of the stove and says it looks like I've done quite a bit of work! I point at the filthy distributor circuit with my screwdriver and do not say anything. I prod it with the tool.

...I believe, behind the stove, with my aunt kneeling down to lay her hand on my shoulder, that I'm afraid of absolutely everything there is.'

Sorry for the long comment.

P.S. Has anyone checked on George Saunders lately? Sent him flowers and/or a nice card? And you, Mr. Hodgman. Are you getting along swimmingly these days? Fall is perhaps the most beautiful time in New York.

Droopy said...

Skippomac said...

I don't have anything clever to add, but though I might draw attention to the fact that Harpers, in a wonderful show of class, has made all of his articles written for them available online:

Stufsocker said...

I think maybe the interrobang.