I am angry at David Foster Wallace. It's a delicate, specialized anger that I have not felt toward anyone since Spalding Gray jumped off the Staten Island Ferry in 2004 leaving a wife and two sons and all the spellbound audiences in small arty theatres who'd swum to Cambodia with him and his ratty spiral-bound notebook. Because Wallace's voice was like Gray's, a chattering fount that the author had to ride like a bronco and channel like a flood and that still demanded new metaphors faster than even he could think.
I'm angry because both Wallace and Gray had seemed finally to say yes, I'm onto this, I'm riding this, I can be a professor at a liberal arts college or a New York performance artist and have a wife and write and publish and take out the trash as though it's not true, as Wallace wrote once, paraphrased here because the Harper's website offers it free only in tiny print and it would break the flow to pay them for it just now, that for the depressed person the impossibility of expressing the pain is the core of its essential horror. I am briefly concerned for the safety of Dave Eggers, whom I've never met, but who seems the third point of this abundant, implosive trinity.
I am angry because I know about September at Pomona College in Claremont, California, my own alma mater where Wallace has taught since 2002. I know about trying to start a new academic year in the blanketing heat of late summer, the air not as white as it was in my day but still heavy as death and vaguely smelling of it. I know how Claremont's craggy, encircling live-oaks and comforting guidelines of palms all speak unconvincingly of eternity and virtue, as though this were a theme park designed with the best of intentions by all our collective grandparents. I know how brilliant people arrive there as professors fresh from slaying dragons and discovering new particles and crafting peace in blasted homelands and suddenly wonder why, in their prime or just a smidgeon past it, no number of eager undergraduates, their ears wide, their eyes wet and flashing, can erase the sensation that this town and its colleges are some kind of vast retirement home. That in this heavy air, contrary to all the exciting previews of the coming year, Nothing Can Possibly Ever Happen Again.
I am angry because I see how a writer of Wallace's genius could walk those over-wide streets beneath those muffling oaks, as alone as I was no matter how accompanied, and lose the thread that had once raveled into Infinite Jest, the 1996 novel of 1079 pages and 388 footnotes that proved you could write about the blackest hell-worlds of ambition and addiction and abuse with a flattening, unflattering fluorescence that was erudite and yet playful and yet utterly honest and yet so hilarious as to imperil the breath, and that all I needed to do in response was to write a little review. And then finally, digging, I find that opening sentence I wanted to quote from the story in Harper's, "The Depressed Person." I quoted it long ago in my review of Wallace's Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. It goes like this (and the story goes on, with care but no mercy, in the same clinical tone.)
The depressed person was in terrible and unceasing emotional pain, and the impossibility of sharing or articulating this pain was itself a component of the pain and a contributing factor to its essential horror.
I'm angry that to say such a see stark truth is not to see, and live, beyond it. I'm angry that finally, words fail.