It's been nearly two weeks since the suicide of David Foster Wallace and besides the shock, what's been rattling round in my head is the question, what would he have written next? The stories untold. The blank essays. I was wondering, even before he died, how DFW was going to respond to the well-meaning blast he got from critic James Wood in Wood's marvelous recent book, How Fiction Works,. Wood was too smart to go snarky on Wallace (and as much as confessed to it not hours after the news) and Wallace was too smart not to ingest the knowledge and spin it into something unseen, and wonderful. At least that's what I hoped. Now, I know. We won't hear anything.
DFW was as close as the tail-end of the Boomers ever had to an intellectual in the grand old sense. He wrote stories, essays, broadsides, popular journalism, and a doorstop of a novel. He walked the line between modernism and post-modernism. He played the requisite literary games but he also told stories. He couldn't bottle up his mind with tricks. Others have remarked on his manic, omnivorous style. I loved his deft use of footnotes. He was the Charlie Parker of footnotes. I also liked the fact that none other than Tennis Magazine heralded his magnum opus, Infinite Jest, as the greatest tennis novel ever. (Were there any others?) Now, that moved it up my list.
I have to admit, I was never a slavish fan. My tastes weren't running alongside his output. Nevertheless, his muscular writing was impossible to ignore. And the ripples were felt everywhere.
But to get back to the loss, the silence. It made me wonder what the next Hendrix albums were going to sound like. Was he going to cut it up with Miles? Do another Bird and Diz? We'll never know. All silence. Or Basquiat. What would he paint? Go realistic?
It's a loss when anyone passes. But when a young artist of such talent goes, he or she takes so much more with them.
DFW believed in the power of letters (or, just as resonantly, their impotence), but he wrote as if his life depended on it. And in the end, although we can never hazard to know what happened, or the innermost workings of this terrible loss to his family, I guess it did.