Monday, September 15, 2008

in memoriam, David Foster Wallace

Benjamin Opipari of Washington, D.C., graciously agreed to write this post:

For the past few days, superlatives have been heaped, rightly, on David Foster Wallace.  Jaw dropping.  Talent that left every other writer in awe.  An American original.  A singular talent.

The last one is somewhat ironic.  Wallace was a singular talent in that he was unique, but he was talented across multiple genres.  Fiction?  Read an An Infinite Jest. Non-fiction?  Read "A Supposedly Funny Thing I'll Never Do Again."  Politics?  Read "The Weasel, Twelve Monkeys and the Shrub."  Few writers have the range to write for both the Paris Review and Tennis magazine; his language made it clear that he was just as comfortable writing colloquially about a Caribbean cruise than he was writing formally about philosophy or postmodernism.  David Foster Wallace was a rightful heir to the New Journalists of over 30 years ago, writers like Gay Talese and Tom Wolfe who filled their non-fiction pieces with literary flair.  He was not unknown to the legal writing community, either.  If you have ever heard Brian Garner mention the word "SNOOT," that's Wallace's.  The two of them enjoyed many a conversation on usage (Wallace reviewed Garner's Dictionary of Modern American Usage for Harper's magazine in 2001).  And lovers of footnotes will find Wallace irresistible: he raised them to an art form in a fit of literary playfulness. 

David Foster died on Friday, September 12.  His untimely death reflects, I'm afraid, the place that truly great writers have in America's consciousness today.  It's hard to imagine that not too long ago, great writers were the rock stars of their generation.  They were celebrities.  Those days, of course, have long since passed, and once again in the next few days we'll see that only in death will one of America's great writers receive the public adulation and recognition that he so deserved.  His books--if they have not done so already--will sell out on to the masses who should have been exposed to him a long time ago. 

As with so many great writers, Wallace's passing robbed us of years of future literary delight.  "The late David Foster Wallace" will take time getting used to.  The writing world is now less prolific.

Benjamin Opipari, PhD
Writing Instructor
Professional Development
1299 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC 20004-2402


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