The Cult of Literary Celebrity Goes Rogue
7 March 2009
This post will be a bit of a tangent — except insofar as it does have to do with literary commerce and consumption.
I am pretty irked by DT Max’s profile this week of the late David Foster Wallace in The New Yorker. I will try to sum up my response as succinctly as I can, since a) this is a blog, and b) if I rant too much I risk remorse, a la Steven Levy.
The profile is quite long and documents DFWs long struggle with depression and anxiety — both psychological and artistic (if these two can even be distinguished). DT Max shows us how Wallace wrestled with the meaning of existence in a deep way, in a way that made the writing of his final (unfinished) novel a veritable battle for personal hope.
Max gives us a compelling portrait of a man trying to both satisfy and calm his soul via his work (and, as Max describes in detail, via a variety of prescribed medications)… and who, toward the end of his life, hungered more and more for a kind of “adult sanity.” But then he concludes the article — after detailing the last few days of Wallace’s life and his death-by-hanging in his home — with this:
Green [DFW's wife] returned home at nine-thirty, and found her husband. In the garage, bathed in light from his many lamps, sat a pile of nearly two hundred pages.
Max goes on to deduce that this was DFWs parting “message,” the manuscript was all.
Throughout the article, Max draws us into the pain and anxiety of this talented man struggling with what it meant to be, as Wallace himself put it, a “fucking human being.” But here at the end, he takes us from his wife finding her dead husband hanging, right to “bathed in light… sat a pile of nearly two hundred pages.”
I was first startled, and then truly disgusted, that the writer would turn the article so abruptly, and then end it, with PAGES — bathed in light. As if the pages are the man, as if the pages mean more than the man; which is sophomoric, pseudo-artistic crap. The man lived with a woman, his wife, and they made a life of love together. As an artist and a man, he suffered much distress. Pages bathed in light?
There will likely be much hullabaloo around the publication of said pages next year. I hope we can control ourselves — all this oggling and deifying (and inevitable crass commercializing) of an artist who had a very hard time of it… as many do.
Read the whole article. Tell me what you think.