Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A Foreshadowing of Things To Come

This week, the writing world mourns the loss of a unique voice, novelist David Foster Wallace, who took his own life. His tender writing and experimental flair for language made him famous, but those who knew him and worked with him were often heard in recent days to remark on what a lovely person lay beneath his hardened exterior. I don't doubt that one bit. His only appearance in these pages in five and a half years was this commencement speech he gave at Kenyon College, which I reprinted in full, just in case the link would later be broken and we couldn't go back and read his words. What I found as I reread that address this week was both reassuring and startling. The tender, lovely way he connected with the audience half his age, inviting them to think more deeply about the moral imperatives of life, reminded me of why I had originally been moved to share it.

But I was also startled to learn that he had talked about suicide in that speech, and not in a metaphorical way, but in a way that now gives me shivers.
It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with firearms almost always shoot themselves in: the head. They shoot the terrible master. And the truth is that most of these suicides are actually dead long before they pull the trigger.And I submit that this is what the real, no bullshit value of your liberal arts education is supposed to be about: how to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone day in and day out.


At 12:55 PM, Blogger Geoff Schutt said...


The words immediately before the passage you quote are equally telling. (we posted those words in our DFW entry at "This Side of Paradise")

It's good you're keeping the link up, and great you printed the entire speech a while back. Who gives speeches like that these days? Well, DFW, of course. A genius. Tormented, obviously, but a genius. We need to protect such minds, and sadly, some of them slip away.

At my site, we're working with an issue of madness each day, and of losing or finding oneself (and how close to each other these are -- the ledge or edge ANYONE can find him/herself along/on) ....

It is precarious, indeed. But with words -- well, the words do matter. The words count for something. The words make a difference. The words can save a life, even our own life.
-- Geoff (and "Eleanor")

At 3:12 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Creativity and madness are indeed closely linked. Too closely sometime. We're unfortunately reminded of this occasionally, when we lose a great writer who's dug so deeply into his subject and ultimately his own mind. You can hear him struggling to come to grips with all this as you slowly read those words he wrote for the students. He was also addressing his own demons, I suppose.

A couple of years ago, I posted these excerpts from a brilliant book on the sources of the writing compulsion, written by a neurologist. They seem apt for this subject:

We also mentioned the late Bill Styron's struggle with depression here:

At 7:01 PM, Anonymous C. Moon Reed said...

Thank you for your touching eulogy. Also, I am very interested in your opinions on writing compulsion. I look forward to reading more.

At 12:41 AM, Blogger Maria said...

I am sorry for the overwhelming heartache and unbearable despair this writer felt. I wish there had been another way for him to resolve his pain. I am also sorry and know from experience that the anguish is just beginning for those closest to him, those who are left behind. When depression or sadness is so deep, to the afflicted it may seem there is no way out. To the outsider, the person's gifts are often so obvious. That question "why?" still echoes in my heart for the friend I lost at a young age.

At 9:41 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

You said it, Maria. What could I possibly add to that?


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