Everyone our age has got a battered, quarter-read copy of Infinite Jest. It may sound trivial, it may be hard to relate to, but before we suggest charity work as an appropriate treatment for despair, let’s give “inability to write” a fair hearing. As someone who can easily point out the negatives (accurately I might add) I say I don’t NEED a freakin’ brain disease to justify my ability to point out that the glass is half empty as well as half full! In 1989, he spent four weeks at McLean Hospital—a psychiatric institute in Belmont, Massachusetts, affiliated with the Harvard Medical School—where he successfully completed a drug and alcohol detox program. But then the guys managing this “treatment” would become crazed with fear or fury if anyone suggested giving the patient 1mg. We see the High Romantic Wallace (who tattoos a woman’s name on his arm when he barely knows her), and we see the Petty Wallace who—a few years later—won’t pick up her son from school. Is it even considered that the reason he could no longer write the way he wanted to was BECAUSE he was receiving “help” in the form of mind-altering chemicals? Kit Marlowe was killed.
The Deaths of David Foster Wallace Wallace's intersecting plotlines and cascades of footnotes were a testimony to the ‘infinitude’ of the world, as he experienced it. First of all, he is sicker than I am, I think, or shall we say just as much, so that’s that. The way out of solipsism, for Wallace, involved cultivating an ethos of attention—an intentional devotion to inhabiting the lives of others. One response to such a learning failure is to cling on to the pain of denied or rejected, abandoned or failed self, and ‘kill’ or escape the pain-world by leaving it – and leaving their withdrawal to the lives of those in whom they live. Why psychiatrists would not full expect and accept that the same thing happens with their “miracle drugs” is only attributable to wishful thinking or utter corruption. Max quotes a letter Wallace wrote to a friend: “You’re special—it’s OK—but so’s the guy across the table who’s raising two kids sober and rebuilding a ’73 Mustang.
His note sent a very clear message to the VA. “There is an ability to be more emotionally honest in other cultures.”.
It’s especially important in a culture with a propensity to accept easy answers (“mental illness”) or no answers (“we can never know why people kill themselves”) above real answers that don’t sound good enough (“I can’t write”). Ten minutes after my arrival home, I heard a loud knock on my apartment door. Was it also off the police record, too? Wallace was subjected to multiple rounds of it twice in life, once while attempting to withdraw from medication he’d been on for 20 years, and it very well could have robbed him of his ability to write — it doesn’t matter how smart you are, you can’t think your way out of brain damage.
It was as if Franzen was seeking the edges of solipsism, its most (or least) inhabitable metaphor, and then turning that quest into a public artifact—in order to honor a man who spent a lifetime making art as a buffer against isolation.
Max closes with Wallace’s act as an expression of agency (“he had chosen”) and with a suggestion about the way in which his agency worked against the desires of others—“not an ending anyone would have wanted for him.” In this, Max closes his book by glancing towards the people left behind—editors and loved ones and the fans who were also, for Wallace, “loved ones” of a different stripe. His writing was always courting both ideals; his suicide felt—to some, to many—like a betrayal of both. “No one in their right mind would ever take their own life.”.
I’m less interested in what Wallace’s suicide “means”—or even whether it’s legitimate to rummage through its aftermath for meaning—and more interested in exploring the hunger for meaning itself; and how this hunger might illuminate what readers want from biographies of their literary icons. No one has the right to judge whether the person’s reasons for suiciding are valid; if you ever have the experience of reading a suicide note, your job not to assess mental status. On mental health sites, I may find people willing to explore their own experience – but they will break easily when harsh realities or past traumas come up. Yet, in the stick to the script, mentality of the MIA community, such introduction of anything new into this echo chamber environment is greeted with wary suspicions, and gaslighted or white-anted.
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