Dispatches | September 14, 2008
David Foster Wallace: some thoughts on his death
The devastating news of Wallace’s suicide is all over the Web today. It’s tempting to compare him to other similarly tragic literary figures—the Hemingways and Woolfs and Plaths, Kosinskis, Berrymans, Sextons—and offer a thesis about creativity and depression. Or to pull out one of his books and look for clues, or simply to speculate . . . but these responses are always, I believe, more about oneself than about the life that has ended. Laura Miller in Salon offers an insightful tribute today that avoids the usual traps.
We published David Foster Wallace only once, in our “Signifying Rappers” issue of 1990. The essay was a condensed version of a book excerpt from a book of the same title by Mark Costello and David Foster Wallace, and we took it eagerly, back in the day when essays were a hard-to-come-by commodity.
We would have taken it at any time, I suspect. Freshness of subject, cultural relevance, razor-sharp writing and intellectual rigor are not qualities to send packing, especially not when they arrive together in one piece of writing, as they did in “Signifying Rappers.” As lead essay, it gave a title to the issue; and incidentally, it was one of the first essays I edited. There was not much to do with writing so fine, but the excerpt had to be condensed, and it was a cut-and-stitch job to meet our length requirement. When it was all finalized, the authors offered what was, to a young editor-in-training, a memorable pat on the back: the edit was one of the best they’d seen. No doubt they both went on to work with stronger, more experienced editors, but that stamp of approval early on is something I’ve remembered for eighteen years.
Our interaction with David Foster Wallace was limited to the one publication and, over the past decade or so, the continual reminder of his literary influence as we’ve read essay submission after essay submission that in voice or experimental technique showed their authors to be DFW wannabes. Now the field is wide open, but there will not be anyone to take his place.
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