Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Something to Do with Loneliness

Infinite Jest “When I was in my twenties, deep down underneath all the bullshit, what I really believed was the point of fiction was to show that the writer was really smart. That sounds terrible to say, but I think, looking back, that’s what was going on. And I don’t think I really understood what loneliness was when I was a young man. And now I’ve got a much less clear idea of what the point of art is, but I think its got something to do with loneliness and something to do with setting up a conversation between human beings.”

~ David Foster Wallace, speaking to Michael Silverblatt on the occasion of the publication of his breakthrough novel Infinite Jest in 1996.

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Steve Beeson shared this memory on McSweeney’s Memories of David Foster Wallace:

I never met the man, but to Mr. David Wallace I owe my current situation in life. And he left a pretty funny voicemail. My wife and I have a mutual friend who several years ago realized that we were the only two people he knew who had completed Infinite Jest. On her side, she had implored him to find someone with whom she could discuss the book so she could ask the question she'd been dying to ask such a person, Was it worth it? On my side, we were driving to a ski trip, discussing books, and he mentioned Pynchon. Of course Wallace came up. He asked if I had read Infinite Jest; I said, Yes. He stared at me in the rearview mirror and said, I know someone who will sleep with you. Nine months later (these wheels turn slowly), he brought us together at a Halloween party. I walked in early and she was already there. Mike introduced us—Steve, Karen, Karen, Steve, Infinite Jest, go—and walked off. I talked about it for a minute or two, then said, Yeah, I liked it, but it probably wasn't worth it. The rest is, as they say, history.

Except. There's more: the voicemail. Karen and I fell in love, got engaged on the side of a mountain, and planned a shindig. At the reception, among all the toasts, a family friend stands up with a tape player. She recounts the tale. She turns on the player. David Foster Wallace is saying, Uh, um, this is really a strange and almost horrifying thing, but I hear that a couple, Steve and Karen, are joining themselves in holy matrimony because of my book? He goes on to give a funny, rambling, beautiful benediction that we'll always treasure.

So, Mr. David Foster Wallace, thank you for the possibly-not-worth-it tome, dozens of incredible essays, a heartfelt voice from beyond, and a beautiful life with my wife and little boy.