Monday, September 15, 2008

Infinite Mess

What drives writers to suicide? In David Foster Wallace's case, deep, relentless depression, according to his family. Sad fucking ending. His wife finds him hanged. I've never understood that exit strategy. I'm too afraid of choking, I suppose. Why not pills and booze? Classic combo. Pass out and don't wake up. Hanging seems like it would seriously hurt before you die. Maybe that's its allure.

Unlike literate others, I never really got into Wallace's work. I respected his imagination, which was complex and vast, and appreciated his sense of humor, though it was too studied and academic for my taste. And all those footnotes, like Chomsky with a joke file. Nicholson Baker used this device with tighter economy in "The Mezzanine," yet it was Wallace who set the rambling tone for those young writers who worshipped and imitated him. But for all of his influence and critical praise, Wallace ended up teaching creative writing at a small college. Hey, a gig's a gig, and I certainly wouldn't reject a teaching job (which I'll never snag, having no degree); yet it seems like a slow death of its own, passing judgment on unrefined work you wouldn't touch unless there was a paycheck attached. Wrestling with one's own writing and inner-demons is taxing enough. Trying to impart this on those who in most cases lack the gift, the fire, the need, is a kind of insanity.

Ah, fuck it. Looking around, it's no crazier than everything else.

Wallace checked out at an interesting, potentially devastating time. Wall Street's in flames, Bush is sending troops into Pakistan, ushering in the Obama Doctrine before its namesake can do the honors, the resource wars are heating up, as is the next Cold War, with the spectacle of Russian ships in the Caribbean, a floating middle finger to NATO. Our owners offer us a "choice" between an eloquent speaker who appears increasingly lost and out of his depth, and an angry old man who seemingly longs for one final battle, smoking ruins over which he can declare "victory" before dying, passing the show on to a Bronze Age amateur. There's a lot of consternation among Serious Folks regarding Sarah Palin's lack of governing experience and her shallow understanding of the world. Should she somehow become president would be the ultimate joke and crowning absurdity, a fitting punishment for our many crimes.

This is why so many people are straining and sweating to get Obama elected. They're trying to stave off the inevitable by sticking Senator Change in front of the landslide, hoping for the best. From the anxious expression on Obama's face, this is merely a weak stalling tactic. We're in the middle of an astonishing mess, with the worst yet to come. Maybe David Foster Wallace felt he could no longer satirize reality. No one can anymore, but some of us are too thick to realize this, or too sickened to even care. As for me, I keep tapping out these screeds, stupid smile on my aging face. As much as I despise all this, I remain curious to see where it goes. I have a pretty good idea already, but guessing the ending has rarely stopped me from watching the film. Pop a cold one and pass the chips.