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Sunday, September 14, 2008

David Foster Wallace

About a week ago, at great risk to my studies, I gave in to temptation and checked out 'Infinite Jest' from the library. Last night, ~300 pages into rereading this wonderful novel, I learned that David Foster Wallace, its author, has died in an apparent suicide.

I never met DFW, and know little about his personal life--probably as he wished it--although he seems to have been widely regarded as a kind and generous person. I also never connected too closely with his short fiction and journalistic writing, although I read most of it eagerly. My relationship to DFW centered on `Infinite Jest' (1996), an immense book that captivated me when I discovered it in high school.

Briefly, IJ consists of about 1000 pages of chronologically free-form and narratively heterogeneous episodes from the lives of several characters, generally connected either to the Enfield Tennis Academy of metro Boston or to the nearby Ennet House, a drug rehabilitation center. It is supplemented with ~200 pages of footnotes--a generous helping of asides, extra scenes, and background info (it's set in the slight future, culminating around 2008, better known as the Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment in the era of Subsidised Time).

IJ is at once:

-a lush entertainment, addictive in ways I can't fully explain;

-a barrage of observation, alternately expansive and minute, in which the struggle for readers and characters alike is not so much to find meaning as to hold on to it in the face of various compulsions and distractions, to exercise discernment in a world of spectacular banalities and banal truths;

-a compendium of contemporary striving and suffering, in turns putting up for scrutiny: pleasure and addiction, competitive pursuit, narcissism and dismorphic thinking, irony/withdrawal as survival strategies in a surreal political climate... and more, all in memorably original fashion;

-a genuinely moving book, never dominated by its theses or formal experiments, with deeply rendered characters who, despite their glaring and costly mistakes along the way, become friends you wish would hang around for another 1000 pages.


It's a huge loss to learn that David Foster Wallace won't publish a follow-up to IJ. It's a blow to learn that the person who produced such a sustained meditation on suffering (and our resources to overcome it) has taken his own life. It's a sadness to know that the spirit that breathed into those pages has passed.

What's left is his remarkable work, and his readership, which I hope will continue to grow. Pick up 'Infinite Jest' today!

Update: Arts & Letters Daily has collected a number of DFW retrospectives (see 'Essays and Opinion'). This site, by the way, is an excellent aggregator of new and noteworthy online writing.

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2 Comments:

  • SAT is (not) NP-complete
    http://arxiv.org/abs/0806.2947
    Here is a easy-to-understand for this:
    Let L be the Prolog program:
    Fact:
    Age-About-21(John,0.9).
    Goal:
    ?- Age-About-21(John,0.9).
    The Prolog system answers two different contradictory answers:
    "Yes" = "1" and "0.9" in the fact.
    Try the goal:
    ?- Age-About-21(John,0.3).
    Again, the system answers two contradictory answers:"No" = "0" and "0.9".
    Clearly, this language is in P, but how to reduce it to SAT?
    How to reduce instances of the FLP problem whose output is two contradictory truth values to the SAT problem whose output is only one.
    It is easy to show that ZFC is inconsistent via 2 (independent) proofs.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:53 PM  

  • This literary genius died on my birthday. Im really glad you are reading his 1996 piece "Infinite Jest" which is definitely and without a doubt his best. 1,079 pages full of literary perfection.
    I think in the past 20 years he was by far one of the most influential and innovative writers i have seen in a long time.
    It came as a surprise when people found out and cause a big 'stir' in the writer's world.

    He will truly be missed.
    Thank you for this wonderful post.

    God bless,
    Kalib

    By Anonymous online writing jobs in, at 3:55 PM  

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