Saturday, September 13, 2008

David Foster Wallace, 1962-2008. R.I.P.

Writer David Foster Wallace was found dead in his home in Claremont, California yesterday by his wife. He had committed suicide by hanging. Wallace was only 46.

Wallace was best known for his two novels The Broom of the System and Infinite Jest. He also published numerous essays and articles on subjects ranging from tennis to pornography.

Last month, I finished reading his book McCain's Promise. Wallace had covered McCain's failed bid for the Republican nomination in 2000 for Rolling Stone. The book is an expanded version of those articles which first appeared in his 2005 collection of essays titled Consider The Lobster.

Wallace didn't get up close to McCain but rather spent most of his time with the TV techies who covered McCain's town hall meetings and press scrums. While Wallace believed McCain had "scary" right-wing views he came to have a grudging admiration for him. He especially admired McCain's refusal of early release from the Hanoi Hilton. He wrote in McCain's Promise:

Can you hear it? What would be happening inside your head? Would you have refused the offer? Could you have? You can't know for sure. None of us can. It's hard to even imagine the levels of pain and fear and want in that moment, much less know how we'd react. None of us can know.

But, see, we do know how this man reacted. That he chose to spend four more years there, mostly in a dark box, alone, tapping messages on the walls to the others, rather than violate a Code. Maybe he was nuts. But the point is that with McCain it feels like we know, for a proven fact, that he is capable of devotion to something other, more, than his own self-interest.

At this point, it is unclear what drove Wallace to end his life. However, in a recent interview, Wallace had said (somewhat chillingly in retrospect) that McCain had become "a less interesting, more depressing political figure now - at least for me."

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