Almost lost in today's coverage of, well, quite a few important things, I discover that David Foster Wallace has died.
I haven't read all that much of his work, and in particular am unlikely in the immediate future to have time to tackle the behemoth that is Infinite Jest. I am told that he was a major influence on several of today's more interesting writers, but I am very much not in a position to comment on that at any length. However, given all that, I have something of a soft spot in my heart for Wallace, as he was rather an outsized figure during my college years. Arriving a couple of years after his signature work hit the scene, all the tragically hip GS-Hum1 concentrators (i.e. the grungier, mostly more authentic but equally pretentious antecedants to today's hipsters) were obsessed with Infinite Jest. Not only did I have many such friends early on -- they tended to cluster in my neo-Gothic, nearly-on-campus dorm, but being mostly older than me, graduated and thus featured principally in my first couple of years there -- but said folks essentially dominated the editorial staff of the Chicago Maroon, which made the campus organ considerably less useful, but an immeasurably more intriguing read. Moreover, at that time the Maroon staff overlapped heavily with the ScavHunt Judgeship, and thus the literary voice of David Foster Wallace was a pervading presence during my first few Hunts. To this day, the ScavHunt by-laws endorse terrorizing Wallace, wherein "terrorize" is implicitly defined to mean "to worship, creatively and intrusively."
From reports, it sounds like Wallace was a casualty of severe -- and eventually untreatable -- clinical depression. Brain chemistry is a brutal and flighty thing.
1 GS-Hum is the UofC department code for General Studies in the Humanities -- this wasn't a real department, but was instead a program that enabled those types who were planning to have to hold down a white collar day job after graduation anyway, to get a degree for reading and writing widely and with eccentricity, for example by learning a foreign language and falling in love with the literature and drama of that language's national past, going on to study modern nonconformists living lives inspired by fictional characters contained therein, and finally writing and staging a difficult-to-follow drama informed by the experience2. Yes, that's the sort of thing the GS-Hum concentrators did. I believe the program survives today under the heading of Interdisciplinary Studies.
2 Apropos David Foster Wallace, this post is brought to you with extra footnotes and unnecessarily-long sentences.