David Foster Wallace on the Mortality Paradox

David Foster Wallace took his own life five years ago today.

This quote on the mortality paradox, found in Conversations with David Foster Wallace, resonated with me:

You don’t have to think very hard to realize that our dread of both relationships and loneliness, both of which are like sub-dreads of our dread of being trapped inside a self (a psychic self, not just a physical self), has to do with angst about death, the recognition that I’m going to die, and die very much alone, and the rest of the world is going to go merrily on without me. I’m not sure I could give you a steeple-fingered theoretical justification, but I strongly suspect a big part of real art-fiction’s job is to aggravate this sense of entrapment and loneliness and death in people, to move people to countenance it, since any possible human redemption requires us first to face what’s dreadful, what we want to deny.


(via Brainpickings)

David Foster Wallace: “Frightening Time in America”

A never before published (in the United States) 2006 interview with David Foster Wallace has appeared in The New York Review of Books. I enjoyed getting to know the genius of David Foster Wallace from this fascinating interview.

Two notable quotes. First, DFW on the state of America [emphasis mine]:

Speaking totally as an amateur and not any kind of government expert, I would say America’s now starting to face certain economic realities that we’ve been shielded from for many years. The price of gasoline is slowly becoming closer to what it is in the rest of the world. The awareness that the entire Earth’s climate is affected by all nations, and that the United States as far and away the biggest carbon dioxide producer bears some special responsibility for possible environmental collapse later. Americans are slowly waking up out of a kind of dream of special exemption and special privilege in the world. To use your term, this could result in some kind of volcano and America becoming some kind of nightmarish imperial force trying to take resources from other countries forcibly, or it could result, as I think it does in many countries in cycles, in a kind of slow awakening to the fact that having and consuming and exhausting resources is actually not a very good set of values for living.

So which way it will go? I don’t know. And it’s one reason it’s a very frightening time in America, particularly with the people who’re in power right now—many of us are in the position of being more afraid of our own country and our own government than we are of any supposed enemy somewhere else. For someone like me who grew up in the sixties at the height of the Cold War and whose consciousness was formed by, “we are the good guy and there’s one great looming dark enemy and that’s the Soviet Union,” the idea of waking up to the fact that in today’s world very possibly we are the villain, we are the dark force, to begin to see ourselves a little bit through the eyes of people in other countries—you can imagine how difficult that is for Americans to do. Nevertheless, with a lot of the people that I know that’s slowly starting to happen.

A good exchange between the interviewer, Ostap Karmodi, and DFW here:

OK: What do you think of the modern state of American literature?

DFW: Ugggggghhhhh. Somebody asked me this a couple of weeks ago. I think the truth is that it’s a very exciting period but it’s one that probably people in other countries won’t have as much access to. Because 30 or 40 years ago American literature mainly existed in ten or a dozen giant literary figures, and there are now probably more like 100 or 200 literary figures, all of whom are quite good and quite interesting, but none really of the stature and international reputation of, say, a Saul Bellow or a William Faulkner or an Ernest Hemingway.