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Happy 51st Birthday, David Foster Wallace

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2/8/2013 1:04:05 PM
Posted: 7 years ago
I originally posted this as a Facebook note on September 12, 2011, the third anniversary of David Foster Wallace's suicide. His 51st birthday would be this upcoming February 21st, just three days before my own. Here, I have compiled some of my favorite DFW quotes. If you are a fan, I urge you to submit your own memorable quotes. If you aren't a fan, I urge you to become one.

Most people who know me know how much I utterly and completely worship David Foster Wallace. I dedicated a good six months of my life to writing a 27-page thesis about his work, and, since finishing said thesis, have been "Googling" his name at least once a week in search of previously undiscovered tidbits of writing by or about him. In many ways, it is comparable to the obsession I had with the Backstreet Boys in fifth grade. I would spend hours upon hours reading about BSB online, looking up pictures, memorizing factoids. In some strange turn of events, 15 years down the line, I now appear to be doing the exact same thing with Wallace. I am obsessed. Like I did with Nick Carter, I frequently find myself fantasizing about marrying or at least befriending the late author. The desktop of my computer is an ever-changing display of photographs of Wallace, him pictured in every one wearing his signature bandana.

Though I never got the pleasure of meeting him, I sometimes feel as though I knew DFW (and he knew me) better than anyone else in my life. Oftentimes, I am struck with the notion that Wallace and I are, in fact, the same person (Though he was, undoubtedly, much more intelligent than I could ever hope to be). It sounds crazy, yes. But if Wallace is known for anything, it is for his uncanny ability to connect with his audience. I, like many, fell under this very spell. When I read Wallace, I am reading myself. When I read Wallace, I am understood. Every one of the discombobulated and disconcerting thoughts that plague my brain on a daily basis suddenly seem fall into place.

I don"t think I"d be lying if I said DFW saved my life. I was going through an immensely emotional personal episode, walking that fine line between sanity and insanity, when I first discovered his work. As for many others, his words provided unprecedented comfort and solace. DFW "got" me. DFW put into words all of the crazy and conflicting and depressing thoughts that were running through my head on a daily basis. DFW understood.

And when he took his own life three years ago today, it felt in many ways like I had lost my best friend. The one person whose words I could count on for stability and understanding would now forever be silent. I decided, then, to ration out what little of Wallace I had left. There are several of his books that sit on my shelf unfinished. I have a lifetime ahead of me, and, unfortunately, there is now only so much of Wallace to go around. Everything and More, The Broom of the System, The Pale King, and even Infinite Jest--I"m holding out as long as I can, so that I can continue to connect with Wallace in a myriad of different ways for the rest of my own time on this earth. I miss him terribly, and with every work I complete, I silently mourn the fact that someday his words will run out. I will finish them all. And after that, then what?

Today, on the third anniversary of his suicide, I have decided to attempt to compile all of the DFW quotes that have resonated so soundly within me these past years. Below are some of my favorites. Feel free to share your own.

R.I.P., David. You have changed my life forever, and I will never forget you.

"And I submit that this is what the real, no-s*** value of your liberal arts education is supposed to be about. How to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone, day in and day out." (from "This is Water")

"The capital-T Truth is about life before death. It is about making it to thirty, or maybe even fifty, without wanting to shoot yourself in the head. It is about the real value of a real education, which has nothing to do with grades or degrees and everything to do with awareness--awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over:
"This is water."
"This is water."" (from "This is Water")

"The next real literary "rebels" in this country might well emerge as some weird bunch of anti-rebels, born oglers who dare somehow to back away from ironic watching, who have the childish gall actually to endorse and instantiate single-entendre principles. Who treat of plain old untrendy human troubles and emotions in U.S. life with reverence and conviction. Who eschew self-consciousness and hip fatigue. These anti-rebels would be outdated, of course, before they even started. Dead on the page. Too sincere. Clearly repressed. Backward, quaint, naive, anachronistic. Maybe that"ll be the point. Maybe that"s why they"ll be the next real rebels. Real rebels, as far as I can see, risk disapproval. The old postmodern insurgents risked the gasp and squeal: shock, disgust, outrage, censorship, accusations of socialism, anarchism, nihilism. Today"s risks are different. The new rebels might be artists willing to risk the yawn, the rolled eyes, the cool smile, the nudged ribs, the parody of gifted ironists, the "Oh, how banal."" To risk accusations of sentimentality, melodrama. Of overcredulity. Of willingness to be suckered by a world of lurkers and starers who fear gaze and ridicule above imprisonment without law. Who knows. Today"s most engaged young fiction does seem like some kind of line"s end. I guess that means we all get to draw our own conclusions. Have to. Are you immensely pleased." (from "E Unibus Pluram")

"What goes on inside is just too fast and huge and all interconnected for words to do more than barely sketch the outlines of at most one tiny little part of it at any given instant." (from "Good Old Neon")

"The truth is you already know what it"s like [to die]. You already know the difference between the size and speed of everything that flashes through you and the tiny inadequate bit of it all you can ever let anyone know. As though inside you is this enormous room full of what seems like everything in the whole universe at one time or another and yet the only parts that get out have to somehow squeeze out through one of those tiny keyholes you see under the knob in older doors. As if we are all trying to see each other through these tiny keyholes." (from "Good Old Neon")

"Consider how very, very few of us have the equipment to deal with the obvious." (from "Little Expressionless Animals")

""Oceans are only oceans when they move," Julie whispers. "Waves are what keep oceans from just being very big puddles. Oceans are just their waves. And every wave in the ocean is finally going to meet what it moves toward, and break. The whole thing we looked at, the whole time you asked, was obvious. It was obvious and a poem because it was us. See things like that, Faye. Your own face, moving into expression. A wave, breaking on a rock, giving up its shape in a gesture that expresses that shape. See?"" (from "Little Expressionless Animals")

"The truth will set you free. But not until it is finished with you." (from Infinite Jest)

""Mario, what do you get when you cross an insomniac, an unwilling agnostic and a dyslexic?"
"I give."
"You get someone who stays up all night torturing himself mentally over the question of whether or not there's a dog."" (from Infinite Jest)

"Try to learn to let what is unfair teach you." (from Infinite Jest)

"I'd tell you all you want and more, if the sounds I made could be what you hear." (from Infinite Jest)
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2/8/2013 1:05:53 PM
Posted: 7 years ago
"You can"t kill time with your heart. Everything takes time. Bees have to move very fast to stay still." (from "Forever Overheard")

"You think it"s a coincidence that it"s in college that most Americans do their most serious falling-down drinking and drugging and reckless driving and rampant f***ing and mindless general Dionysian-type reveling? It"s not. They"re adolescents, and they"re terrified, and they"re dealing with their terror in a distinctively American way. Those naked boys hanging upside down out of their frat-house"s windows on Friday night are simply trying to get a few hours" escape from the stuff that any decent college has forced them to think about all week." (from "Laughing with Kafka")

"If you worship money and things " if they are where you tap real meaning in life " then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It"s the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. On one level, we all know this stuff already " it"s been codified as myths, proverbs, clich"s, bromides, epigrams, parables: the skeleton of every great story. The trick is keeping the truth up-front in daily consciousness. Worship power " you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart " you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. And so on."

"Fiction"s about what it is to be a f***ing human being."

"The interesting thing is why we're so desperate for this anesthetic against loneliness."

"It took years after I"d graduated from Amherst to realize that people were actually far more complicated and interesting than books, that almost everyone else suffered the same secret fears and inadequacies as I, and that feeling alone and inferior was actually the great valent bond between us all. I wish I"d been smart enough to understand that when I was an adolescent."

"How long has it been since you did Absolutely Nothing? I know exactly how long it's been for me. I know how long it's been since I had every need met choicelessly from someplace outside me, without my having to ask or even acknowledge that I needed. And that time I was floating, too, and the fluid was salty, and warm but not too-, and if I was conscious at all I'm sure I felt dreadless, and was having a really good time, and would have sent postcards to everyone wishing they were here."

"Well and but life just goes on, emptily, sadly, with always direction but never center. The hubless wheel spins ever faster, no?" (from "Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way")

"But from special it's not very far to Alone." (from "Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way")

"We all have our little solipsistic delusions, ghastly intuitions of utter singularity: that we are the only one in the house who ever fills the ice-cube tray, who unloads the clean dishwasher, who occasionally pees in the shower, whose eyelid twitches on first dates; that only we take casualness terribly seriously; that only we fashion supplication into courtesy; that only we hear the whiny pathos in a dog's yawn, the timeless sigh in the opening of the hermetically-sealed jar, the splattered laugh in the frying egg, the minor-D lament in the vacuum's scream; that only we feel the panic at sunset the rookie kindergartner feels at his mother's retreat. That only we love the only-we. That only we need the only-we. Solipsism binds us together, J.D. knows. That we feel lonely in a crowd; stop not to dwell on what's brought the crowd into being. That we are, always, faces in a crowd." (from "Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way")
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2/8/2013 1:18:57 PM
Posted: 7 years ago
At 2/8/2013 1:17:17 PM, bossyburrito wrote:
That's a bit over-the-top, don't you think?

Perhaps. I thought there might be other DFW fans that would enjoy it, though. Buuuuut maybe not...

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