David Foster Wallace Kills My Darlings

“You do not have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.”

–C.S. Lewis

To be an artist is to be constantly dissatisfied. Many acclaimed artists have said this, and though not acclaimed, I identify. I have habit of sitting on projects for too long, afraid to let go until they’re absolutely perfect, a habit that usually doesn’t lead to perfection but preciousness, an inability to let go.

In an attempt to be more at ease with doing as Faulkner commanded and “kill my darlings,” I’m doing a similar thing when I read, looking out for the precious progeny of the author.

David Foster Wallace, whose many detractors feel he should have killed a few hundred more darlings in his loose, baggy fiction, speaks to this double vision in his 1988 essay “Fictional Futures and the Conspicuously Young,” collected for the first time in his posthumous book of essays Both Flesh and Not. [Read more…]

Do-It-Yourself Sacramental Tedium

Last Tuesday, after it became clear that Superstorm Sandy was going to bypass Washington, D.C., in favor of New York, I decided to stain the discolored grout in the bathroom.

It appeared that we had a few more hours to stay inside with our batteries and massive food stores—the rains were still torrential, the children were snuggled up under blankets watching a movie, my husband was practicing guitar—so I pulled out the blue painter’s tape and the bottle of Grout Refresh (No. 14: Biscuit/Bizcocho) I’d gotten at Lowe’s and kneeled down on the hard tile.

Painstakingly, and I am not one who usually takes pains—where do you think my son got his ADHD?—I cut strips of tape to edge either side of the lines of grout, a suggestion offered by a commenter on a home improvement forum. Otherwise, my gut would have been to trowel it on, freestyle, and hope for the best.

Once I managed to tape perhaps a three-foot-square section of the floor—I was too eager to invest the time for the whole space—I spread an old Snoopy toothbrush with the thick ecru paste, and dragged it slowly, evenly, down the lines, holding my breath. [Read more…]

The Theological Imagination of David Foster Wallace, Part Two

Continued from yesterday.

In his now infamous 2005 commencement speech at Kenyon College, David Foster Wallace tells a parable about two men, an atheist and a Christian, sitting in a bar in the Alaskan wilderness debating the existence of God. The two men interpret the world in two different ways, the believer thinking that his friend’s survival in a recent blizzard was the result of a half-hearted yet answered prayer, and the atheist believing that “all that was was two Eskimos that came along and showed me the way out.”

Wallace, raised by professors in university towns (Ithaca and then Champaign-Urbana) cautions the Kenyon students against applying too eagerly the relativistic liberal arts stance of simply allowing both men to be right because their beliefs are shaped by separate cultural forces and experiences. [Read more…]

The Theological Imagination of David Foster Wallace, Part One

When David Foster Wallace committed suicide in 2008 there was much speculation and spilling of ink over how someone so gifted and so beloved could take his own life.

With the arrival of his personal papers in 2010 at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, hundreds of journalists and scholars (1,500 in the last year alone compared to 650 for Tennessee Williams) have come to Austin to search his papers for clues that might answer the many lingering questions.

My interest is in a question that perhaps cannot be answered by combing the reams of notes, adolescent schoolwork, and his personal library with copious marginalia. [Read more…]