Friday, September 26, 2008

Lost: David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace, novelist and essayist, was interviewed on NPR. In this eight minute excerpt of a "Fresh Air" interview with Terry Gross, he speaks of how he was exhausted by the ironic, knowing, and weary tone of much contemporary writing (wherein everything is deflated, deconstructed, and nothing is left standing). Nevertheless, he dreaded appearing serious or earnest--"like Bill Bennett" (who wrote on virtues and the need for moral character). I cannot comment on the corpus of his writings, but this interview seems to speak volumes about the despair of so many contemporary writers and artists.

Wallace was, sadly, a brilliant but lost soul. He admits that he and his friends could not understand their own sorrows, in light of their economic and status successes. Having no stable reference point beyond themselves, they became mysteries to themselves. Pascal spoke profoundly to the inability of man without God to understand man:

Know then, proud man, what a paradox you are to yourself. Be humble, impotent reason! Be silent, feeble nature! Learn that man infinitely transcends man, hear from your master your true condition, which is unknown to you.

Listen to God.

Wallace took his life a few weeks ago at age 47. Great intelligence without root in objective truth and meaning, lacking a sense of life's larger purpose, can be a despairing and dangerous situation. His mind was at the end of its tether, and then he snapped the tether by hanging himself. His tragic death bears terrible witness to the truth of Jesus:

Then Jesus said to his disciples, "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for you to gain the whole world, yet forfeit your soul? Or what can you give in exchange for your soul? --Matthew 26:24-26.


Tom said...

Here's a link to an article about the context of his suicide. It seems that deep, chemical depression might have been the primary cause.

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...

I don't discount that, and had heard of it, Tom. Thanks.

But even depression can be endured by a Christian who is held by his or her beliefs in God's goodness.

Adel Thalos said...

Excellent Post, Dr. Groothuis! Thank you for that very powerful, truthful reflection

Andrew said...

I'm curious if you've read any of his work?

Andrew said...

Rather than "powerful and truthful", I find this post to assume rather a lot based on an 8-minute interview. You've made a patronizing point from a brief excerpt of his thinking delivered in a medium you yourself have questioned.

If you've read his work you might recognize how he has transcended the ironic tone of contemporary writing and achieved an honesty in his own work that is hard to find anywhere. Check out his essay on irony in contemporary aesthetics: "E Unibus Pluram" or "Up Simba!" (1999) his profile of John McCain, the Republican Presidential Nominee (sadly we couldn't read his commentary on Sarah Palin).

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...


There is nothing patronizing in what was written. I lament this man's death. I am evaluating what he himself said in his interview. I am not an expert in his writings. I pointed out a tension in his philosophy which, I take it, he never resolved. Nor did I say he never transcended the irony he was tired of. I pointed out that his own comments that he could not find a solid point of reference, since he feared being viewed as a moralist.