W/r/t

NB: Someone asked me to write something about David Foster Wallace a few months ago; I think it was around the 20th anniversary of Infinite Jest’s publication. I have no idea what happened to the piece (so if it is floating about somewhere, and you’ve read it already, well apologies.) Having finished ‘Every Love Story Is A Ghost Story’, DT Max’s excellent biography, I thought it was worth getting out there, with all the usual caveats about the world not needing more DFW tributes etc etc.

I’m sorry[1], David[2]. I’m sorry that I didn’t pay proper attention[3] to what you said, and now lack the time[4] to write this note of appreciation[5] in a manner[6] that befits[7] you. Still, w/r/t[8] you, you changed my life[9], and for that thank you[10].

[1] Yes, I really am. I was meant to have written this ages ago. Instead work, bloody work, bloody bane of my life, bane of all our lives, guilt driver, time-suck, thing I am in thrall to because I am in thrall to spending money and nice things bane of my life has taken over — the things you warned about, basically — and I haven’t had headspace, time and desire to try and write this. So that is where I am.

[2] I think I can call you that, be so informal, because even at your most pedagogic — especially at your most pedagogic, your most snoot-y — you could never shuck the Midwestern politeness inherent within you; and so even those of us who could probably do no more in your presence if we ever came in to your presence than tug on your sleeve and/or gibber incoherently would feel empowered enough to use your first name, because we would be confident (despite no evidence) of not being reproached for such forwardness.

[3] Ironically enough, right? Because that was the real lesson of IJ wasn’t it? That not paying proper attention to the proper things, the things that are worthy of it, will lead you headlong into a terrible spiral where you’re at the mercy of all sorts of separatists*.

*Oh, and by the way, can I just add at this point that a) there’s no way you could write a comic novel featuring terrorists now? And especially not if you come from the South Asian diasporic background I do. Joking about bombs? That’ll get you on a watchlist faster than the cry of ‘Homeland security’ can gurgle out of your throttled throat.

[4] Because you did always demand that too, didn’t you? The words flowed out of you faster than light, but yet were always arrayed in such a way that they didn’t flow into us as quickly, as easily. You made us work, made us think, dammit.

[5] What do I appreciate about you? Oh, everything really… the high velocity of the words, tearing synapses apart as they try to fill you with more information and wonder about the world than you thought it was possible for you to absorb, let alone retain; the energy with which you attacked every subject; the fact that you felt, and reminded us that it was the most important thing that we did too; for teaching me about infinity, and not just as a metaphor but mathematically too; for the most beautiful description of nature I have ever read, in The Pale King… I could go on… So I will, but only for the this main, crucial point — that you made it OK for nerdy, over-brainy, over-wordy wannabe sensitive dude-aesthetes like me, who could never actually be fully accepted as over-wordy dude-aesthetes, as our race meant we and others had the expectation that we should be nerdy, over-numbered, non-dude non-aesthetes, to try and be nerdy, over-brainy, over-wordy wannabe sensitive dude-aesthetes**.

**Yeah, it’s a work in progress, achieving this nerdy, over-brainy, over-wordy wannabe sensitive dude-aesthete status.

[6] Yes, it is horribly mannered, but my god what can you do when you fall for a writer like you, like so many of us did, but just try to make the low-rent pastiches of you we end up churning out slightly less bad than the ones we wrote before. Sorrysorrysorry for not finding my own style, better.

[7] Pastiche is never befitting, is it? I’ve done this all wrong. Sorry again.

[8] I always loved this formulation, and there was a period when I couldn’t write a damn thing without it. I still think it’s frightfully useful and clever — an internet coinage before we even knew what ‘The Internet’ was.***

***Which makes me think, I’d love to see some DFW telegrams. What does terse prolixity look like?

[9] See fn. 5 for evidence of that, though frankly we’re all wishing that this damascene moment hadn’t happened, and I instead knuckled down to become an accountant.

[10] No, really. Thank you.

Hunger, Fire, Harrumph.

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