I have to admit. The past two weeks worth of reading has left me feeling very sad and almost disturbed. I know this is definitely intentionally fallacious, but it is hard to separate DFW’s work with his personal life knowing what we do about his goals as a writer (wanting his work to be a conversation, wanting it to be from a real-person-writer to a real-person-reader, wanting it to be honest and wanting to put himself in his work, making much of it autobiographical) and knowing how his life ended. It has been really hard to get through this stuff. Not only does it seem like an invasion of his personal space, but I am also very uncomfortable reading something so truthful and autobiographical coming from an author whose painted such a clear picture of himself for me. I do, in a way, feel like I know him, which makes it so much sadder.
Reading the footnote on page 993 is especially intense, and has impacted my view of the rest of his text. David Foster Wallace wrote that James Incandenza died during post-production of the 5th remake of his movie Infinite Jest by committing suicide. This makes it especially hard to not view this book as a sort of suicide note and has definitely made me notice all the allusions to suicide and depression in his work.
As we discussed in class, Kate Gompert and the Depressed Person in Brief Interviews are both severely depressed and in both cases the fact that they can’t articulate and communicate their feelings makes the depression even worse. They both try to talk about it, Kate trying to describe the feeling as more ‘horror’ than ‘sadness’, and the Depressed Person resorting to situations that made her sad, the ‘Blame Game’, because it’s easier than explaining what the depression actually feels like. You get the sense from the footnotes and revisions to what the Depressed Person says about it that DFW was having a really hard time communicating it as well, making the stories even more autobiographical.
These two characters’ take on depression (and, because they are so similar, I would guess DFW’s take on his own depression as well) really helps me read the scene in Infinite Jest on page 83-85. As he describes tennis, the game quickly becomes a metaphor for life and depression. Tennis is an “individual sport” with “boundaries” that “contain and direct its infinite expansion inward”. “…The enfolding boundary is the player himself”, not his opponent. The opponent is an “excuse or occasion for meeting the self” and upon this meeting the player “compete[s] with [his] own limits to transcend the self” and “disappear inside the game”. DFW calls the game “tragic and sad and chaotic and lovely” and calls life the same; “all life is the same, as citizens of the human State: the animating limits are within, to be killed and mourned over and over”. Then he calls it an “endless war against the self” and asks if “life is pro-death” and “what’s the difference between tennis and suicide, life and death, the game and its own end?”.
I read in an article that in DFW’s actual suicide note he made it very clear that his depression and suicide had nothing to do with anyone else, it was all contained inside himself. When reading his work, especially Octet, we get a good sense of how “in his head” he was, and that he was constantly fighting with himself. It seems that he viewed other people as a chance to get to himself: how did he react to them, relate to them, come across to them, how did they receive him, react to him, did they like him, do we like him, his writing, etc. (made clear, again, in Octet). This is the “infinite expansion inward” he discusses; the obsession with the self and the paralyzing self-consciousness that seemed to be a constant battle.
I believe we can read DFW’s fiction as autobiographical. This means that we are really going to get a really good sense of his depression and self-consciousness and maybe start putting the pieces together and figure out what lead him to commit suicide, how his depression felt, and how it felt to be him in the world. And that is scary and creepy and hard but also an amazing opportunity to learn something heavy and really important and really true and probably a lot about ourselves.