So anyway, after unpacking and starting the laundry and packing my lunch for the next day (I worked today, Sunday), I checked the email. Lots of it. Some needed to be answered right away, some I could just delete, and then finally those from people I really wanted to hear from, including our book group. And that's where I saw it--"...and we were saddened to hear of the passing of David Foster Wallace..." What? Come again, WHAT, WHAT????? What on earth...?
While we were away, seeing only snatches of CNN International and hearing little sound bites about the current economic crisis and political campaigns, one of our favorite authors, whom many call the best of his generation, hanged himself.
It seems shocking, except that there were so many references to depression and suicide in his work. Take the character Katherine Gompert in the tome Infinite Jest:
...Fourth hospitalization in three years, all clinical depression, unipolar. One series of electro-convulsive treatments out at Newton-Wellsley Hospital two years back. On Prozac for a short time, then Zoloft, most recently Parnate with a lithium kicker. Two previous suicide attempts, the second just this past summer. Bi-Valium discontinued two years, Xanax discontinued one year...Depressions unipolar fairly classic, characterized by acute dysphoria, anxiety w/panic, diurnal listlessness/agitation patterns, Ideation w/w/o Intent.... 'I didn't want to especially hurt myself. Or like punish. I don't hate myself. I just wanted out. I didn't want to play anymore is all.'
'When people call it that I always get pissed off because I always think "depression" sounds like you just get like really sad, you get quiet and melancholy and just like sit quietly by the window sighing or just lying around. A state of not caring about anything. A kind of blue kind of peaceful state...Well this'--she gestured at herself--'isn't a state... This is a feeling. I feel it all over. In my arms and legs...I don't know what I could call it. It's like I can't get enough outside it to call it anything. It's like horror more than sadness. It's more like horror. It's like something horrible is about to happen, the most horrible thing you can imagine--no, worse than you can imagine because there's the feeling there's something that you have to do right away to stop it but you don't know what it is you have to do, and then it's happening, too, the whole horrible time, it's about to happen and also it's happening, all at the same time.
'...Everything gets horrible. Everything you see gets ugly. "Lurid" is the word...And everything sounds harsh, spiny and harsh-sounding, like every sound you hear all of a sudden has teeth. And smelling like I smell bad even after I just got out of the shower. It's like what's the point of washing if everything smells like I need another shower....I fear this feeling more than I fear anything, man. More than pain, or my mom dying, or environmental toxicity. Anything.'
That does sound unbearable, and I'm very sorry for his wife, his family, and all his friends. As a fan, I also mourn that we're never going to read the rest of what he read so appealingly to us, in an audience at F&M University, about a year and a half ago. His body of work is either complete or forever unfinished. Hard to believe.
February 21, 1962-September 12, 2008