Wednesday, April 5, 2023

Every Love Story Is A Ghost Story - Biography Of David Foster Wallace

 The obligatory other review that goes into much more detail

Being  a "mostly out" person blessed with depression and anxiety, this book hits somewhat close to home on a personal level. I say "blessed" because anxiety and depression force you to stop and smell the "excrement" (bad stuff) of our existence, rather than skating on by.

On Wallace; 

He was familiar with his anxiety and may even have associated it with depression, but this was a more intense version of whatever he had routinely dealt with in high school; it was as if some switch in him had been flipped. He felt despair and thought of killing himself. He held on for a few weeks, trying to white-knuckle his way back to being himself.

Up to a "serendipitous" observation of a TV show that talked about panic attacks when I was 22, I just thought I was "crazy", and it was just getting worse as I increasingly isolated myself "just in case" an attack would happen ... and then of course, they started happening when I was alone. "Fearing fear" is a bad hole to fall into. 

We are all different, so my experience is not the same as David's or anyone else's. Similarities? Sure. If you have it, see someone ... a pastor, a therapist, a psychiatrist, even just a family doctor. The medications work, at least they did for me to some extent, as they did for Wallace. As much as to are compelled to, don't isolate, and don't self medicate. 

 A bit like having brain surgery, seizures, and lots of meds to try to prevent more seizures. (1.5 years since my last seizure, a new record! The previous record was 1 year). 

The famous quote goes something like "No man ever steps into the same river twice, since it is not the same river, and he is not the same man". (life, and rivers are flows, not static "things")  Prayer Works. Mindfulness works. DBT works. Exercise works. Forced exposure to fears works. Some combination of all of them works best. "Results will vary, Past Results are no Guarantee of Future Results". 

If it wasn't for fear of Hell, suicide quite likely have happened in my case in my early 20's. I believe suicide is a sin, what I'm not so sure about is if it is a case where we really "make a choice" ... if we believe in Christ, it seems likely that he will understand and forgive even taking "our" life (which is really his)

One thing clear about Wallace is that he was not a Christian: 

Faith was something he could admire in others but never quite countenance for himself. He liked to paraphrase Bertrand Russell that there were certain philosophical issues he could bear to think about only for a few minutes a year and once told his old Arizona sponsor Rich C. that he couldn’t go to church because “I always get the giggles.”
Like many "geniuses" he was too smart for God. I put genius in quotes because I firmly believe that as humans, we can know nothing about everything, or everything about nothing. Those that get the "genius" moniker are very. exceptionally deep in a specific area (literature/writing for Wallace), or so exceptionally wide that they are very shallow in most areas. 
The American generation born after, say, 1955 is the first for whom television is something to be lived with, not just looked at. Our parents regard the set rather as the Flapper did the automobile: a curiosity turned treat turned seduction. For us, their children, TV’s as much a part of reality as Toyotas and gridlock. We quite literally cannot “imagine” life without it.

That is my generation (born in 1956). For a lot of reasons, mass media, especially TV, movies, internet, video games, sports, etc never really grabbed me. I'm just not drawn to mindless entertainment for some strange reason.  

Wallace saw that shallowness of consumerist, entertainment addicted, and addicted in general America and thought that writing a really hard book on purpose ("Infinite Jest") was his mission. As very much an addict himself, he knew of what he spoke.  His alcohol and marijuana addictions nearly killed him. AA was a huge help to him and he became a faithful attendee of recovery meetings, and pushed the envelope of the "anonymous" part in his writing. 

He did however maintain a lifelong addiction to nicotine, smoked and chewed, and strangely, TV ... often 10-13 hours a day. He was also at least a borderline sex addict with a long stream of shallow sexual affairs.

As the culture collapsed into the anecdote and sound bite, Infinite Jest was one of the few books that seemed to anticipate the change and even prepare the reader for it. It suggested that literary sense might emerge from the coming cultural shifts, possibly even meanings too diffused to see before.

Jest was published in 1996, the cultural collapse has went from sound bites to Twitter, FB, YouTube, binge watching NetFlix, and Tik Tok. 

Wallace and Jest may be the poster child for why "The Matter With Things" is critical to understanding our time.  Wallace was the prophet of shallow fragmentation, hopefully McGilcrest is the prophet of deep unification. 

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