When a beloved public figure dies, especially when he dies of his own volition, the responses of people who never knew him — but who are nevertheless affected — can be beautiful in their unpredictability and their absurdity. I remember a girl in my middle school who used a razor to etch the word ‘Kurt’ into her arm. By 10th grade the scar, via some mystery of the healing process, read ‘urt.’ It was very faint at that point so I’m sure it’s completely gone by now. This sounds grosser and more disturbing if you don’t know that cutting yourself with a razor was basically the slap bracelet of 1994.
I have been finding the comments on the LA Times discussion board about David Foster Wallace similarly ridiculous/touching. They range from sincere musings about suicide and compassion to trite condolence cards to personal recollections, mostly of the ‘he signed my book’ variety. Some are disturbing and some are hilarious and some are both. Read as a unified text they are the exact kind of thing he was so good at satirizing — in fact, he invented a brilliant style of satirizing this kind of thing, and then often a reality would spring up that was more of a parody of itself than anything he could have imagined. That is I guess the pattern of our culture. I can see how someone who spent a lot of time acknowledging this would not want to keep suffering those particular slings and arrows. Anyway, I loved his books and had looked forward to many more. That would be my comment. Here are some others.
“I don’t know what to say – perhaps I should say nothing.”
And then it goes on, of course. Ah, the commenter’s eternal dilemma — so often resolved in exactly this way!
“i never could get through that book but loved Supposedly… Thanks for the laughs David”
“Why would someone do something as horrible as kill themselves? How bad was his life to just take it away perminantly?”
This commenter’s name is ‘Demosthenes.’
“I loved DFW’s writing but hated navigating the footnotes. Suffice to say, his life will be remember as much more than a footnote in literary history.”
” … he also seemed like a truly good guy. I once copy edited one of his magazine pieces, and he sent me a plant as a thank-you–incredibly sweet. He sent the fact checker something as well. And then years later when the piece was reprinted in a book, he included me in the acknowledgments. My role had seemed like a small one … what a gentleman.”
Being serious now: that is very cool.
“bad macho manic politics aside. a sincere voice of a genration. a prodigious talent. i’d venture to say the best writer of his generation. an influence on us all. Especially television.”
Not such a notable comment, but submitted by commenter “infinite rest.”