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.”

Yes really.

” … 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.”

15 comments to “Perminantly”

  • On all of the memorial comment threads on I’ve been checking in on, there are little stories about DFW’s surprising generosity like the flower+acknowledgments one mentioned above.

    You neglected to post the comment from the LATimes piece that implied that DFW was actually assassinated by Bush for criticizing his presidency.

    The closest I come to tears when thinking about DFW’s death is when I pick up something he wrote (I’ve been dipping back into Oblivion and Consider the Lobster) and remember: Oh yeah. I really DO love this more than just about anything.

  • emily

    Right? I’ve been rereading too — seems like the thing to do.

  • Ray Gunn

    Thanks for the personal anecdote, Emily. Only now am I seeing the wisdom in having held out on the desire to carve the word ‘David’ into my flesh when I was reading IJ for the first time back in the late 90s. Because now it might read ‘avid’ and with DFW gone there’s not too much I’m avid about anymore.

    Also, hi.

  • TC

    As much as this makes me want to pick up “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again..” it also made me start re-reading Styron’s “Darkness Visible”

  • Emily, for another absurd, charming, sad, touching and self-absorbed comments thread of epic proportions, check out the one over at Metafilter:


    I’ve kept my thoughts to myself in most comments threads, but I will say here the first thing I reread was “Forever Overhead,” a short story that made me cry at the joy and terror of being alive the first time I read it.

  • Tim

    Gen X might most be remembered for being the suicide generation. A meaningless elegy if there ever was one. Killing yourself is a cowardly act, living takes courage. All the iconic figures I once wanted so badly to be like–Kurt Cobain, Layne Staley, Shannon Hoon–time has revealed them for what they are/were: immature soul searchers, reckless druggies, depressed know-it-alls. If any writer’s suicide can be respected it would be Hunter S. Thompson’s. The truest of all rebels are rebelling against themselves, and taking your own life is a way to destroy the destroyer in you. At least Hunter S. Thompson ate up life until his body gave out on him, in which case their was nothing left to do but the one final act. But to truncate time as it is evolving, shut out the sun and stars forever, delete yourself from the dream–this is not the glorious eternal hiding. An infinite amount of rationalizations could never justify or forgive this.

    I don’t know what to say – perhaps I should say nothing but look down.

  • rebekah

    I’ve been hearing a lot of suicide as narcissism opinions surrounding David Foster Wallace’s death, but I think true genius must be a heavy burden. Those who are able to know more — to understand more — than everyone else, well, those people must find life overwhelming and very lonely. much of DFW’s writing and now his life itself are encapsulations of tragic genius. His writing opened my mind and my heart, and I will miss it too.

  • Chad

    Tim, I’m disappointed to see you reduce the case of DFW to grunge era posturing and platitudes about courage. Read his father’s comments in the NYT obit. The picture emerging is that of a seriously ill man: the thought of DFW so desperate for relief that he would submit to electroshock treatment brought me closer to tears than anything had in a long time.

  • arthur

    I had never heard of this man/writer/artist/person until reading your blog, emily (we are not from the same generation). After doing some research I am very much looking forward to discovering his work.

    As an outsider in this extraordinary tragic sad event I can only say that I am sorry he choose to leave this world.

    We are all going to go, but to choose to is an act of both courage and cowardice and an act of most assuredly of one who is desperately depressed and in extreme pain. I am crying for him and I have never read a single word he had wrote prior to his death.

    When I read in the Wall Street Journal:

    “Mr. Wallace’s wife found her husband had hanged himself when she returned home about 9:30 p.m. Friday, said Jackie Morales, a records clerk with the Claremont Police Department.”

    I just was crushed by the thought of a wife finding her husband like that… It has been a day now and now I am feeling a bit better about all that.

  • I enjoyed the comment, “Was David the Catcher in the Rye?”

  • poisson

    Why are you so suspicious of commenters? Why does our decision to judge and criticize you anonymously in poorly-spelled santances arouse so much of your ire?

  • Gay Blade

    “Perminantly?” Did Emily just coin another phrase? In the future will we all talk in Emily-speak?

    Person 1: Ah, Bill Cosby just died?

    Person 2: Perminantly!

    Person 3: I just overheard you saying Perminantly. Did someone famous just die?

    Person 1: Yes, Bill Cosby.

    Person 3: Noooo, Perminantly!

  • Gay Blade –

    If you read the post, I think you’ll find that “Demosthenes” (a fellow commenter!) coined that ‘phrase,’ as you call it.

  • Gay Blade

    Thanks for pointing that out to me, Ruth. I didn’t think Emily was actually that unlettered. I mean, homesteaders have had access to public education since the invention of the school bus.

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