“No wonder we cannot appreciate the really central Kafka joke: that the horrific struggle to establish a human self results in a self whose humanity is inseparable from the horrific struggle. That our endless and impossible journey toward home is in fact our home.”
— David Foster Wallace, Consider the Lobster and Other Essays
David Foster Wallace is one of those towering figures of American literature whose legacy is as profound as his persona remains enigmatic, at least to many of us on the outside.
While he wrote both fiction and non-fiction – and with his non-fiction he wrote the gamut, from tennis and tornadoes to politics and pornography – today he is most widely remembered for his prose fiction, specifically Infinite Jest, which is seen by many as his magnum opus.
Set between an addicts’ halfway house and a tennis academy, Infinite Jest is a modern-day A Confederacy of Dunces, a reality where communists and pinkos and blockhead detectives are no longer the bad guys; it’s the entertainment industry as a whole, the shallow nature of television, and how “irony and ridicule are entertaining and effective, and that, at the same time, they are agents of a great despair and stasis in U.S. culture…”
A man of many interests and proclivities, Wallace has been described as someone who “wanted to progress beyond the irony and the metafiction associated with postmodernism.” Early in his career he was compared to writers such as Thomas Pynchon and John Irving, but the list expanded as the years passed – as did the many authors whose careers he would influence.
According to his father, Wallace suffered from depression for at least two decades. Sadly, another part of Wallace’s life would be compared to that of John Kennedy Toole at the very end, when David Foster Wallace took his own life in 2008. He was 46.