I taught DFW at Amherst and count him the best student I’ve ever had. He taught me much. He babysat my kids. A gentle soul.
He was a man, take him for all in all, I shall not look upon his like again.
I can’t say how his death makes me feel: he may have had the words, but I don’t.
So here’s a true fact to embellish his reputation (not that it needs much embellishment): He wrote two senior theses at Amherst. A creative thesis in English that was his first novel, "The Broom of the System," and a philosophy thesis on fatalism. Both were judged to be Summa Cum Laude theses. The opinion of those who looked at the philosophy thesis was that it, too, with just a few tweaks to flesh out the scholarly apparatus, was a publishable piece of creative philosophy investigating the interplay between time and modality in original ways.
That much is probably common knowledge. Here’s what is not so widely known: Though theses normally take a whole school year to write, DFW had complete drafts of his theses by Christmas, and they were finished by spring break. He spent the last quarter of his senior year reading, commenting on, and generally improving the theses of all his friends and acquaintances. It was a great year for theses at Amherst.
– WdeV, Northwood, NH
(…)Wallace actually read part of the work, a version of the Harper’s excerpt, out loud once at a literary festival, telling the audience that it was part of “something longer that isn’t even close to halfway finished yet.”
Even if that work, whatever it is, never sees the light of day, there are those who believe there might be a treasure trove of unpublished materials elsewhere. (…)
by David Foster Wallace
The Daddy was around the side of the house hanging a door for the tenant when he heard the child’s screams and the Mommy’s voice gone high between them. He could move fast, and the back porch gave onto the kitchen, and before the screen door had banged shut behind him the Daddy had taken the scene in whole, the overturned pot on the floortile before the stove and the burner’s blue jet and the floor’s pool of water still steaming as its many arms extended, the toddler in his baggy diaper standing rigid with steam coming off his hair and his chest and shoulders scarlet and his eyes rolled up and mouth open very wide and seeming somehow separate from the sounds that issued, the Mommy down on one knee with the dishrag dabbing pointlessly at him and matching the screams with cries of her own, hysterical so she was almost frozen. Her one knee and the bare little soft feet were still in the steaming pool, and the Daddy’s first act was to take the child under the arms and lift him away from it and take him to the sink, where he threw out plates and struck the tap to let cold wellwater run over the boy’s feet while with his cupped hand he gathered and poured or flung more cold water over his head and shoulders and chest, wanting first to see the steam stop coming off him, the Mommy over his shoulder invoking God until he sent her for towels and gauze if they had it, the Daddy moving quickly and well and his man’s mind empty of everything but purpose, not yet aware of how smoothly he moved or that he’d ceased to hear the high screams because to hear them would freeze him and make impossible what had to be done to help his child, whose screams were regular as breath and went on so long they’d become already a thing in the kitchen, something else to move quickly around. The tenant side’s door outside hung half off its top hinge and moved slightly in the wind, and a bird in the oak across the driveway appeared to observe the door with a cocked head as the cries still came from inside. The worst scalds seemed to be the right arm and shoulder, the chest and stomach’s red was fading to pink under the cold water and his feet’s soft soles weren’t blistered that the Daddy could see, but the toddler still made little fists and screamed except now merely on reflex from fear the Daddy would know he thought possible later, small face distended and thready veins standing out at the temples and the Daddy kept saying he was here he was here, adrenaline ebbing and an anger at the Mommy for allowing this thing to happen just starting to gather in wisps at his mind’s extreme rear still hours from expression. When the Mommy returned he wasn’t sure whether to wrap the child in a towel or not but he wet the towel down and did, swaddled him tight and lifted his baby out of the sink and set him on the kitchen table’s edge to soothe him while the Mommy tried to check the feet’s soles with one hand waving around in the area of her mouth and uttering objectless words while the Daddy bent in and was face to face with the child on the table’s checkered edge repeating the fact that he was here and trying to calm the toddler’s cries but still the child breathlessly screamed, a high pure shining sound that could stop his heart and his bitty lips and gums now tinged with the light blue of a low flame the Daddy thought, screaming as if almost still under the tilted pot in pain. A minute, two like this that seemed much longer, with the Mommy at the Daddy’s side talking sing-song at the child’s face and the lark on the limb with its head to the side and the hinge going white in a line from the weight of the canted door until the first wisp of steam came lazy from under the wrapped towel’s hem and the parents’ eyes met and widened–the diaper, which when they opened the towel and leaned their little boy back on the checkered cloth and unfastened the softened tabs and tried to remove it resisted slightly with new high cries and was hot, their baby’s diaper burned their hand and they saw where the real water’d fallen and pooled and been burning their baby all this time while he screamed for them to help him and they hadn’t, hadn’t thought and when they got it off and saw the state of what was there the Mommy said their God’s first name and grabbed the table to keep her feet while the father turned away and threw a haymaker at the air of the kitchen and cursed both himself and the world for not the last time while his child might now have been sleeping if not for the rate of his breathing and the tiny stricken motions of his hands in the air above where he lay, hands the size of a grown man’s thumb that had clutched the Daddy’s thumb in the crib while he’d watched the Daddy’s mouth move in song, his head cocked and seeming to see way past him into something his eyes made the Daddy lonesome for in a strange vague way. If you’ve never wept and want to, have a child. Break your heart inside and something will a child is the twangy song the Daddy hears again as if the lady was almost there with him looking down at what they’ve done, though hours later what the Daddy won’t most forgive is how badly he wanted a cigarette right then as they diapered the child as best they could in gauze and two crossed handtowels and the Daddy lifted him like a newborn with his skull in one palm and ran him out to the hot truck and burned custom rubber all the way to town and the clinic’s ER with the tenant’s door hanging open like that all day until the hinge gave but by then it was too late, when it wouldn’t stop and they couldn’t make it the child had learned to leave himself and watch the whole rest unfold from a point overhead, and whatever was lost never thenceforth mattered, and the child’s body expanded and walked about and drew pay and lived its life untenanted, a thing among things, its self’s soul so much vapor aloft, falling as rain and then rising, the sun up and down like a yoyo.
Among his many fine and publicly apparent qualities was a genuine kindness. Maybe folks who attended his reading in 2004 at the Free Library in Philadelphia remember an unusual moment with a man who seemed not to be familiar with Wallace and had perhaps wandered into the reading. I think this may even have later been recapped here.
Anyway, as I remember it, this fellow spoke during a question and answer period, from his seat, I think. I can’t remember if someone was walking around with a microphone or if this man just called out loudly. He seemed … bedraggled and he spoke in an uneducated manner. I have to admit that I assumed he was homeless and just looking for a cool place to spend a summer afternoon. But he wanted to tell Wallace that he liked the story the author had just read aloud. It was Incarnations of Burned Children. I won’t forget the power of that reading, either. I believe this guy was just trying to say that he liked it, but maybe there was some sort of question in what he said. It wasn’t clear to me, and it wasn’t clear to Wallace.
And suddenly, Wallace made everyone in the room disappear apart from himself and this man who was trying to communicate. He asked the man a question or two to clarify, then he gave some sort of answer. I wish I could remember the content of the discussion, but I think it’s more important that it happened, that it was back-and-forth and that it was so earnest. It clearly became important to Wallace that the two of them interact. I was uncomfortable. I suspect others were. It was this weird, possibly drunk, possibly homeless man interrupting our little meeting of smart people and one of our heroes. Precious little time and he was wasting it. But to Wallace, here was a human being reaching out to another one, and he wasn’t going to let that effort go unrequited.
James Wallace [il padre di DFW] said that last year his son had begun suffering side effects from the drugs and, at a doctor’s suggestion, had gone off the medication in June 2007. The depression returned, however, and no other treatment was successful. The elder Wallaces had seen their son in August, he said.
“He was being very heavily medicated,” he said. “He’d been in the hospital a couple of times over the summer and had undergone electro-convulsive therapy. Everything had been tried, and he just couldn’t stand it anymore.”
Harper’s Magazine ha messo online tutti gli articoli in loro possesso di Wallace. In memoriam.
> "Dave Wallace was not only a great writer. He was a great man; a funny, witty, wise man with a unique personality.
> I had him as my professor for Creative Writing Fiction at this time last year. I went through my old writing folder earlier and came across a story I submitted to our class for review on 9/12/07. It’s overwhelming to think that it was the beginning of his last year of life.
> He wore his bandana to class daily and was often wearing a tie-dyed Lord of the Rings shirt. It suited his awkward genius in a perfect way.
> It was a class of 10 and we all became close to him and to each other. In May, when I needed a recommendation letter, he wrote me one in two days, completely forgiving my inability to give him a time frame.
> When I sent him a reminder letter:
> Hey Dave,
> You told me to email you to remind you to write that letter. Here it is!
> That didn’t seem like sufficient content for an email though, so I thought about attaching a picture of a puppy, but then I didn’t.
> His response:
> K: The letter’s done and in the weird plastic box outside my door. Go pick it up ASAP — and don’t read it; just trust that it’s supportive. /dw/
> INCLUDED A PICTURE OF A PUPPY!
> I’ll always remember Dave telling us on the first day of class that it will take him time to learn our names, but that once he has, he will remember who we are for the rest of his life. Longer than we remember him.
(Dalla mailing list Wallace-l)
Uno studente nella classe di Scrittura creativa di Wallace:
"incidentally, this is apparently an issue he’s been dealing with for
some time. He took a medical leave of absence about three days before
classes began this semester (my roommate was supposed to have him),
and so someone else was assigned to teach in his place for the year."
(Dalla mailing list Wallace-l.)