David Foster Wallace is smarter than you.
Don't worry, friend, he is smarter than me too. I'm man enough to admit that. Really, he was probably the smartest mind of his entire generation, and certainly the smartest of his contemporaries in literature.
DFW, as he is commonly reffered to as on the interwebs, was a 20th century writer most famous for his magnum opus Infinite Jest. More than that, though, he was once an internationally ranked tennis player, an author of several works, both fiction and non-fiction, a MacArthur Genius grant recipient, and a deeply troubled man.
In many ways, DFW is sort of a writer's writer, though that never stopped his commercial success. In his first novel ever penned, The Broom of the System, DFW focuses on language and linguistics, on how language defines identities. The narrative follows a 24-year-old woman named Lenore, who questions her own reality, trying to determine whether she exists truly or if she is just a construct of her own design or someone else's.
In what became known as his true writing style, DFW waxes poetic in his language, constructing challenging and far-reaching sentences that all feel heavily thought upon and necessary.
Reading DFW, there is a sense that not a single word was wasted or out of place. Especially in a book so involved with language, it begins to feel like the writing itself represents a higher meta-narrative. It would be a delight for Jacques Derrida.
Probably most impressive about his first novel is that DFW wrote this as an undergraduate honors thesis, one of two he submitted in his senior year. Starting to see the smarts?
Infinite Jest is often regarded as one of the greatest works of American fiction ever produced, and has been critically and commerically celebrated since its publishing in 1996. Infinite Jest is a lengthy, complex novel about America and its obsession with entertainment media, as well as a story about humanity and a desire for meangingful, earnest experence.
For the themes in this book as well as in all of his other work, DFW has been desribed as a frontrunner for literature's movement towards the sincere abandoning the poker-faced ironies of postmodernism, and embracing the moral nature of humanity and the desire for earnest interaction between people, or between people and literature.
This approach toward the sincere is a literary lens referred to as New Sincerity.
DFW had struggled with depression for the bulk of his life, and in 2008, at 46, he hung himself in his home, penning a 2-page note and making sure to arrange what was completed of the work work he'd been focused on, which was later published as The Pale King in 2011.
A tragedy for the literary community, his memory was honored in colleges all over the country. However, his legacy still lives on.
In fact, DFW has become sort of a mythical figure for many people. His work is known by virtually any student who studies English or Creative Writing, and anyone interested in writing or who is a writer can have an appreciation for his work, as his contructions drip literary.
There are people for whom Infinite Jest is a manner of literary white whale, an evidently insurmountable task, something we feel called to complete. For many people, and I count myself among those, there is a feeling that we owe it to DFW to read him, that he is a kind of required reading for anyone even tangentially interested in art and the triumph of the human creative soul.
DFW may be gone, but his work will endure the passage of time, and his popularity has seen a recent resurgence, with a new film coming out about time he spent with a reporter building a story around him, and with dozens of academic essays examining the breadth of DFW's portfolio.
So if you find yourself to be someone for whom art is a pursuant endeavor, do yourself a favor and pick up some of his work. Struggle your way through Infinite Jest, and feel the sense of accomplishment that must come at the other side. I know I'm trying.