Posted by: trailerpilot | 12:25::2008

Travel reading.

I picked up the latest issue of Harper’s, like I always do when flying, but which I made a specific point of doing today, as the promotional half-cover promised literary luminaries’ reflections on David Foster Wallace in Readings. His suicide in September was a shock: He’s one of a few people on any and all lists of heroes of mine, of artists I revere so completely that, in the absence of my subsciption to an organized religion, collectively comprise what I turn to as “god” when needs arise. I was hurt by the news, to say the least.

So anyway, what Harper’s has done is excerpted from remarks by Michael Pietsch, Zadie Smith, George Saunders and Don DeLillo given at an October memorial for Wallace at NYU and, not to make light of the subject matter, but all four are great reading. Pietsch’s enumerates some anecdotes about his backs-and-forths with DFW during the course of editing five of his most significant books. I haven’t read Zadie Smith before, but she spoke very intricately about giftedness and what she understood about DFW’s personal philosophy on the necessity of selflessness to the successful creative act. She goes on to unpack some of his relationship to faith through a story about a book he once reccommended to her (Brian Moore’s Catholics). I can sense in reading DFW that some belief system is operating in there–he kinda had all systems operating at 100% all the time, it seems–but I really connected to how she explains how the open question for him as a writer is right there in the characters he created. Saunders’ eulogy was the simplest and saddest, a very frank expression of his loss of someone of incredible importance to him; he finishes with an exhortation to actively imbue one’s work with the spirit of DFW’s choices and discoveries. I almost choked up reading the transcription, because I felt like I could hear Saunders choking up in his words. A strange thing I did when I saw DFW’s obituary go up in the New York Times was that I had intellectual and emotional responses to it simultaneously, and they had nothing in common with one another. My “relationship” to him as a reader was built on such abstractions, and wholly outside mortality (both his and mine). At the first Pitchfork Music Festival, I saw a guy who had had a t-shirt made to look like a jersey, and across the top of his back it said “PEMULIS.” The fictional world of Infinite Jest was complete, the one time DFW and I ever lived together and, since it was a closed loop (that took me the entire summer of 2000), neither he nor I could ever die in there. The passing of writers hurts because the places you remember–the worlds in their books–are things you built together, in collaboration.

DeLillo’s contribution was interesting and, naturally, brilliant, but I can’t imagine anyone speaking that way. Even transcribed (I’m guessing) from audio or video, it looks like an essay. Anyway, if you were a fan of DFW too, give them all a read. I’m going to try to track down some record of the memorial online–if found I’ll post here.

I’m somewhere over Iowa right now, on my way home to Colorado. Like everyone else, I barely made it out of Chicago today. It was looking like I was going to be spending the night in one of two places: In Michigan, or back at home in Rogers Park. Long story, natch–I’m sure you can guess all the details.

Speaking of my personal Pantheon of genius artists, I have to say that one of my biggest anticipations about 2009 is going to be seeing the Batsheva Dance Company at the Auditorium February 8th and 9th. I’ll be covering it on Flavorpill and also in my next Times column, as well as doing some more obsessive coverage of various kinds here both before and after, so stay tuned for that. Get tickets, they’re on sale now.

Happy holidays, whichever yours are. Cheers,



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