Rumblings on the legacy of David Foster Wallace

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

David Freedlander has caused some murmuring with his article in The New York Observer entitled, “Dead Author Breeds Big Business: The David Foster Wallace Industry.” Freedlander explores how the untimeliness of his death certainly influences Wallace’s popularity and legacy. On her blog, Sarah Weinman responds:

Death creates the paradoxical melding of an additional barrier and added closeness between the author and the reader, thus layering in backstory that shouldn’t have existed in the first place.

In a recent class discussion of Wallace’s essay, “Shipping Out,” some of us speculated about how the prism of our knowledge of his mental illness could affect our interpretation of his intended narrative distance and voice. Although that essay was published by Harper’s in 1996, twelve years before his death, Wallace had been in treatment for depression for some twenty years. The question is, sadly, unanswerable.

The New Yorker recently made a his story “Backbone” available without a subscription on its website. Harper’s gives free access to a number of his pieces published there. Readers might be particularly interested in a re-read of the story, “The Depressed Person.”