David Foster Wallace

18:30 Sun 14 Sep 2008. Updated: 17:45 28 Jan 2009
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It was with shock and sadness this morning that I read of the death of David Foster Wallace. He was forty-six, and apparently hanged himself.

I’ve long been an admirer of his, and in particular of his mastery of the essay form. Consider the Lobster and A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again are both favorites of mine, containing some of the best essays I’ve read. He was also close to my heart for having written “Roger Federer as Religious Experience”, although I was already a fan of both of theirs by the time he wrote that.

I didn’t know him, so there’s no reason I would know anything about his personal life or his psychological state, but nevertheless I was surprised. The idea of him I had in my mind wasn’t someone who was grappling with torment, although this appears to have been the case. I thought of him as supremely talented, a virtuoso, and more than that a virtuoso who could really enjoy their virtuosity—I felt enjoyment coming through in his works, but either I was wrong or it just wasn’t enough.

I also thought that he’d be around for a long time to come, and I looked forward to reading many more of his books, and to admiring his skill for many years to come. I simply assumed that he’d keep producing excellence for decades.

His death makes obvious the error in doing so. It probably says many other things besides, perhaps an infinite number of them, but for the moment I’ll take from it the importance of really appreciating excellence when we’re privileged to encounter it, for it is rare and shockingly difficult to produce, and perhaps every time along with the appreciation should spring the thought “we may never see the like of this again”.

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