The Rev. Casey dunsworth

serves as Associate Campus Pastor to the Belfry, the Lutheran-Episcopal Campus Ministry to UC Davis

and as Program Director for LEVN, the Lutheran Episcopal Volunteer Network.

David Foster Wallace

The other day, I was at Barnes and Noble, and happened upon one of those Best American Essays collections. It was 2007’s, edited by David Foster Wallace. I love David Foster Wallace. He thought those essays were worth reading, which means they are. So, of course I bought the book. I’m reading a book of essays written by him right now; the last book I read was, coincidentally, a book of his essays, as well. I’m a bit addicted to not just DFW but the ability to read things that are not textbooks, now that school’s out for the summer. I saw a copy of The Pale King, the manuscript he left unfinished when he killed himself in 2008. I can’t bring myself to buy it. I think I’ll wait until I’ve read everything else, even though none of it will be read in order, but just so I can read his last words last.

His words are amazing. I’ll contend that he’s encroaching on my love of Truman Capote very quickly. Fortunately, Truman was mostly a writer of fiction [except Music for Chameleons and the inbetweener of In Cold Blood], and DFW was mostly a writer of non-fiction [minor detail the 1,000 page Infinite Jest,], so maybe I get to have them both? It’s not important.

I can hardly keep myself from poring over every word he writes so intensely that I sometimes have to start a sentence over because I wasn’t paying close enough attention to what it actually said…just that it was. And it’s not that he writes flowing prose (like Truman) or vivid descriptions of characters (like Truman) or creates landscapes you can almost see (like Truman). It’s that he says what he thinks about the topic at hand and he doesn’t hold back and he writes a four-page footnote if it’s super necessary and uses shorthand in his finished products and he writes about tennis, dictionaries, John McCain, porn conventions, David Lynch, lobsters, cruises, 9/11, and state fairs with the same depth, reverence, and disgust. It’s like…the whole world mattered to him. And whatever he was writing about, he was sure as hell going to write about it. So maybe when he was asked to write a review of a new text on grammar and usage, he wrote like 15,000 words that may have had about 15% to do with actually reviewing the text, 80% to do with everything he had ever wanted to say about the English language, and 5% about, like…pants. Because that’s how important it is to make sure all the bases of his argument are covered. It’s a beautiful thing.

My intention in writing this post, though, was to remark on a totally odd experience I had this week. I was reading or hearing or watching something about the GOP’s ridiculousness and I said, “I wish I could read what David Foster Wallace would have to say about this.” At first, I laughed at myself for being such a dork that I would care what a certain writer would have to say about a certain thing. But then I actually teared up. DFW killed himself in September of 2008. He’d been asked to write something about Barack Obama, but didn’t. I would love to hear his words about my President. He wrote a brilliant piece about 2000 John McCain (as diametrically opposed to 2008 John McCain) that made me like John McCain again. Can you even imagine how he could make me feel about Barack Obama? Especially given how I already feel about Barack Obama. I wonder what he would have felt, had he been alive on November 4. I wonder what he would feel about everything that’s happened since then. I wonder what I would feel, knowing how he had felt.

I’ve never felt this way about someone I didn’t know before. And I’m not going to be a weirdo and say that I feel like I know him. I don’t feel like I know him but I want to know him and I feel like I can't know him. I wish I could have known him. I wish that he hadn’t lost his battle with depression and that I could keep benefiting from his brilliant mind. It was less than three years ago. Like, I could have read his words when he was still alive and while the events were current and he could have affected the way I see the world more than he already does…I don’t even know what I’m saying. I guess what I mean is that I’ve never felt this robbed by the death of an artist before. It’s like I forget that he’s dead while I’m reading his words. Like, when I laugh, he’s somewhere, also laughing about the same thing. And it’s not like when I read Capote’s words and he’s been dead for decades and everything is about things that happened decades ago. But DFW…it’s like I just missed him. Just…barely.

Absolutely everything.

I don't know, either.