Sunday, September 14, 2008

David Foster excuse me WHAT?!

I go offline for 24 hours and this is what happens? David Foster Wallace checks out? Dammit, interwebs, I apparently can't leave you unattended for a minute without getting the feeling I've been punched in the side of the head. Because that's obviously why I'm sitting here barely able to breathe. Dammit. Dammit. Dammit.

Cosmic Variance has perhaps the most perfect tribute quote.

No words. Great dismay at having no more from himself.

(But I do have this. I generally have a lot of sympathy for those who decide to depart on their own schedule, but for those who choose to leave the remains for family to find? Fuck you. Seriously, talk about leaving this life as a piece of shit. I respect the man's work and I'm sorry about whatever led to this choice, but I'd spit on his fucking corpse right now if it turned up.)


mr_subjunctive said...

Well, I suppose you have a point. The only way I've found to get around it -- which I think is valid, if a little too convenient -- is to think of it as DFW being murdered by someone, that someone being his brain. And murderers are not usually all that thoughtful w/r/t the family, when deciding where to leave the body.

I know. Inadequate. But brains do do things on their own, sometimes.

Apparently some people were surprised by this, but I'd always sort of suspected that anybody who could write the bit on p. 697-8 of Infinite Jest (re: the guy Kate Gompert knew who had untreatable severe depression and built model trains as a hobby) had probably experienced something a lot like that firsthand. Which according to the family, he pretty much had.

I dunno. I want it to make sense. It doesn't make sense. So I keep trying things out.

AG said...

(I love that you have your copy handy for quote purposes! Mine's in a box here somewhere... somewhere in a box... boy, that's about everything here come to think of it. *sigh*)

Truthfully I can't say I'm surprised either, unless we mean in that sick "surprised" sense you get when the universe delivers up an event you'd always feared might happen but hoped was just you, over-reading the situation. Actors who play jerks are often the nicest, best-adjusted folk you could ever meet, and many say it's the catharsis of creativity that gives them the room to be so; wish it worked the same for writers.

Discovery... yes, brains do things on their own, murderous things. Living with a murderous brain is hard and the defeats are generally comprehensive. But that last battle, when you've exhausted every other line of offense and defense and the bad chemicals are sluicing through for the win... when the thought of not seeing the next day is the only thing that gives you the strength to make sure that happens... it's just freaking worth it to deny the murderous brain that single victory, the one where your family sees you like that forever, with the rope or the gun or the pill vomit.

Because they will. You get to skip the rest of the story. That's what the murderous brain promises, and that's the deal you make. But the murderous brain has no such arrangement with your family. The brain has probably convinced you that you won't be missed and that they'll be better off without you. But by all that is holy, I can't figure how the brain convinces folks their next of kin would be better off *with* that image.

mr_subjunctive said...

I see the point, I do, but if one's brain has beaten one into a corner where suicide seems like the only thing to do, one has probably left logic and caring about other people a few miles back, no?

But and so the idea of a person in the grip of It being bound by a 'Suicide Contract' some well-meaning Substance-abuse halfway house makes her sign is simply absurd. Because such a contract will constrain such a person only until the exact psychic circumstances that made the contract necessary in the first place assert themselves, invisibly and indescribably. That the well-meaning halfway-house Staff does not understand Its overriding terror will only make the depressed resident feel more alone. (IJ p. 697)

And for "suicide contract" you can read "love of family" or whatever. Wallace was, at the very minimum, completely consistent every time suicide is brought up in IJ (and he does bring it up, over and over and over) that suicide is an act of desperation, not logic. Other people don't necessarily factor into it. See IJ p. 220:

Among pernicious myths is the one where people always get very upbeat and generous and other-directed right before they eliminate their own map for keeps. The truth is that the hours before a suicide are usually an interval of enormous conceit and self-involvement.

And p. 696:

There is no way Kate Gompert could ever even begin to make someone else understand what clinical depression feels like, not even another person who is herself clinically depressed, because a person in such a state is incapable of empathy with any other living thing. This anhedonic Inability to Identify is also an integral part of It.

I agree that it would have been all for the best had he not left that image for his wife to come home to. (Though if he'd been off his meds for several months, she surely would have imagined as much, or worse, before this. Certain images have a way of coming up one way or the other. And if he'd been elsewhere when he did the deed, well, you hear about something like this, and you still picture it. Whether it's somebody you care about or not, but of course it's a much more compelling image if it's someone close.) And she'll have to deal with that. Expecting him to take this into account might just be too much to ask, though. Obviously nobody in their right mind would do such a thing to their wife. But then, nobody in their right mind would do it at all. You see what I'm saying?

I don't mean to be trying to start an argument. I'm trying to grasp it like everybody else is. It's just, I see people in the various other comment threads on the same topic, and occasionally somebody will say something like, but look at all these people who loved his writing, loved him; if only he had known this, known that there were all these people out there pulling for him. And one wishes that that's how it worked, but he didn't kill himself because he felt unloved or hopeless or sad: he killed himself because his brain was broken.

And great. Now I'm all sad again.

AG said...

Howdy mr_s -- sorry for the silence. Qwest has been just beyond hateful to my new house this, um, month. Two months? Let's say "season" to be safe...

Anyway, true on DFW message consistency, something that made his writing on the subject even more uncomfortably specific than, you know, everything else he wrote. Most everything else! Though I always found myself sort of pausing at the equation of suicide with illogic. Honestly, if at the end of my life I am facing any of a handful of particular terminal conditions (eg., Alzheimer's), I'm hopeful that I will be living somewhere that allows me to conclude my time on my own terms, after discussion with my family and settling of my affairs. I've watched how that thread plays out and so help me, no. And this is a logical decision -- I hope I never have to follow through on it, but I've weighed the options and this is how I wish to proceed. (And now I'm just going to pause and cut another donation check to the usual Alzheimer research facilities... ah, there. Oy.)

Meanwhile, I agree that the anhedonic stuff just swamps the boat; it's not surprising that one would lose that ability to frame reaction / emotion / memory responses in other folk, because you just don't have any congruence with "other folk" when you're deep in it. (One doesn't feel sad in a major depressive episode -- just gravity and the effect of the friction of the world, all physics and no sensation. Poor Kurt Cobain, of all people, nailed it: "I miss the comfort of being sad." At least then you're sad, right?)

Anyway. I'm still turning it over too. As a friend of mine points out, could have been a Spalding Gray gone-missing situation, and that in its way is worse; a member of my family chose a messier mechanism and set it up specifically so his mom and sister would find him, and that's worse too. (And so I confess now that I had a dog in this hunt, but you probably figured that out already.) In the end the specific horror is maybe that dammit, how could that marvelous brain have been so vicious? And if love and talent and insight and chemicals aren't enough to make survival possible, what is?

mr_subjunctive said...

Oh. I'm glad it was just technical difficulties; I was worried that it was either 1) you were mad at me or 2) the conversation was no longer interesting to you. We've had some dealings with Qwest here, too, so I sympathize.

It's not so much illogic as psychosis. IJ p. 696:

Think of it this way. Two people are screaming in pain. One of them is being tortured with electric current. The other is not. The screamer who's being tortured with electric current is not psychotic: her screams are circumstantially appropriate. The screaming person who's not being tortured, however, is psychotic, since the outside parties making the diagnoses can see no electrodes or measurable amperage. One of the least pleasant things about being psychotically depressed on a ward full of psychotically depressed patients is coming to see that none of them is really psychotic, that their screams are entirely appropriate to certain circumstances part of whose special charm is that they are undetectable by any outside party. Thus the loneliness: it's a closed circuit: the current is both applied and received from within.

It's not illogical to want to spare oneself, or other people, pain: both kinds of suicide (terminal-illness and clinical-depression) are sensible in that sense. Clinical depression is special insofar as you're not really seeing things as they are. (I have some direct experience of this, though nothing on the level of what DFW had been through: not that intense, not over that long of a period, and it's satisfactorily under control now with Wellbutrin.) Sometimes you even know perfectly well that you're not seeing things as they are, but something about the situation -- at least when I was depressed -- leads one to discount the degree to which the depression is considered an actual problem. Like, yeah, okay, so I'm depressed, but the real problem is that I'm ugly / stupid / unemployable / unloveable / repulsive / etc.

It can be hard to recognize the depression as its own thing, as something that needs to be dealt with, because it sounds just like you. (Sort of in the same way that it's hard for the immune system to recognize cancer, because the cancer comes from your own cells and consequently looks to the immune system just like you.) Even when you can identify a particular thought as belonging to the depression instead of to reality, it's still often hard to come up with an alternate perspective.

So but I guess my point is that the person and the depression, though they share a body and clearly influence one another, have to be separated when one deals with stuff like this, because they're not, in fact, the same thing. In the same way that you wouldn't blame someone for having a heart attack on the living room couch where the family will find them, you can't blame them for where the suicide happens either. Or, I mean, you could, but it's a little unfair.

In the course of writing this, I've started to think, well, maybe this is where the legends of demons that could possess a person and make them do terrible things come from: the need to divide the person from the illness, the need to still like what was good (sometimes very good) about them. (Roger would never do that; it must have been somebody else.)

How could that marvelous brain have been so vicious?

Well. That's really the question, isn't it?

I got nothing. I would really like to think that at some point in my lifetime, someone will figure out why and how depression (and substance abuse, manic depression, etc.) winds up being associated with creativity. 'Cause I really want to know.

mr_subjunctive said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
AG said...

Oops -- sorry, folks, a little slow to get my spray can of Loony-B-Gone. But recapping: All people of good will are welcome here, but I will not tolerate proselytizing, and I damn straight won't tolerate abuse, enough if it's on behalf of your imaginary friend. (Confidential to Patrick: God left a message for you with Margaret Cho. Please read and digest.)

Perky Skeptic said...

This is an amazing and thought-provoking discussion. Thank you both for talking about this.

Depression sucks.

AG said...

Hello Perky Skeptic -- loving the new blog!

MC said...

It does seem like a rather common way for writers/artists/musicians to leave the world... like it is some bad covenant with the devil... you get talent and the ability to create wonderfully beautiful work, but by accepting that, you also end up with baggage that causes you to do something so selfish.

mr_subjunctive said...

"Selfish" is, for about a thousand reasons, not the word I would use.

"Accepting" and "devil" are also problematic.