As you may know already, David Foster Wallace was found dead in his home in Claremont, CA over the weekend. It’s difficult to know how to deal with the death of a favorite author in the age of celebrity. They are much less in the public eye as an actor, musician, or athlete by nature of their profession (and sometimes famously reclusive). We see less of them publicly, know less of their mannerisms and personal traits. And yet, in that lack of a public persona it is easier to project a personality onto them – to see their writing as a reflection of themselves, their unpolished public appearances as more authentic. We can convince ourselves that we know them without ever having met them.
I feel that it’s presumptuous of me to theorize about the roots of Mr. Wallace’s depression when all I know of him is what he’s written, but this passage particularly resonated with me in the wake of his death.
You become just what you have given your life to be. Not merely very good but the best. …you are doomed if you do not have also within you some ability to transcend the goal, transcend the success of the best, if you get there.
Then… and for the ones who do become the étoiles, the lucky who become profiled and photographed for readers and in the U.S.A. religion make it, they must have something built into them along the path that will let them transcend it, or they are doomed. We see this in experience. One sees this in all obsessive goal-based cultures of pursuit. Look at the Japonois, the suicide rates of their later years. …For, you, if attain your goal and cannot find some way to transcend the experience of having that goal be your entire existence, your raison de faire, so, then, one of two things will happen.
One, one is that you attain the goal and realize the shocking realization that attaining the goal doe snot complete or redeem you, does not make everything for your life “OK” as you are, in the culture, educated to assume it will do this, the goal. And then you face this fact that what you had thought would have the meaning does not have the meaning when you get it, and you are impaled by shock. We see suicides in history by people at these pinnacles; the children here are versed in what is called the saga of Eric Clipperton.
Or the other possibility of doom, for the étoiles who attain. They attain the goal, thus, and put as much equal passion into celebrating their attainment. This is called here the Syndrome of the Endless Party. The celebrity, money, sexual behaviors, drugs and substances. The glitter. They become celebrities instead of players, and because they are celebrities only as long as they feed the culture-of-goal’s hunger for the make-it, the winning, they are doomed, because you cannot both celebrate and suffer, and play is always suffering, just so.