Originally posted on my Facebook page Sunday, September 28, 2008 at 4:05am.
baaaaaaah! I’m angry! All week I’ve run into all kinds of bullshit tending to apology for the suicide of DFW. UD has – I won’t say written about it – encouraged the worst kind of language game about it: Do Universities Destroy Writers Question Mark. Even the intimations of personal grief ring with implicit and explicit exclamations about a soul too good for this world. It’s not even that my anger takes the form of some strident opposition to any of this argument or explanation.
***Statutory Declaration: I’ve never read any DFW, knew nothing of his bio ’til this week, and so also knew nothing of whatsherface famed (only as) author of Prozac Nation***
And certainly, I was not a friend or acquaintance or colleague or student of DFW’s. But, from remarks from those who had such relationships with him and some other stuff, I’ve gathered that he was, in real life, a good sort, decent, good looking, talented (immensely, you must conclude as you draw in the rest of the evidence). All of that is to say you might be drawn to him the way in which you might be drawn to Martin Amis, David Mamet, or Edward Said, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak yet not then be made to feel like a total fucking loser within 5 minutes of stepping into the sacrilized space of such company. (Although it seems he was a pretty demanding professor which undoubtedly put off some students – good, bad and ugly.)
Why am I angry? Let us not forget one thing. He fucking hanged himself! And in the end, nobody, I mean nobody, but a self-absorbed chump does that. (ok, it’s better than blowing his brains out and leaving a great big CSI self-portrait, I guess.) But like I said to ‘a fan’ (see below) at my lowest moments, I can only give the act, by any means, sidelong glances. I can’t look it head-on as a real possibility, even when I feel my worst. That’s just downloading my sorrow.
***Bargain basement Language Log – I’m also angry with the illiterate fans/students on FB who wrote, “hung himself.” I wanted to add, “DFW hung himself was nonetheless generous with writers and students possessing smaller manhoods.”
And make no mistake, DFW teaches us that any swingin’ dick can hang himself. There’s nothing special about it. And so Hemingway, teaches us that anybody can blow their brains out. Ok, Sylvia Plath teaches us that people with electric stoves have more limited suicide options. But I digress and undermine my attempt at gravitas.
I’m perfectly happy to let suicide stand as a mortal sin (or its equivalents). I’m happy to put it somewhere near impaired driving causing death, spousal abuse, and so on. It’s an endulgence behind which is an assortment of carnage for which the perpetrator doesn’t have to bear much if any responsibility. Maybe his new wife is some morbid pretentious nihilist freak culture vulture. So assuming it was she who found him, maybe she took pix in anticipation of the creation of a triptych in relief made out of beef jerky and bandanas. But maybe she’s quite human and had to suffer the whole assault on the senses and psyche that finding a dead body must entail, with the added loved-one multiplier. Deal with Dead Dirty Dave, Darling.
Did you ever ask yourself why suicide is a completely private act? Sure, practicality demands that you do it alone because 99/100 audience members are likely to try to stop you. But more than that, suicides still possess enough self-consciousness to realize that doing the deed, even before that 1/100 who’s willing to sit passively through the show, is like cleaning up after one’s explosively loose motions, or engaging in abnormal behaviour like picking one’s nose and eating it, in front of a live audience. They surely can’t face the ‘ick’ the act invites.
Of course, I could be wrong. Maybe he orchestrated his death into a performance. I understand that his prose could peer into such intimate events.
In any event, cases likes DFW’s, accompanied by their Cobainiphiliac outpourings, legitimize, romaniticize, and even recommend the act. That’s fine. The more DFW wannabes who off themselves the better; as Dennis Leary would say, that’s an unemployment solution. But the inescapable logic of this leads to two undesirable conclusions, one always explicitly made, one rarely acknowledged. 1) Those whom the gods love, the gods give a ticket to ride; the rest of us take mass transit to our assigned deaths as the wages of our own mediocrity. 2) There are fates worse than death; only the exceptional recognize this and bravely take matters into their own hands. Those who think thus are the kind of people who imagine that they wouldn’t have remained among the 11 million rounded up by the Nazis to suffer a concentration camp death or stick around to dispose of the already dead in our cohort.
But I don’t simply resent the untimely self-inflicted death of one so much bigger and capable than I. I’m honest-to-god sorry as shit, for him and his family and his biggest fans. I know a couple of things, not from experience, but from the experience of some people of personal acquaintance. And those things tell me that DFW is dead and it sucks so bad for anybody who feels any connection to that fact.
A long time ago I had a friend who could be as abrupt and as coarse as they come. I knew her as an undergrad. She related to me once a discussion that occurred in one of her English classes concerning Richard Cory. The question was, Why did Richard Cory kill himself. My friend said that her classmates gave all sorts of reasons, most about how money can’t buy happiness, the emptiness of wealth and power, blah &c. The professor called on my friend who said, basically, hey, people kill themselves and WTF knows why. The professor responded with a degree of approval while many in the class got their backs up. My friend replied that she knew a little something about this since not one but both of her parents had killed themselves before she’d got to high school. Tough to trump that kind of experience.
And an intimate of mine has a lot of experience with depression, anti-depressants and their pushers, and suicidal tendencies. And she says, hey, depression makes you not think straight, makes you think some goofy things that no external efforts to make you see reason can overcome. I think I know what the articulate fans are going to say. Still, a colleague who is fan related to me his response to a certain short story by DFW: I read this and thought, he really is risking his mental health here.
Anyway, so it is that I grieve, for lack of a better word, in the face of such a death as DFW’s, for the man felt so bad, let himself get so fucked up (again), that some sort of light at the end of the tunnel shone only through a noose. But goddamn him! Yeah, he wasn’t right at the moment he strung himself up. But he started to become ‘impaired’ in that way some time before that; he really should have handed his keys over to someone sober. I don’t want to say that those close to him should have done something, because I know that they feel this and feel it as guilt – and that’s his fault, not theirs!
***And here it is, in the end, I don’t think I can read any DFW now, and I’m probably lesser for that.
***And for all those who want to make Elizabeth Wurtzel the Courtney Love of this story, I hope you get community service for your crimes and find yourselves cleaning bedpans in psych wards.