David Foster Wallace on the Brink of ‘Infinite Jest’

From The Daily Beast:

In setting out to write his masterpiece “Infinite Jest,” David Foster Wallace was propped up by his friendship with fellow novelist Jonathan Franzen and knocked flat by his infatuation with poet Mary Karr. An excerpt from D.T. Max’s new biography, Every Love Story is a Ghost Story.

In 1990, David Foster Wallace, only 28, had already lived a chaotic life: he’d been a literary star, a teacher, and a depressive, had attempted to take his own life and then found his way into drug and alcohol rehab. After a month in a facility, he had entered a halfway house in Brighton, Mass. His collapse had taught him that the things that had once mattered most to him—cleverness, facility, pyrotechnics—were no longer enough to sustain him. But if he wasn’t supposed to light up the page with his brilliance, how was he supposed to write?

The only thing Wallace knew for sure was that he desperately wanted to be a novelist again but some piece of him still felt too fragile to attempt an effort so key to his well-being. The problem, he felt, was not really the words on the page; he had lost confidence not in his ability to write so much as the need to have written. Jonathan Franzen, with whom he had struck up an epistolary friendship, offered to get together that April when he was in Boston. Wallace said fine but stood him up after they made plans. But because one tenet of recovery is to make amends to those you have wronged, he wrote to his friend explaining his behavior. “The bald fact is that I’m a little afraid of you right now,” he wrote. He begged to be allowed to bow out of their embryonic competition, to declare a truce against this writer who was so “irked by my stuff,” because Wallace was no longer “a worthy opponent in some kind of theoretical chess-by-mail game from which we can both profit by combat.”

He went on: “Right now I am a pathetic and very confused young man, a failed writer at 28, who is so jealous, so sickly searingly envious of you and Vollmann and Mark Leyner and even David F–kwad Leavitt and any young man who is right now producing pages with which he can live … that I consider suicide a reasonable—if not at this point a desirable—option with respect to the whole wretched problem.”

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