Can Fiction Be an Antidote to Loneliness?
When David Foster Wallace, a brilliant writer of both fiction and nonfiction, killed himself less than two years ago, I was as taken aback as many of his fans. I hadn’t read all of his work yet, and perhaps I’d missed what in retrospect seem strong hints of irremediable depression. I always figured he was a realist who was in touch with life’s darker, more absurd side, as I see myself. But his unhappiness was deeper than that.
The first piece of his I read was an essay called “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again.” Reading that long piece just prior to taking a cruise with my in-laws, I realized this was a writer I wouldn’t be able to get enough of. Which turned out to be far too true. (That essay, in its original Harper’s Magazine incarnation, can be found online here. If it’s your kind of writing and thinking, you’ll be hooked.)
A new book, Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace, is basically the raw transcript of a several-day long conversation between Wallace (who was then 34 and newly famous for his massive novel, Infinite Jest) and 30-year-old Rolling Stone writer David Lipsky. It’s fascinating. (The article never ran in the magazine.)
Wallace suffered a suicidal breakdown several years before this, and then went on an anti-depressant. While he told the interviewer he didn’t believe he was biochemically depressed, he continued to take the pills until many years later when he tried to go off them due to side-effects. By the time he knew he needed medicinal help again, nothing seemed to work for him anymore.
What follows are a few quotes from the book, perhaps enough for you to decide if you want to know more. If you’re already a devotee, fine, but if you’re not familiar with Wallace’s work, go directly there first.
I really enjoy a sense of play when I’m doing it.
The way to finish the book is to turn down the volume on the stuff that’s all about how other people react.
There’s a set of magical stuff that fiction can do for us. … One of them has to do with the sense of capturing what the world feels like to us, in the sort of way that I think that a reader can tell “Another sensibility like mine exists.” Something else feels this way to someone else. So that the reader feels less lonely.
If you can think of times in your life that you’ve treated people with extraordinary decency and love, … just because they were valuable as human beings. The ability to do that with ourselves. To treat ourselves the way we would treat a really good, precious friend. Or a tiny child of ours that we absolutely loved more than life itself. And I think it’s probably possible to achieve that. I think part of the job we’re here for is to learn how to do it.
I do six to eight drafts of everything that I do. I am probably not the smartest writing going… But I work really really hard. … When I’m in a room by myself alone and have enough time, I can be really really smart. I don’t think I’m quite as smart, one-on-one, with people, when I’m self-conscious, and I’m really really confused. And it’s why like, My dream would be for you to write this up, and then to send it to me, and I get to rewrite all my quotes to you.
Finally, I, too, wish Wallace had had a chance to edit all this. The book is really a transcript of the interview, with some of Lipsky’s thoughts added. Every “um” and hesitation of Wallace were left in by Lipsky. Every pat of his dog, every “if you use that, I’ll sound stupid.” It could have been a better book. As it is, we are voyeurs to this raw interview of two young writers. Still, for those who wish they knew Wallace better, it’s a kind of pseudo-intimacy, a peek into a young writer’s struggling psyche.
Perry, S. (2010). Can Fiction Be an Antidote to Loneliness?. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 28, 2015, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/writers-mind/2010/05/can-fiction-be-an-antidote-to-loneliness/