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Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace
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2012 Book Discussions > Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace - Manageable Vices (October 2012)

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message 1: by Sophia, Honorary Moderator (last edited Oct 01, 2012 06:41AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sophia Roberts | 1324 comments Mod
Wallace had a pretty hard time managing his vices, but he calmed down a lot in later years. He had managed to make his “own life meaningful.” But, did marriage and domesticity mark the beginning of an end? Was it the case that Wallace believed that – at bottom - his worth and happiness lay in his ability to write ‘Infinite Jest’? And in his inability to write 'The Pale King'?


Thing Two (thingtwo) Sophia wrote: "Wallace had a pretty hard time managing his vices, but he calmed down a lot in later years. He had managed to make his “own life meaningful.” But, did marriage and domesticity mark the beginning ..."

I don't think he calmed down as much as he wore out. He had periods throughout his entire life when he was a functioning adult; he had manic periods of writing, and depressive periods of non-writing, too. Such is the life of a bipolar patient.


message 3: by Sophia, Honorary Moderator (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sophia Roberts | 1324 comments Mod
But surely if Wallace hadn't decided to wean himself off the drug that had served him so well, and for so long, he'd have been fine? I suspect that once he was through the honeymoon period of his marriage that he'd have found his stride, again.

There’s a sense that Wallace needed to be up against it, in order to write well. The pity of it was that he had no sense of self-worth unless he was writing well and in order to write well...


Thing Two (thingtwo) Exactly.

I wonder if he made the decision to wean himself on his own, or if he was under a Physician's care. The biographer doesn't delve into that aspect of his health as much as I wanted to know.


message 5: by Sophia, Honorary Moderator (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sophia Roberts | 1324 comments Mod
My impression is that it was his own decision and that he hadn't consulted a doctor. (I think I've read this elsewhere). But, in any event, by the time he was in need of urgent assistance it was all too late. It would have taken a long, long time to restore him to his former levels of mental well-being. Which in view of his belief that it was dulling his creative talent was doubtless something that he wouldn't have wanted, even had it been possible.

What a waste. But if his life was only worth living if he was writing - and writing well - I guess one should respect his decision. I wonder if his wife could feel as generous about what he did?


Thing Two (thingtwo) Isn't this pretty common, though? I have a friend who would go off of his meds and then ask me if I noticed a difference. I remember the father of a high school friend who would go off of his meds regularly. DFW wasn't hiding his tapering; I wonder how he got away with not taking it for so long - where was the intervention?

Of course, I didn't intervene with my friend when I had the chance, either. Hmmm.


message 7: by Will (new) - added it

Will (wjmcomposer) And I'd suggest caution in falling into the common trope that somehow disorder and pain make some genius's work possible. I think it's the opposite, just sometimes you can't get one without a serving of the other. As for meds, more interesting articles:

http://www.salon.com/2008/09/26/david...


Thing Two (thingtwo) Will wrote: "And I'd suggest caution in falling into the common trope that somehow disorder and pain make some genius's work possible. I think it's the opposite, just sometimes you can't get one without a servi..."

Wow. Thank you so much for that link, Will. That was an amazing article.

So many times we who survive the suicide of our friends/family claim it as a cowardly act, a selfish act. How different his was.

And, evidently, his medical plan was monitored. I didn't quite get that from the biographer.


message 9: by Will (new) - added it

Will (wjmcomposer) ...which is one of many reasons I had zero interest in ever picking up Max's book. Especially when it beat out one of the most important non-fiction books of the last 50 years (IMO).

I think that the problem with identifying suicide as cowardly stems from the word "cowardly" itself, not the link between the two. When did language become so musty and fixated to make any word automatically good or bad? They're symbols of abstractions, not butterflies pinned to a Etymologists board.

--Lordy, I love that last sentence way too much, though I'd be happy if anybody got it.--

My father, for example gets almost visibly agitated when the word "Conservative" is brought up in political discourse...because anyone who was younger during the age of Goldwater would have an immense sense of linguistic displacement when confronted by it's current usage, which while not a polar opposite, it's a Shackleton's throw away from one.

So perhaps it's valid to call it a selfish act, one stemming entirely from the self. But as in his case, leaving a note that (with what little we know of its contents) acknowledges the existence and feelings of others, but in the end cannot help it. I often wonder if we'll ever manage to reach any understanding of the brain and mental illness before humanity completes it's own global suicide, it's own global act of selfish and cowardly immolation. I suppose the difference is some of us want to cross that bridge when we come to it, and not jump off of it.


message 10: by Sophia, Honorary Moderator (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sophia Roberts | 1324 comments Mod
Most, if not all, the Bi-Polar sufferers I've known have come off their medication more than once. The side-effects are very unpleasant and when you're well the temptation is to believe that you can manage without. Most can’t…

In Wallace's case these articles make it very clear that coming off his meds was not a decision taken lightly. I now begin to see that Max got a few things wrong. Indeed his portrayal of Wallace is not what you'd call sympathetic, at all. Although I think he did make it clear that being a genius did not make it easy to write and that on occasions it served to inhibit Wallace’s literary output.

As for suicide being a selfish act? "Everything had been tried," his father told the [New York Times], "and he just couldn’t stand it anymore." I like your sentence Will. Desertion in face of an enemy is sometimes the sanest course of action.

I came away from the book with a bad taste in my mouth, thinking that this guy needed to do more work. A lot more. I begin to see I was justified.


message 11: by Thing Two (last edited Oct 23, 2012 04:06AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Thing Two (thingtwo) That guy, meaning Max? I'm beginning to agree. I was left with the impression DFW just out-of-the-blue decided one day to switch his meds. From reading more, it was evidently a controlled - or as controlled as possible - decision. I know it's definitely a side-effect for depression sufferers who are coming back to "normal" to commit suicide, too. It's why psychiatrists often prescribe a secondary medicine to suppress the urge to annihilate oneself until the primary medication stabilizes within the body.

As to butterflies on a board, the definition of cowardly is both to be lacking in courage - absolutely fitting for DFW, and who wouldn't be in his shoes?! - and despicably mean, covert, or unprincipled - which is where the suicide is seen as an act of "I'll show you!" The word works both ways, I suppose.


message 12: by Will (new) - added it

Will (wjmcomposer) And I'd suggest that if cowardly is to lack courage, I'd have to define courage as to perform what one should, despite all reasonable fear and natural desire telling you legitimately to run the other way.

By the way, for fourth parties not catching it, the "not butterflies pinned to a Etymologists board" is a meta word joke, with "Entomology" being the study of insects (butterflies) and "Etymology" the study of words. To joke about words using the word for words...


Thing Two (thingtwo) LOL - I guess I need to start wearing my contacts, again.


message 14: by Sophia, Honorary Moderator (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sophia Roberts | 1324 comments Mod
Thing Two wrote: "That guy, meaning Max?"

Yes, I do mean Max.

Note to self: consider not reading anything else by him. Particularly as he seems to consider himself something of an expert on medical matters. I see has also written The Family That Couldn't Sleep: A Medical Mystery


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