Thursday, February 19, 2009

David Foster Wallace and a New Direction

There are four primary writers who have become touchstones for me. I don't just read them, I learn something about myself and life by coming in contact with their words and intelligences. These four writers are: Samuel Clemens, Kurt Vonnegut, Wendell Berry, and David Foster Wallace.

I must admit that I have only recently discovered David Foster Wallace (DFW), due to the news of his suicide and the upset that his death caused the literary community. Like many, I find DFW's suicide particularly troubling. He was considered perhaps the most important, intelligent, promising writer of my generation and for good reason. The more I read David's work, the more I understand the huge hit we all took with his passing. I am in awe of his fine intelligence, his humanity, his wit, and his plain humility and decency as a writer and as a person. I can do no justice to him by trying to describe him further, so I'll stop trying and instead post a commencement speech that he once gave in a separate post today. The speech encapsulates and illustrates the qualities that I just pointed to.

I think it says something highly troubling that one of the finest and celebrated minds of my generation chose suicide as an out. I know that he struggled valiantly and long against making that choice.

When I read DFW, many times his writing perfectly reflects feelings and struggles that I have had personally. I think most of us can agree that's what good writers do. He nails it on the head, so to speak. I recognize myself and my own struggles in his words. Lately, I have been having a sort of depressing struggle with the direction of this blog.

At one point, I seriously considered abandoning Sarcastic Bastard and letting it become a ghost blog. I even considered starting a second more serious blog, but I frankly don't have the energy or the inclination to maintain two separate blogs.

When I started the blog, I only wanted to make people laugh in these bleak, kind of horrible times, but I have been feeling sort of shallow and like a sham because sarcasm is, by its nature, shallow and mean and unsubstantive. Let me point out that I'm not talking about removing humor as a major element of this blog. I would just like to bring something more to it.

I ran across this DFW quote yesterday that perfectly explains what I am writing multiple paragraphs here trying to get at, especially if you swap the word sarcasm for the word irony.

"Irony, entertaining as it is, serves an almost exclusively negative function. It’s critical and destructive, a ground-clearing. Surely this is the way our postmodern fathers saw it. But irony’s singularly unuseful when it comes to constructing anything to replace the hypocrisies it debunks…. It is unmeaty . . . I find gifted ironists sort of wickedly fun to listen to at parties, but I always walk away feeling like I’ve had several radical surgical procedures…one ends up feeling not only empty but somehow… oppressed."

As a result of this insight and the struggle I have been having over the content of this blog, I am changing the direction of Sarcastic Bastard. I'm still going to do humorous posts, because I don't think I could survive day-to-day without laughing, but I am also going to post on more meaningful, substantive things.

If I lose some readers, that's okay. I'm willing to pay that price because the blog is something that is representative of me, and I would like to continue to be proud of the work and to feel like it's not just entertainment, but sometimes meaningful, and that maybe it might help someone to feel less alone as a human being.

David Foster Wallace was a professor who expected his students to work hard and to grow in their potential as writers. I refuse to expect less of myself.

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