KCRW put together a collection of the five Bookworm interviews that they’ve had with author David Foster Wallace, the titular DFW.  (not this one)  There is also a special episode of a show called “Politics of Culture” featuring the host of Bookworm, Michael Silverblatt, in a conversation about the meaning of DFW to modern literature and Silverblatt’s own observations and reflections on his work, character and legacy.  They are all grouped together on a page called “Considering David Foster Wallace.”  It’s worth listening to.

I can’t help but think about David struggling with this central concept that that came through hiw writing: how to be genuine and honest in a world that is increasingly fake and cynical and sarcastic.  In one of his interviews with Silverblatt (which is excerpted for the posthumous tribute), he talks about how his students, he had noticed, were perfectly comfortable being perceived as any number of things, vulgar, rude, perverted, debased, that were formerly considered socially unacceptable.  The one thing that they now don’t want to be perceived as is honest or sentimental.  I think that formed the modern quandary for DFW; how does a human being, complete with a nervous system and feelings, exist in this world that ridicules and suppresses and derides the natural emotions in favor of putting on an appropriate “show.”

It makes me sad to think of David, an observant, thoughtful and sentimental American male, wandering around bewildered and frightened in this world of people wearing happy-face masks.  The worst part of that being that all the others (okay, most of the others) are busy looking at each other’s masks and applauding those that wear those masks well and being extremely pleased with themselves for putting on such an entertaining show.

This idea really coalesced for me after listening to a Radiolab program about deception. (Which show, and here I mean the series, not the individual program, by the way, is awesome.)  In that program they talked about how people really can have two thoughts at the same time.  In other words, we are capable of self-deception.  And what they found, after studying the self-deception abilities in some high-level athletes, is that the ability to essentially lie to yourself correlates strongly with success.  the most self-deceiving athletes were the ones that won, the most self-deceiving businessmen earned the most money.  Granted, the definition of “success” here is open for debate, but I would argue that these concepts of success are pretty much what the general American populace holds as true.  At the end of the segment, they actually talked about the possibility of helping depressed people or others with neuroses to cope with their lives by teaching them how to effectively lie to themselves, how to be less honest internally.

I think David Wallace’s biggest problem was his inability to deceive himself.  He was too honest.  This, after years of attrition and coupled with the serious (an not to be discounted) illness of depression, was what ultimately drove him to take the only escape route he could find.  I certainly don’t want to glorify his final act, but I can see it as the one true action he could take at that point; the insanity of this world was just too much and he wasn’t going to pretend that he didn’t feel it.