I have just finished reading, Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip With David Foster Wallace. It was a wonderful gift I received on Father’s Day. The book consists of verbatim transcripts of conversations between writers David Foster Wallace and David Lipsky. Their conversation was recorded during the last five days of Wallace’s book tour through the Midwestern United States promoting his enormously successful novel Infinite Jest.
Lipsky was on assignment with “Rolling Stone Magazine” gathering material for a profile on Wallace. Wallace had already appeared on the cover of “Time Magazine” in an issue that listed his book as one of the top 100 best English-language novels since 1923. Infinite Jest was receiving rave reviews; and Wallace was reading to packed audiences all over the US.
Wallace was one of the most celebrated young writers in the States. In addition to his career as a writer he had a steady job teaching creative writing and English at Pomona College. He was thirty-four years old.
But the fame, critical acclaim, and increasing financial independence Wallace had achieved by 1996 had not given him the inner peace and stability for which he longed. He appears in these conversations as a person struggling desperately with fear, insecurity, anxiety, and loneliness. He circles around a dark hole in his brain that is a vortex of uncertainty, doubt, darkness, and conflict.
It is fascinating to look for a moment inside the mind of someone who has achieved almost all those things we usually think of as having the power to grant the inner sense of worth and value we all crave and to realize it has not worked. Wallace’s achievements did not bring any measure of peace into his inner world.
At one point in the book Wallace says
Well for me, as an American male, the face I’d put on the terror is the dawning realization that nothing’s enough, you know? That no pleasure is enough, that no achievement is enough. That there’s a kind of queer dissatisfaction or emptiness at the core of the self that is unassuageable by outside stuff.
Most human beings have some experience of this “queer dissatisfaction or emptiness at the core of the self that is unassuageable by outside stuff.” But most of us do not have the opportunity to experience as deeply as Wallace that there truly is no pleasure and no achievement that is adequate to satisfy this inner longing.
Wallace goes on to acknowledge, “I believe that if it’s assuageable in any way it’s by internal means. And I don’t know what that means.” He points to his conviction that the solution lies in his inner life. But he does not know the road to travel to get to that place where it is possible to discover a peace that the external circumstances of life do not have the power to destroy.
Wallace’s success and fame gave him the opportunity to experience deeply the truth that there is no change to our external circumstances that will ever cause any lasting internal transformation of our being.
No matter how “successful” may be the external circumstances of our lives, the challenge for all of us is the same. We must come to a place in our lives where we simply accept our own fears and foibles. We must embrace our insecurities holding them with tenderness and compassion. We must welcome our fears and open to the confused, paradoxical, conflicted fragments that make up the reality of our life.
Tragically, for all his fabulous success, David Foster Wallace was never able to find his way to this place of inner reconciliation. On September 12, 2008 his wife returned home to find he had hanged himself in their living room. He was forty-six.