Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Tuesdays With (Memento) Mori

Yesterday, I started reading a book called A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, by David Foster Wallace. For those who aren't familiar, Wallace hung himself last September, touching off a round of literary mourning that had its base (seemingly) on the internet. I had never read Infinite Jest, his colossal novel, and wasn't otherwise familiar with much of his writing. The sadness didn't touch me at the time.

But at some point in the midst of reading his essay "E Unibus Pluram" in A Supposedly Fun Thing..., it hit me that I was in the hands of a really, really great thinker. It's one thing to have a mastery of words and plot and structure and etc. But to turn an eye on American culture (the essay is about the way television has affected behavior and fiction) without becoming cynical, ironic, or pretentious, is an impressive and rare feat. Wallace's real coup, though, is that throughout his brilliant meanderings, he manages to be fun. I try to read a lot of good books, or books that are supposed to be good, but I can't remember being more engaged in a single work than I was with "E Unibus Pluram" over the last two days.

So, great; a recommendation. But what does that have to do with sports? Well, I've linked this article before, but it's probably worth doing it again. Foster Wallace took on the subject of Roger Federer, and by extension his rivalry with Nadal, in August of 2006. The article was written for the short-lived magazine Play, a sporting offshoot of the New York Times. It's something you can read in an hour or so, or throughout an office day, and it'll give you an idea of the incisive brain power Foster Wallace brings to a subject.

And I'm kinda bummed about DFW now. I'm wondering what it means when someone that smart kills themselves. I have this sort of idea in my head, based on nothing, that the smartest people in the world are able to reconcile themselves with depression or heartbreak or whatever, and find the mental wherewithal to go about their lives, plucking a bit of happiness here and there. The ones who commit suicide, by my theory, simply couldn't broaden their minds sufficiently to get around their own hang-ups. Even previously smart people who ended up taking their lives seemed to have a fatal flaw in outlook. Hemingway, for instance, threw himself so fully into the idea of uncompromised masculinity that when he grew old and stopped being able to "perform," it robbed him of his identity and led him to blow his head off in a final manly hurrah.

But aside from being possibly stupid in an inherent way, this idea is clearly spurious in the case of DFW. No diagnosis of stunted perspective can be applied here. Depression bludgeoned its way past his genius, eventually storming the gates and forcing his hand. DFW once compared suicide to a person in the top stories of a burning building being forced to the window ledge. No human in his right mind wants to take the leap into thin air, but at some point it just gets too hot inside.

MORRRRBID!!! Lest you misinterpret this post, Seth Curry Saves Duke! is not interested in such premature endings, being too wholly narcissistic and convinced of his own prodigious ability. I just thought it was worth contemplating, for no other reason than that I just read a really good essay, and there's not much to talk about in the world of sports today. I'm having a severe let-down after the Boston series, to the point that I didn't actually care if the Yanks beat Toronto yesterday. In a weird, maybe idiotic way, I thought maybe they deserved the relief of a loss.

The game wasn't something I could watch, needing a day off myself, so I went to Chelsea and saw my favorite improv group, The Improvised Shakespeare Company, at the Hudson Guild Theatre (hey guys and gals of NYC, this troupe is in town from Chicago for the week, performing every night, and are ridiculously talented...don't let the Shakespeare label scare you, this is highly funny stuff and not at all high-falutin' or esoteric...if you don't go see them, you are fucking scum). When I got home, it was with a certain amount of comfort that I read the final score. As though losing a baseball game constitutes a 'break.' I guess what this means is, I need to regain my focus. We have to win the next two, and the good news is that better pitchers will be on the mound.

No worries, no worries at all. Regularly scheduled programming resumes tomorrow.

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