For various reasons, I recommend this.
Five Direly Underappreciated U.S. novels >1960
The Uncollected DFW
Interviews and Audio
Wallace dramatised the need and urge to keep the proliferating networks of our culture in view and under control, at a time when they have passed beyond the compass of any human mind. Addiction, the oft-cited overarching "theme" of Infinite Jest, means nothing if not a quest for an always-elusive mastery of fate. And his memorialising fans now seem addicted to the same pursuit of an integrated, it-all-adds-up meaning.
But that is not quite right.
Update: I like what The Existence Machine has to say, very much. Although I prefer to remember the non-fiction right now, particularly for its humor, and maybe the hint of a different relation to his sadness that–who knows–might have led to somewhere else. But it was not his truest voice. Wallace's writing seemed lighter, which is to say the perpetual note of sadness became muted, perhaps in deference to some journalistic style that one could argue was a little false, in the end. Still, I'll re-read A Supposedly Fun Thing before Brief Interviews...if only to work up the patience for the latter. It will be hard to see the sadness as anything but king, finally.
Update II: This is extremely good, by A. O. Scott (sub - now partially liberated):
Reviewing a biography of Jorge Luis Borges in The New York Times Book Review a few years back, David Foster Wallace attacked the standard biographical procedure of mining the lives of writers for clues to their work, and vice versa. Borges’s stories, he insisted, “so completely transcend their motive cause that the biographical facts become, in the deepest and most literal way, irrelevant.”
What’s true of writers’ lives is also, surely, true of their deaths. The temptation to regard Mr. Wallace’s suicide last weekend as anything other than a private tragedy must be resisted. But the strength of the temptation should nonetheless be acknowledged. Mr. Wallace was hardly one to conceal himself within his work; on the contrary, his personality is stamped on every page — so much so that the life and the work can seem not just connected but continuous.
The moods that Mr. Wallace distilled so vividly on the page — the gradations of sadness and madness embedded in the obsessive, recursive, exhausting prose style that characterized both his journalism and his fiction — crystallized an unhappy collective consciousness. And it came through most vividly in his voice. Hyperarticulate, plaintive, self-mocking, diffident, overbearing, needy, ironical, almost pathologically self-aware (and nearly impossible to quote in increments smaller than a thousand words) — it was something you instantly recognized even hearing it for the first time. It was — is — the voice in your own head.
Or mine, at any rate. When, as an undergraduate with a head full of literary theory and a heartsick longing for authenticity, I first encountered David Foster Wallace, I experienced what is commonly called the shock of recognition. Actually, shock is too clean, too safe a word for my uncomfortable sense that not only did I know this guy, but he knew me. He could have been a T.A. in one of my college courses, or the slightly older guy in Advanced Approaches to Interpretation who sat slightly aloof from the others and had not only mastered the abstruse and trendy texts everyone else was reading, but also skipped backward, sideways and ahead. It was impressive enough that he could do philosophy — the mathematical kind, not just the French kind. But he also played tennis — Mr. Wallace, in fact, had competed seriously in the sport — and could quote lyrics from bands you only pretended you’d heard of. Without even trying, he was cooler than everyone else.
All this shone through Mr. Wallace’s fiction. He had the intellectual moves and literary tricks diagrammed in advance: the raised-eyebrow, mock-earnest references to old TV shows and comic books; the acknowledgment that truth was a language game. He was smarter than anyone else, but also poignantly aware that being smart didn’t necessarily get you very far, and that the most visible manifestations of smartness — wide erudition, mastery of trivia, rhetorical facility, love of argument for its own sake — could leave you feeling empty, baffled and dumb.
he was not only preoccupied with staking out a position in relation to other writers. Again and again, he returned to a basic, perhaps the basic, philosophical question facing anyone with a blank screen and a story to tell. What am I going to say? How am I going to say it? It’s never an easy question, but perhaps no one illustrated its difficulty with so much energy, good humor and conceptual rigor. In the story “Octet,” a section begins “you are, unfortunately, a fiction writer” and then proceeds, hilariously and infuriatingly, to diagram the dimensions of that misfortune. One long, brilliant, crazy footnote ends: “None of that was very clearly put and might well ought to get cut. It may be that none of this real-narrative-honesty-v.-sham-narrative-honesty stuff can even be talked about up front.”
And yet Mr. Wallace never stopped trying. Even when his subject matter took him outside himself — into the world of lobsters, tennis players, cruise-ship vacationers or presidential campaigners — the fundamental problems of writing remained in the foreground. I suspect that Mr. Wallace’s persona — at once unbearably sophisticated and hopelessly naïve, infinitely knowing and endlessly curious — will be his most durable creation.
“Infinite Jest” is a masterpiece that’s also a monster — nearly 1,100 pages of mind-blowing inventiveness and disarming sweetness. Its size and complexity make it forbidding and esoteric. The other big books published since by members of Mr. Wallace’s age cohort — “Middlesex,” by Jeffrey Eugenides; “The Corrections,” by Jonathan Franzen; “The Fortress of Solitude,” by Jonathan Lethem; “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay,” by Michael Chabon — are more accessible, easier to connect with and to give prizes to. They are family chronicles, congenial hybrids of domestic melodrama, immigrant chronicle, magic realism as well as the more traditional kind. Not easy books, necessarily, but not aggressively difficult, either.
In their different ways, though, these novels and their authors — along with other itchy late- and post-boomer white guys like Richard Powers, Rick Moody and Dave Eggers — stand in Mr. Wallace’s shadow. Not because his version of their generational crisis was better or truer than theirs, but rather because it was purer and more rigorous. In some ways, the figure he resembles most is Ezra Pound. Not the loony, ranting figure Pound eventually became, but rather the innovative and uncompromising modernist he was in his prime. Pound, in the teens and 1920s, understood the literary logic of modernism, with its poetics of difficulty and allusiveness, more clearly than any of his contemporaries. He pushed his insights further, into an extreme, enormous, all-but-unreadable book — the “Cantos” — that is to high modernism what “Infinite Jest” is to late postmodernism.Outside of graduate classrooms, not many readers swallow the “Cantos” whole, and a similar fate may lie in store for “Infinite Jest.”[...]