A decade ago on an unassuming patio in Claremont, California, dangling, putrid 6-hour meat—rigor mortis—from a noose meticulously, self-consciously tied is David. Recluse in the block, momentary 21st century celebrity, fish in literary stock. The sardonic buzzing of californian aphid population hums around the carcass. On the carcass’ desk is his in-progress work The Pale King. The papers have been arranged in orderly fashion. Packaged.
David Foster Wallace was the new sexy. Coupled with his ingenious prose of maximalist style and tomic works such as his all known Infinite Jest, DFW rose to stardom. Though carrying the persona of a reclusive genius, and so executing himself quite literally in such fashion, his literature proved otherwise. His death was inevitably a deep tragedy to the literary community and beyond.
What was particularly interesting about his death was the heights to which it elevated his literary status: his sales skyrocketed, tributes effervescently poured out from the ebbs of the internet, and his last work was published post-mortem. His sudden death lead to a decade of analysis—who was DFW? What was DFW? How was DFW? Though the godly proportions to which he has become inflated is symptomatic of man’s unending fascination with death and dying, David’s death highlights an interesting trend in artistic history: death as a career move.
Not only is this trend popular on the part of the artist, but the narrative of the artist. This can be seen in Socrates’ ingenious suicide. Not only did he stay endlessly loyal to his philosophy until his death, but also portrayed a hundred times from Charles-Alphonse Dufresnoy’s a Death of Socrates to Jacque Louis David’s the Death of Socrates. The popularity of this trend is not solely a result of artistic passion, but a means of popularising the artist. In that taking the option of an avoidable death, a vulgar one at best, is taken by the artist, the intrigue and attraction of it is heightened.
Wallace’s suicide, though tragic, is seen in this very act of an artist. If art is a means of encapsulating the human story, then death acts as a prevalent theme. Wallace employed a theme logically foreseeable and so met the popularity that was expected.
Featured Image: http://radioopensource.org/david-foster-wallace-chris-lydon/