We lost one of the good ones this past Friday when David Foster Wallace, author of the legendary Infinite Jest, was found dead from suicide. DFW’s insight into society and American life, in particular, made him a standout in the literary world. His death is a tragic loss.
In 2000, DFW spent two weeks on the campaign trail with John McCain, writing an essay for Rolling Stone Magazine called “Up, Simba!” that ended up in his book Consider the Lobster. It was later released as an e-book and, more recently, as a stand-alone book, “McCain’s Promise“.
DFW’s impressions of McCain came to change from one of admiration during the 2000 election to something less favorable in 2008.
Why did DFW agree to travel with McCain for Rolling Stone? Because, as he said in his Wall Street Journal interview:
What made the McCain idea interesting to me, was that I’d seen a tape of his appearance on Charlie Rose at some point the previous year, in which he spoke so candidly and bluntly about stuff like campaign finance and partisan ickiness, stuff I’d not heard any national-level politician say.
But McCain’s close ties to the current president and his worldview began to shade DFW’s opinion of him. In his inimitable style, DFW sums up the Bush Administration in pure language:
The truth—as I see it—is that the previous seven years and four months of the Bush Administration have been such an unmitigated horror show of rapacity, hubris, incompetence, mendacity, corruption, cynicism and contempt for the electorate that it’s very difficult to imagine how a self-identified Republican could try to position himself as a populist.
While he was sympathetic to McCain in Up, Simba!, respecting his life story, his time as a P.O.W. and what he went through during the 2000 campaign, DFW came to see McCain with far less rose-colored lenses after 2000.
McCain himself has obviously changed; his flipperoos and weaselings on Roe v. Wade, campaign finance, the toxicity of lobbyists, Iraq timetables, etc. are just some of what make him a less interesting, more depressing political figure now—for me, at least. It’s all understandable, of course—he’s the GOP nominee now, not an insurgent maverick.
DFW’s views of the world around him and his ability to convey those views was unique and unmatched, in my opinion. The fact that he started out with a somewhat idealized concept of “John McCain, the man” and later revised that opinion as John McCain proved himself to be otherwise should be a lesson to all of us. Clearly the John McCain of the 2008 presidential campaign is an entirely different creature from the John McCain of the 2000 election.
Goodbye, David Foster Wallace. The world was a better place for having you in it.
I’m just sayin’…