Margaret Soltan on David Foster Wallace
[beautiful picture of Margaret Soltan by Nick Gingold, Senior Staff Photographer for the GW Hatchet]
From today’s Hatchet, an interview with Professor Margaret Soltan:
First of all, I wanted to talk to you about American writer David Foster Wallace, what he meant and what his suicide means for the literary world.
My sense of it is that, and I think this is shared by most serious readers, that the literary world has suffered a very big loss – not only because he died but because of the way in which he died. His father was interviewed by The New York Times, and Wallace suffered from depression for 20 years and had been medicated but it was difficult to handle and eventually he was just not able to keep himself going. And especially when an artist kills him or herself – it’s like, what is wrong with the artistic sensibility that so many artists – what is it about the artistic mind that makes it sometimes undo itself?
I saw your blog post about the prevalence of this among writers – that these people essentially use themselves up and become their own subject matter.
Well, that’s a contested argument. Some people argue that, other people would argue that that is going overboard. The argument is that there’s something about modern literature – contemporary literature – that it all becomes very autobiographical, and it becomes about your own suffering. And the argument is that there’s something sort of dangerous about doing what Sylvia Plath or Anne Sexton or, for that matter, what David Foster Wallace did.
There’s something about the process of transforming your own pain into literature and maybe not quite transforming it enough, in the case of someone like Plath or David Foster Wallace, where it’s still on the surface and very painful. So the argument would be that the peculiar danger of a certain kind of late-20th-century fiction writing is that the immediate sufferings of a particular self are too explicit, and you make yourself too vulnerable.
Professor Soltan is a popular professor of English, the author of the renowned blog University Diaries, and a co-author of the important new book Teaching Beauty. You can read the interview in its entirety here.