D.T. Max, renowned New Yorker journalist, visited the Anderson Academic Commons on Feb. 23 to deliver a reflection on the gifted but tragic life of the 20th and 21st century literary phenomenon David Foster Wallace.
Beckoned to the front of the Loft room at dusk, Max immediately paid homage to his introducer, Douglas Hesse, founding executive director of the Writing Program and professor of English at DU. Hesse was thoroughly acquainted with Wallace at Illinois State University where he taught rare courses on creative writing while coping with severe anxiety and depression, along with alcoholism.
Max reveled in the personal dynamic between the contents of his biography on Wallace, “Every Love is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace,” and the legend’s living comrade, Hesse. Reiterating his research, Max quoted Wallace’s contempt for his contemporaries through campfire stories of the corrupted mental pathways that led the award-winning novelist to harrowing personal misfortunes.
Indoctrinated into hyper-academia beneath tenured parents, Wallace struggled through a high pressure environment from a young age. After showing promise at age 12 with a middle school poetry award, his talent was left as a diamond in the rough until he re-emerged at Amherst College with an honors thesis, “The Broom of the System.” According to Max, Wallace stumbled through a philosophy graduate program at Harvard University before dropping out due to mental issues and dangerous binges, which led to time spent at a halfway house in Massachusetts.
Max unraveled the whimsical anecdotes of Wallace’s genius, which occurred even amid mental problems. Yet not even Max’s extensive research and prodding of friends and family could inspire empathy in Hesse, who humorously recalled Wallace hating on anyone who threatened him in the realm of elite fiction.
The dialogue developed as Max was pressed to recall the movie “End of the Tour,” which warmed the heart of literary hobbyists in theaters last year. Max held his tongue, which might have lashed the inquirer who rudely ventured to incorporate Hollywood’s posthumous tribute into his discussion on literature’s turn of the century hero. After all, “Infinite Jest” was written as an exposure and prediction of America’s most rampantly addictive drug, television. Max conversed in the fewest words possible on Jason Segal’s indelible representation of Wallace in American consciousness before turning the question back to the audience, asking who, in fact, had actually read Wallace.
Until the lecture was over, the room filled with curiosities about the wordsmith. The conversation is utterly endless on the author who wrote the encyclopedic novel of the changing millennium and, thanks to Max’s facilitation, the academic community on campus was able to engage intimately with a cultural icon.