The death of David Foster Wallace

September 19, 2008
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A few weeks back, in my A&E Season Preview in the print IBJ, I picked as one of the highlighted events David Foster Wallace's scheduled talk at Butler University.

That won't be happening. The acclaimed writer, best known for his essays and his epic novel 'Infinite Jest,' committed suicide last week. He was 46.

When anyone electively dies, we ask ourselves why. When someone of such talent and acclaim dies, other questions are asked as well. Are artists more inclined to such action? Is the tradition of the tortured artist self-perpetuating? Does such extreme an act raise or diminish an artist's reputation? And what can be done to keep others from seeing suicide as the logical conclusion of a creative soul?

I'm not pretending to understand what led Wallace--or Phil Ochs, Sylvia Plath, Kurt Cobain, Ernest Hemingway, Vincent van Gogh, and many others--to this final act. But I know there are ripple effects in the culture...and in our lives.

Your thoughts?   
  • Oh, I am so sorry to hear this.

    I'll have to think some more about your good questions. I agree with you about the ripple effects.

    Hope Baugh
  • According to

    32,637 - number of suicides in U.S. in 2005
    (last year data is available)

    Every day 88 people die by suicide in the U.S.

    Every 40 seconds someone attempts death by suicide in the U.S.

    11 out of every 100,000 Americans die by suicide each year

    Untreated depression is the number one cause for suicide.

    Death by Suicide WARNING SIGNS include: Appearing depressed or sad most of the time, feeling hopeless, expressing hopelessness, withdrawing from family and friends, sleeping too much or too little, feeling tired most of the time, gaining or losing a significant amount of weight, making statements such as--I can't go on any longer, I hate this life, There's no point to this stupid life, Everyone would be better off without me, Life is not worth living, Nothing matters anymore, I don't care about anything anymore, I want to die, and/or any mention of suicide--writing notes or poems about suicide or death, acting compulsively losing interest in most activities, giving away prized possessions, writing a will, no sense of humor, facing a perceived humiliating situation, facing a perceived failure, feeling excessive guilt or shame, acting irrationally, being preoccupied with death or dying, behaving recklessly, irritability, frequently complaining about headaches, stomachaches, etc., neglecting personal appearance, a dramatic change in personal appearance or personality, performing poorly at work or in school, abusing alcohol or drugs, and/or inability to concentrate among others.

    If you, or some one you know, is experiencing death by suicide thinking, please GET HELP immediately (see website link). Death by suicide is not the answer!

    The desire to survive and the fear of death are artistic sentiments.
    - Salvador Dali
  • I think artists delve deeper into their own pain and pyche to bring forth what they need to understand, and to make others understand. The artistic process is very personal and often, a subconcious exercise. Actors live with their emotions very close to the surface, in order to bring forth experience on command. Musicians often find release in song. Painters and sculptors make tangible that which is intangible in their minds. And writers, well, writers may be the most tortured of all. There's a reason there's a whole field called art therapy.

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