It is a well-known fact that the dregs of semi-computer-literate society congregate daily in one place: the comment forums on newsy Web sites. Be it Huffington Post or The Sporting News, YouTube or your local newspaper, a story about Michelle Obama eating a cheeseburger or Hank Williams saying something stupid about the gays/blacks, the blithering hick denizens come out in full force against the communist-socialist conspiracy du jour, making unveiled threats about power, the media-government industrial complex, and blahblahblah; you know what I mean.
But then there are those folks on the other end of the spectrum who gather in the comment forums on less mainstream Web sites, openly left of center, and seemingly more intellectual places: The Nation, Slate, NPR, etc. This is a very special species of crusty old hippie, semi-computer literate like their right-wing brethren, still insufferably sowing their political seeds in poorly punctuated, simplistic and bitter missives aimed at no one in particular.
I’ve noticed these folks a lot lately in stories about a certain prolific writer’s death. Virulently (and somewhat rightfully) anti-neocon commentators focused with measured intensity on certain aspects of Hitchens’ life: his support of the Iraq War, his disdain for religion, or perhaps his hatred of the former President Clinton. But then there were those commenting who had simply lost the will to give two shits about Hitchens anymore, who didn’t offer an argument about why Hitchens shouldn’t be so lauded, some tired of the 24/7 memorial, those who pleaded for these news outlets to make it stop; enough is enough, they said. We’ve heard enough about him, already.
They were suffering from a sort of Hitch Fatigue; the HF havers more than likely didn’t care for him when he was alive, simply avoided his columns and television appearances, and led happy lives. Hitchens’ death, however, brought mourners out in such full force that there was no avoiding him. This HF pandemic resulted, as everyone — well, basically everyone — expressed some contrition about his passing, and on every network or in every periodical; there was no avoiding a very public memorial for a man who was a very public figure.
Often, I’m queerly tickled by these sorts of reactions. Relevant people dying means something to society; people care. A great aspect about our Web revolution is that there’s far more choice involved in reading/avoiding stories. But the death of a public figure is now, almost always, met with universal contrition followed by a vocal (but minor) backlash against such contrition.
When Michael Jackson died, there was MJ Fatigue; when Darryl Kile died, there was DK Fatigue (not to be confused with the other DK fatigue); Brittany Murphy, BM Fatigue; Pope John Paul, PJP Fatigue; Heath Ledger, HL; and down the list.
So this is where the rubber meets the road as re: the subject of this piece — “…David Foster Wallace’s Continued Relevance” — and the above meanderings. Wallace, of course, killed himself in September 2008. Still, more than three years later, the praising articles and essays continue to roll in — this having something (but not everything) to do with the posthumous release of The Pale King, of course.
Though it was last year that marked the opening of the DFW Archive at UT-Austin, 2011 saw the publishing of some great essays about the pieces therein: Maria Bustillos’ piece for The Awl on the late writer’s self-help book collection standing out. Elizabeth Lopatto’s recent “Come On, Pilgrim” is also a wonderful result of such research.
More intimate pieces were written as well. Jonathan Franzen turned in a wonderful essay on his late friend, “Farther Away,” an attempt to reason with the unreasonable. Michael Pietsch’s introduction to The Pale King fits in here as well, as does the widowed Karen Green’s interview with The Guardian. Continue reading