by Douglas Valentine
I hadn’t heard of David Foster Wallace prior to his suicide. I had never read anything he wrote, though among the many recent obits I read, I saw that he had written a book titled Infinite Jest. When I saw that I thought, “Ah so! A man after my own heart.” By which I meant a master of invention and device, of irony – for he was certainly referring to Hamlet’s impromptu eulogy for Yorick, whom we all know so well.
As Hamlet facetiously said while holding Yorick’s skull like a grapefruit and gazing into the empty eye sockets, “Not one now, to mock your own grinning? Quite chap-fallen?”
Any writer who would choose Infinite Jest as a title, I assumed, would appreciate Hamlet’s ironic flirtation with madness, the wry comments made to amuse himself and confuse his foes. And indeed, many reviewers say Wallace’s works are full of irony.
But as I read more and more reviews and obits, I found that Wallace, like a former Party official denouncing himself at a Stalinist show-trial, had branded irony (along with irreverence and rebellion!) as “not liberating but enfeebling.”
I immediately thought, “Is he being cute?” Such a broad generalization could never stand up and walk on its own legs. “His poor students,” I thought, as I apologized on Wallace’s behalf to all of our irreverent literary and historical revolutionary heroes and heroines.