I’ve just spent an hour or so on Twitter and I realised that what I love about this tool, this wise-cracking, mind-expanding, consciousness-raising, pleasure-loving ‘tool’, is that I can follow threads of information, mere snippy snippets of compressed web-links into the depths of knowledge and opinion. This morning, for instance, I followed a link to this emotionally raw and unmediated review (of sorts) of David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King which has just been released. Foster Wallace hung himself in 2008 after battling depression. I’ve picked up Infinite Jest but have never made it through, so I can’t really say I’m a fan. Except something he said a few years ago made me sit up and pay attention. It was a line about being a Gen Xer and went something like ‘We are highly educated, highly successful and adrift’. It really struck a chord and I have often picked up his writing, his shorter essays and stories, since – one day I will work through it all.
But Anonymous’ review, which you must all read, has taken me down all sorts of highways (and dull, grotty back lanes) of thought, primarily because Anonymous writes so revealingly about suicide. He* puts the case for death not being an end. Despite death physically stopping us living, he says:
‘that the end is not the point’
and that we (the reader) must:
‘forgive us our trips to the rafters, and don’t reduce us to that moment’.
Anon is referring to writers, specifically Foster Wallace and himself, when he writes ‘us’ but I think it could speak louder and wider than that. This forgiveness he asks for, speaks of a compassion and heartache for those who find no other alternative than to take their own lives, writers or not. And it implies the recognition that each one of us has a bigger ‘life’ than the physical body we walk around in. We have friends or colleagues or we have written or we think, or we have helped an old lady across the road. Kindnesses and conversations and moments that live on in memory or in hard copy despite our passing.
Near the end, Anon states:
‘The end is just an arbitrary point where we stop telling this one story.’
Here, he is referring to Foster Wallace’s habit of not making obvious or neat endings for the reader but he is also referring to suicide. And to our own eventual deaths. Lying in bed this morning, scrolling through the Twitterverse with my finger, Anonymous made me pause and think about all of this and to question again my ready answers and ‘made-up’ mind about a myriad of things. He made think about compassion in this complex and conflicted world where there is no arbitrary stop button. The story just keeps rolling on. And he also made me think about my place within this world, my power within it, small as that may be, and to remember to keep perspective not matter what. To maintain that knowledge of how lucky and fortunate I am, in thousands upon thousands of ways. And Anonymous pulled this breathtaking quote from The Pale King:
‘It’s all inside me, but to you it’s just words.’
I’m going to give Infinite Jest a go. And then I’ll aim for The Pale King.
*I am fairly sure Anonymous is a he.