Consider the Philosopher

James Ryerson in the New York Times Magazine:

David Foster Wallace With the death of David Foster Wallace, the author of “Infinite Jest,” who took his own life on Sept. 12, the world of contemporary American fiction lost its most intellectually ambitious writer. Like his peers Richard Powers and William T. Vollmann, Wallace wrote big, brainy novels that were encyclopedically packed with information and animated by arcane ideas. In nonfiction essays, he tackled a daunting range of highbrow topics, including lexicography, poststructuralist literary theory and the science, ethics and epistemology of lobster pain. He wrote a book on the history and philosophy of the mathematics of infinity. Even his signature stylistic device — the extensive use of footnotes and endnotes — was a kind of scholarly homage.

But Wallace was also wary of ideas. He was perpetually on guard against the ways in which abstract thinking (especially thinking about your own thinking) can draw you away from something more genuine and real. To read his acutely self-conscious, dialectically fevered writing was often to witness the agony of cognition: how the twists and turns of thought can both hold out the promise of true understanding and become a danger to it. Wallace was especially concerned that certain theoretical paradigms — the cerebral aestheticism of modernism, the clever trickery of postmodernism — too casually dispense with what he once called “the very old traditional human verities that have to do with spirituality and emotion and community.” He called for a more forthright, engaged treatment of these basic truths. Yet he himself attended to them with his own fractured, often-esoteric methods. It was a defining tension: the very conceptual tools with which he pursued life’s most desperate questions threatened to keep him forever at a distance from the connections he struggled to make.

More here. [Thanks to Alex Star.]