The rapidity of his canonisation


One measure of a great fiction writer is the ability – possessed by very few – to bend reality, to seem to mould the world into shapes you have created. When David Foster Wallace hanged himself on the porch of his house in Claremont, California, on September 12 2008, he set in motion a chain of events that has come to seem like one of his own sprawling, multistranded fictions, a story whose central image is the transmutation of a much-loved living writer into that bogeyman of the literary canon, the Dead White Male. Wallace was 46, preternaturally talented, and at the height of a career crowned by the publication in 1996 of Infinite Jest, a 1,100-page slab of a novel set in a future North America where corporations have naming rights over the calendar, the action thus taking place in the Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment. Unashamedly cerebral, maximalist, digressive, infuriating and often very funny, Infinite Jest became an underground badge of belonging, appearing on hipster bookshelves next to copies of William Gaddis’s The Recognitions, Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, and Don DeLillo’s White Noise. Before its publication, Wallace’s work had been acclaimed in the relatively small world of contemporary experimental fiction. His debut novel, The Broom of the System, started when he was still an undergraduate and published in 1987, had signalled that he was a writer to watch and a 1989 volume of short stories (Girl With Curious Hair) had been greeted with good notices but relatively low sales. After Infinite Jest, he was an international figure, as readers discovered that his work was both formally innovative and extremely entertaining.

more from Hari Kunzru at the FT here.