I honestly have little to say, beyond shock and surprise. His death was self-inflicted and he was found by his wife.
I can say that I was not a heavy reader of his by any means — I’d still yet to crack Infinite Jest, which I kept meaning to given my own love for sprawling and absurdist fiction (I first became aware of Wallace via comparisons to Thomas Pynchon and John Barth, which immediately piqued my interest). I really only knew scattered essays from his nonfiction work, perhaps (?) most notoriously his piece “Neither Adult Nor Entertainment,” done for Premiere magazine in 1998 about the AVN Video Awards in Las Vegas, and which produced some rather tart responses from said magazine’s staff.
But I link that not to run him down but to acknowledge the piece’s power — it wouldn’t have produced that rebuttal if it weren’t so wide-rangingly entertaining and involving, so very well-written; I think I still have it around somewhere in my collection of random snippets of things. A friend privately asserted a couple of weeks back that Wallace’s ‘shtick’ was in itself not new — Donald Barthelme was the friend’s preferred choice of comparison, which makes sense, but read ‘Me and Miss Mandible’ and judge for yourself. The debate will go on, I am sure.
Regardless — one of the few writers to have a true above-board public profile in 21st century America, and I know many will have cause to mourn. RIP.
EDIT — over on the ILE thread this snippet was posted from the discussion list dedicated to his work, apparently from a former professor of his at Amherst. It’s quite something:
He wrote two senior theses at Amherst: a creative thesis in English that was his first novel, “The Broom of the System,” and a philosophy thesis on fatalism. Both were judged to be Summa Cum Laude theses. The opinion of those who looked at the philosophy thesis was that it, too, with just a few tweaks to flesh out the scholarly apparatus, was a publishable piece of creative philosophy investigating the interplay between time and modality in original ways.
That much is probably common knowledge. Here’s what is not so widely known: Though theses normally take a whole school year to write, DFW had complete drafts of both of his theses by Christmas, and they were finished by spring break. He spent the last quarter of his senior year reading, commenting on, and generally improving the theses of all his friends and acquaintances. It was a great year for theses at Amherst.