I Knew Him Horatio…

This is my first fanpost, hopefully it will be better than a cruise to despair.(1) Be gentle with me. Please.

"Genius is not replicable. Inspiration, though, is contagious, and multiform — and even just to see, close up, power and aggression made vulnerable to beauty is to feel inspired and (in a fleeting, mortal way) reconciled." -the words of a sports fan.

The world is now mourning the loss of a true genius, in the according to Hoyle sense of the phrase, rather than the hyperbolic Lou Holtz definition. David Foster Wallace is gone, by his own hand; the literary world mourns and so should we all.

Genius is a rare thing, accompanied by accolades, huzzahs, and a certain alien adoration that tends to separate the adored from the adoring. Recently, I have been reading and rereading Harper’s DFW collection and reveling in genius. A few years ago, DFW wrote the words above as he recounted watching in awe as Roger Federer did the amazing. He watched sports for the same reason as countless others. He watched to be inspired.

Every Saturday for years I have turned on the TV or gone to a game for the same reason I devour the work of David Foster Wallace. I get the same tingle re-watching VY do the amazing as reading DFW do the improbable. This is not to say that their respsective types of genius are similar, or even metaphorical, merely that I experience(d) the same sense of awe, wonder and the quintessential feeling of "how the f*** did he do that?" watching VY nullify a defense as reading a DFW turn of phrase.(2) The hard shock that Vince Young may or may not be contemplating his own mortality took my mind deeper down the rabbit hole.

DFW, VY, and any other number of men and women known only as a set of initials and first names tend to have a terrible thing in common - an awareness of their own isolation. Genius is not replicable. Its uniqueness is isolating from the comforting conformity of being able to "blend in". Their money, fame, and ability is expected to compensate for the other fallacies they have as humans. This is not the case.

Genius inherently precludes a certain amount of social camouflage and robs individuals of the ability to blend in. They can become separate because of their own genius, as DFW explored with Hal Incandenza.(3) Meanwhile, just as we are separated by an inability to replicate the feats we admire so, we are drawn toward the potential that we might be inspired by them.  The objects of our admiraction can then become dehumanized in the eyes of fans, admirers and boosters, with their constant demand for the inspiring, for the dauntless. 

But the truth is such genius does not always carry over into day to day life. Vince Young’s money, fame, and athletic ability seldom give him more answers than one not so blessed, but constantly, and unendingly he is faced with more questions.

When the extraordinary are faced with a challenge, we too often say that they should "man up", "shake it off", and "forge ahead", ignoring that they share the same struggle with life that we do. In doing so we fail to account for how fragile a thing their unique genius - this thing which we cannot fully understand or replicate ourselves - may be. We fail to note their problems and their humanity, saying nothing until it is too late, then we sigh and call them "a tragic figure" and suggest that such tragedy may be the "price of genius."  Perhaps, but that doesn't forgive the diminution of their humanity or that their audience allowed it to happen despite, or because of, their own dependency.(4)

The realization that DFW will write no more now inspires a unique sort of dread in me. I feel like I should right now, at this moment, decide to forgo eating for the week and use my diverted funds to horde every work I can get my hands on. The material instinct behind this urge is, of course, foolish. A bestselling author, especially a recently deceased one, is guaranteed more posthumous reprinting than he would ever have seen in this life. I can have a third copy of infinite jest, a hardcover of oblivion, and print off enough copies of his seminal essay on Roger Federer that I may even start to appreciate men’s tennis. (5) The spiritual urge behind this, the soul realization that genius is a scarce commodity and thus so is the peculiar type of inspiration it engenders, is not nearly so imprudent.

I write this just to suggest that, as you watch your chosen sport or appreciate your preferred form of genius and enjoy the accompanying inspiration, you please remember the humanity of your heroes, your geniuses, and the objects of your fandom. They are giving you something you cannot reproduce yourself. Enjoy the moment, the season, the novel, the concert. Enjoy the inspiration and the feeling of redemption you get from being witness to the incredible. And remember the humanity of those who succeeded and those who attempted to brave Mount Olympus and fell short


1. Better known as "Shipping Out"

2. These are the emotions I have experienced watching Vince Young. If you do not share these, I suppose I can rationalize a common ground and do not believe that our disagreement detracts from my thesis. I would suggest that your presence at a computer, reading Burnt Orange Nation, despite your failure to appreciate Vince Young, reveals existential and/or time management issues you might want to resolve. If you don’t appreciate, in any way, the genius of David Foster Wallace, then you’d best stop reading now. Literally, stop reading. Anything. Ever. You have evolved/devolved past appreciation for the written word and should abandon it as a medium.

3. Whose oft quoted passage:

"I read," I say. "I study and read. I bet I've read everything you read. Don't think I haven't. I consume libraries. I wear out spines and ROM-drives. I do things like get in a taxi and say, "The library, and step on it." My instincts concerning syntax and mechanics are better than your own, I can tell, with all due respect. But it transcends the mechanics. I'm not a machine. I feel and believe. I have opinions. Some of them are interesting. I could, if you'd let me, talk and talk."

appears as non-sensical and horrifying screaming to those around.

4. Alternate

5. If anyone could inspire such a thing, it’s DFW, but I don’t believe he’s a miracle worker.

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