What did you think? What sentences jumped out at you? What questions stuck with you? (Starts on p. 193 of the new collection of David Foster Wallace's essays, Both Flesh and Not.)
The same thing applies to non-fiction writing.
That intensity again! And that desire to get outside what is so intensely felt, so *good* inside. DFW experienced the full force of the ambiguity of success after IJ was published. This sentence is both brilliant and heartbreaking: "The motive of pure personal fun starts to get supplanted by the motive of being liked, of having pretty people you don't know like you and admire you and think you're a good writer." (Note the single perfectly place comma!) The part of the sentence after the comma is, I think, a perfect expression of the feeling that happens when you (I) have a piece of writing published.
I loved this one. It's self-conscious in the extreme, but then so am I at times. ("But then so"…almost a DFW construction.) I almost don't want to give away the conclusion, but I found it so moving that I'll risk it:
"The fact that you can now sustain the fun of writing only by confronting the very same unfun parts of yourself you’d first used writing to avoid or disguise is another paradox, but this one isn’t any kind of bind at all. What it is is a gift, a kind of miracle, and compared to it the reward of strangers’ affection is as dust, lint."
At the same time, the lightness and hope and the THIS IS TRUE feeling I ended the essay with are all confounded by the knowledge that Wallace eventually ended is own life. I don't know enough of his biography to know the whole story, but I suspect that where reassurances like these feel restorative (and therefore important, meaningful) to me, they were *necessary* in some basic way for Wallace…and even then, other forces were far stronger.
Thanks for your feedback! Team Branch