Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login

My understanding is that David Foster Wallace wrote this about Elizabeth Wurtzel and it was meant to be a kind of slam of her as not being depressed but merely narcissistic.


There's probably a better source but that's the first one I found on google.

This[1] is what she wrote about Wallace and his depression after he committed suicide. It strikes me as kind of embarrassingly shallow.

[1] http://nymag.com/news/intelligencer/50515/

Really? I liked that she avoided sentimentality. To me it kind of conveyed a respect for him.

I have no idea what is the context of this or who this woman is, but narcissism is a mental disorder as well so I'm not sure why anyone would try to belittle someone for being narcissistic.

This whole "my disorder is better than your disorder" doesn't impress me, neither does the universal adoration of DFW.

The question is a bit more complicated than just belittling someone's disorder.

Wurtzel wrote Prozac Nation, which was nominally an account of her own depression and a broader reflection what personal struggles with depression look like in America. It was widely seen as revealing but unpleasantly self-indulgent and unreflective of common experiences with depression.

That might clarify why DFW, struggling with depression himself, was rather less than kind to Wurtzel and her book. Narcissism is something to sympathize with, certainly, but seeing a popular book portray narcissism and a rather entitled life as representative of depression put a lot of people's hackles up. The context, and the move from "disorder" to "book about having a different disorder", are vital.

None of which is a simple endorsement of DFW, but it's at least worthwhile context for the piece.

One can treasure DFW's works without participating in the "universal adoration" of DFW.

It seems like he's also making some similarly unkind statements about therapy in the story. Most of the character's issues seem to derive from her being given all these dimensions to constantly measure herself on (being a narcissist helps to amplify the effect here of course), so that she can't just be natural with others—and yet she has also been given all these goals by her therapist which presumably would just happen organically by interacting with others, if she didn't always have this agenda of being maximally empathetic and non-toxic etc. And then there are the issues she's dealing with in therapy explicitly stated to derive from therapy in the story.

The tension between overanalyzing everything and trying to focus on the 'small things' and 'little truths' is by far my favorite DFW 'theme', because I feel that tension in myself constantly. The only other writer I've come across who does this as well (if not better) is Dostoevski.

And to make it all a bit meta, I can't help but wonder how much good it does me to read too much of this type of hyper-aware stuff.

I wonder about that too. I don't think it's unhealthy as long as you don't believe it's going to provide you with a solution. The only thing I've found that actually helps is spending sufficient time doing things that don't involve thinking so that you form different habits. Meditation has helped in my case, but I bet prolonged exposure to sports/exercise or anything else like that would be of similar benefit.

Any particular Dostoevski you liked?

Meditation has helped me too.

> I don't think it's unhealthy as long as you don't believe it's going to provide you with a solution.

While I'm not sure if that's true, I think the main danger is that, at least based on experience and observation, there's something strangely addictive to rumination. It feels useful.

Plus, as you point out, doing non-thinking things is very important. Thinking too much, especially when alone, gets in the way of that non-thinking.

In the context of this here conversation I'd say 'Notes From Underground' is appropriate. It's basically a spot-light on one particular character that makes an appearance in his other books too. It was really confronting to read the thoughts of such a 'loathsome' and sad character, and to then realize that my thoughts (and to some degree behavior) often mirrors that of the 'underground man'.

I enjoyed 'Notes From Underground' too. Had a similar experience reading it.

> While I'm not sure if that's true, I think the main danger is that, at least based on experience and observation, there's something strangely addictive to rumination. It feels useful.

I think the main issue with reading these kinds of things with aims towards a solution is they support the idea that there's some problem with yourself that you need to solve in the first place, whereas—in many cases—the only problem is that one keeps trying to solve this 'problem,' and if they stopped for sufficiently long, things would eventually return to normal. Although another requirement may be that you have to consider it not a problem when negative mental states arise (otherwise you just keep trying to problem solve your mental state), and reading can definitely help to acquire that. But anyway that's just my thinking on this atm—can't say I put it into practice super well ;)

Send me an e-mail if you'd like to discuss further (westoncb at google's email service).

interesting--as DFW fans know, FD was in fact DFW's favorite writer. ("Consider the Lobster" is the only DFW work i'm aware of in which he mentions this and discussed FD's influence on his own work.)

FD and Pynchon share that title from what I remember from Every Love Story is a Ghost Story. Pynchon's V. inspired DFW to write his first novel, The Broom of the System.

Didn't DFW write a review of sorts of Dostoevki or one of his works?

He wrote a review of Joseph Frank's biography of Dostoevsky: http://bookhaven.stanford.edu/2013/04/david-foster-wallace-d...

That's my understanding as well, and there's a lot of sources for that just a Google search away.

That article makes him sound like a terrible person.

Applications are open for YC Summer 2020

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact