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DAVID FOSTER WALLACE'S "The Depressed Person" is one of his most controversial stories, but it has received comparatively little critical attention. (1) Published in Harper's and then significantly expanded for Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, it elicits strong responses from readers. After its first publication, Harper's received numerous letters of complaint for what seemed to be an insensitive portrayal of a woman suffering an illness (Boswell 205). Wallace's suicide in 2008 adds another layer of difficulty for those trying to make sense of it. Distancing the main character from Wallace himself and from those suffering from clinical depression, critics have argued that the depressed person's condition is better understood as narcissism and that her solipsistic, analytical, self-conscious habits echo many of Wallace's other characters. (2) Adding further distance, in an interview with Michael Krasney, Wallace describes the unifying theme of Brief Interviews as "loneliness," especially those forms of loneliness "constituted out of situations that are supposed to involve love." Elsewhere, Wallace suggests that in "The Depressed Person" the eponymous main character is "a compendium of the worst and most painful features of the popular psychology movement in the US." This "popular Freudianism," as he calls it, "has its own paradox that the more we are taught to list and resent the things of which we were deprived as children the more we live in that anger and frustration and the more we remain children." The themes of narcissism, loneliness, and love as they are depicted in this story speak to another significant, though under-examined, facet of Wallace's work: his religious beliefs.

Though many have been interested in the ethical dimensions of Wallace's work, spiritual themes in his fiction remain underappreciated (Brick 66)\ For those interested in how his examination of narcissism, solipsism, and attention illuminate religious dimensions of his thought, "The Depressed Person" is a good entry point to his work. The longest piece in Brief Interviews, it is one of his most popular stories and one of the few to win an O'Henry Award. Although Wallace explores inward-turning, solipsistic tendencies in many of his texts, the eponymous main character of "The Depressed Person" works on the reader at a visceral level. Wallace's stylistics--the indirect point of view, long sentences, and footnotes--captures the non-linearity of thought along with the experience of the main character's rumination, allowing us, often in the course of one sentence, to see her qualify, hedge, analyze, doubt, or revise her assertions and beliefs before they are even completed. Although others have noted that the story examines the dilemma of getting beyond a "mask," of seeking "to understand and communicate the self, and escape narcissism" (Holland 117), Wallace's important critique of "pop psychology" in this text will eventually develop into more direct engagement with religion and ultimate meaning. Inasmuch as the depressed person struggles to be happy and to experience joy, hers is a familiar dilemma many readers may sympathize with. By allowing his main character to adopt a purely mechanistic view of the self, Wallace highlights the limits of clinical frameworks to provide meaning. The same dilemma arises later in The Pale King, and when seen in conjunction with that text and others, it becomes clearer that the central dilemma in this story is a spiritual dilemma. The question he examines is not so much one of mere communication, of how to express oneself to another person. Rather, he directs us beyond communication toward sanity and joy: how are we to stay sane (and possibly happy) in a mad world? How are we to find meaning in a culture driving us toward meaninglessness?

We can better understand the spiritual nature of the main character's dilemma by comparing "The Depressed Person" with G. K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy. It may seem at the outset that Chesterton and Wallace make strange bedfellows. Although Catholic ideas were familiar to Wallace--his grandparents were Catholic, his best friend and roommate in college was a Catholic who was considering becoming a priest, and Wallace twice embarked on serious study with the intent of converting to Catholicism, stopping only in the last stages on his second attempt (Max 19, 251)--there is no indication that he was significantly influenced by his reading of Chesterton's works. (4) Like Wallace, however, Chesterton shared a strong interest in the problem of encountering a world beyond one's head. Chesterton's eventual embrace of orthodoxy effectively combats what Gary Wills has called "the peril of a voracious intellect, a peril which is, in its final stage, solipsism" (27).

Most of what we know of Chesterton the apologist--from Heretics, Orthodoxy, The Everlasting Man--is borne out of his own period of solipsistic, inward-turning thought. He explains in his autobiography that as a young man he encountered and took seriously reductive accounts of the human person, what he called a "negative and even nihilistic philosophy" that "threw a shadow" over his mind (86). During this period of his life, he "sounded the most appalling depths of fundamental scepticism and solipsism" (354). Following this logic as far as it would go, he felt totally alienated by the material world and left with thought alone. Much like the depressed person, Chesterton found himself in "a diseased state of brooding and idling" (80), subjected to a "mood of unreality and sterile isolation" (88). Even when good things began happening to him, he could not be happy or experience joy as he would eventually know it because, as he put it, "my eyes were turned inwards rather than outwards" (97). For Chesterton, solipsistic self-analysis is what we ought to arrive at if we accept reductive views of the self. It was the process of rebelling against this inward turn and of pulling himself out of this position that led to his discovery of orthodox Christianity and ultimately of Catholicism. Finding orthodoxy, for Chesterton, was finding sanity; finding sanity was finding a way out of solipsistic analysis.

Escaping the prison of one's mind begins with recognizing that reason alone does not lead to sanity. In Orthodoxy, Chesterton describes the maniac, his analog to the modern thinker, as someone who reasons to the point of insanity, "connecting of one thing with another in a map more elaborate than a maze" (11). The form of this reasoning is the "insane simplicity" (15) of logical attempts to explain the universe and its complexities. The madman's conspiratorial or ambitious delusion "explains] a large number of things, but it does not explain them in a large way" (12). He twists all events to fit the uniformity of his explanation, leaving no room for strangeness or mystery. The truth of Catholicism, Chesterton would eventually say, is the recognition of a paradox: we cannot be satisfied with a single truth, "but only with the Truth, which is made of a million such truths and yet is one" (Autobiography 350). To explain this paradox he draws on a line of the Catholic writer Coventy Patmore and compares it to the beliefs of other sects and systems. In Patmore's words, "God is not infinite; He is the synthesis of infinity and boundary" (qtd. in Autobiography 350). For Chesterton, this recognition is in direct contrast to the "men of one idea," whose "one idea [is] universality" (350-51). The modern impetus toward grand explanation--whether in politics, psychology, or physical science--ignores the true magnitude and diversity of reality. Like the madman, Chesterton found the modern thinkers "always especially narrow when their one idea was breadth" (350-51). Particularly when it comes to individuals and cultures, strangeness and mystery must be respected. For Chesterton, there is no single definition of health or human Tightness. Limits define personality--and no matter how admirable the individual saint or person or culture, "the limits that make the lines of [a] personal portrait cannot be made the limits of all humanity" (Francis 128). In other words, no single individual, no single culture or pattern can realistically account for all of humanity or human society. Reasoning that attempts to achieve explanatory mastery is a kind of epistemological imperialism that eradicates individuality and leads to a warped view of reality; the great Christian discovery is that "reason does not lead to sanity" {Heretics 76).

The depressed person maps onto herself the attenuatingly broad, totalizing explanation of the wounded Inner Child--Wallace's rendition of popular Freudianism. Living in what Chesterton calls the "clean and well-lit prison of one idea" {Orthodoxy 14), she clings to a simplified view of emotional pain, believing herself to be unusual, abnormal, and contemptible for experiencing sadness. In her wounded state, she imagines that she is uniquely repulsive but dependent on others to meet her needs for attention--the only avenue for a cure. The problem of this view is that it leads to increasing resentment and more sadness. "It [feels] demeaning and pathetic," she tells her therapist, "to constantly apologize for boring someone or to feel that you had to thank them effusively just for being your friend" (45). Interpreting others' actions to fit her totalizing explanation, she becomes resentful of the attention she does receive, precisely because it cannot possibly be genuine. Like Chesterton, who followed his own culture's logic to its ultimate conclusion, leaving him with a "congestion of imagination" whereby he "imagine[d] the worst and wildest disproportions and distortions" {Autobiography 89), the depressed person follows the logic of the wounded Inner Child to its ultimate conclusion, arriving at a paradox: until she is fully healed, she is inherently defective and unlovable; as long as she is defective and unlovable, she will never receive the love she needs to be healed. Thus, she analyzes events in the fashion of a Chestertonian madman, remaining "hypervigilant" in her search for confirming evidence, conferring, for example, great significance on things like her friends' "inaudible gestures" during phone conversations, her imaginatively conjured hypothetical scenarios such as the fear that "laughing groups of people were often derisive and demeaning of her (i.e., of the depressed person) without her knowledge" (43, 64), and her therapist's glancing or not glancing at the clock, which was the primary subject of increasingly long footnotes and, in the world of the story, a point of analysis that spanned three years of therapy. The clinical language that she has adopted entrenches her in a maddeningly painful solipsistic loop.

Subsumed in the totalizing language of the wounded Inner Child is the depressed person's individuality. There are no unique persons in this story, only functions. The main character is known only as "the depressed person." Her most significant attachments are with the "therapist" and with friends who are referred to by the depressed person and her therapist as the depressed person's "Support System," which the depressed person "lean[s] on for unconditional caring and support" (41). These friendships are cultivated for the sole purpose of "meet[ing] her needs" (41). Compare the absence of human names in "The Depressed Person" with the Inner Infant support group scene in Infinite Jest. The latter work, Wallace laments, was praised for how funny it was. Brief Interviews, he explains to Michael Silverblatt, was intended to be seen as sad, not to be mistaken as funny. Indeed, in Infinite Jest, the Inner Infant scene is funny, precisely because it is populated with comically human characters: Hal witnesses Kevin Bain, his older brother's ex-tennis partner, now a grown man, taking on the persona of a baby clutching a teddy bear, crying for his parents, and crawling across the floor to ask Jim, another group member, to be his surrogate parent as the rest of the men chant "Meet those needs! Meet those needs! in the same male-crowd-exhortative meter as 'Hold That Line!' or 'Block That Kick!'" (807). In "The Depressed Person," we see no such named person acting comically misguided. Instead, we meet one whose entire personhood has been reduced to a condition and rendered in the black-and-white terms of wounded or whole. The dehumanization seen in "The Depressed Person" arises out of the therapeutic process itself, a process that locks her into determinist thinking. As the depressed person accepts the eradication of her own personhood, she, in turn, de-personalizes those closest to her. When the therapist commits suicide, for example, the depressed person "could locate no real feelings for the therapist as an autonomously valid human being" (67) but, instead, grieves not for the therapist but for herself, "for her loss, her abandonment, her grief, her trauma and pain and primal affective survival" (67). The therapist's death was inconvenient. But this realization, rather than breaking her solipsistic bubble, causes only more self-analysis. She shares her new realization with the most trusted member of her Support System, "a divorced mother of two ... who had recently undergone her second course of chemotherapy for a virulent neuroblastoma which had greatly reduced the number of responsibilities and activities in her full, functional, vibrantly other-directed adult life, and who thus was now not only almost always at home but also enjoyed nearly unlimited conflict-free availability and time to share on the telephone ..." (66n.). As with the therapist's suicide, the depressed person views her friend's terminal illness instrumentally: it is significant because it opens up her schedule to the benefit of the depressed person. The depressed person's insensitivity continues in the final scene where she recounts her realization about the therapist's pain:
... the depressed person shared that she was taking the additional risk
of revealing, even more frightening, that this shatteringly terrifying
set of realizations, instead now of awakening in her any feelings of
compassion, empathy, and other-directed grief for the therapist as a
person, had--and here the depressed person waited patiently for an
episode of retching in the especially available trusted friend to pass
so that she could take the risk of sharing this with her--that these
shatteringly frightening realizations had seemed, terrifyingly, merely
to have brought up and created still more and further feelings in the
depressed person about herself. At this point in the sharing, the
depressed person took a time-out to solemnly swear to her long-distance,
gravely ill, frequently retching but still caring and intimate friend
that there was no toxic or pathetically manipulative self-excoriation
here in what she (i.e., the depressed person) was reaching out and
opening up and confessing, only profound and unprecedented fear: the
depressed person was frightened for herself, for as it were
"[her]self--i.e., for her own so-called "character" or "spirit" or as
it were "soul," i.e., for her own capacity for basic human empathy and
compassion and caring--she told the supportive friend with the

Wallace's characteristically long sentences and the indirect point of view embody the depressed person's habitual magnification of self at the expense of recognizing the world outside her head. Her subtlest feelings are stated, reformulated, and re-examined so as to take on more prominence in her mental world. This was a realization she "was taking the risk of revealing," "reaching out and opening up and confessing" it, though viewing it as "frightening," "shatteringly terrifying," "shatteringly frightening." As she further delves into the nature of herself (or "[her]self), she ironically misrecognizes the import of her friend's struggles. The character's voice and the narrator's merge on the word "patiently," both the character's evaluation and Wallace's drawing attention to the irony of expressing a fear of not being empathetic to a terminally ill listener who interrupts with retching. The irony is heightened in Wallace's repetitions of earlier descriptors, "especially available and trusted friend," "long-distance, gravely ill, frequently retching but still caring and intimate friend," and the final emphasis "the supportive friend with neuroblastoma." The depressed person perceives these designations as matters of fact irrelevant to the main purpose of the discussion, the more significant act of her taking a risk and opening up and sharing her thoughts about herself with someone else. Wallace uses them to illustrate the depth and perversity of the depressed person's self-centeredness. We see immediately that the depressed person fails to perceive her friend as a complex human person. Insensitive to her friend's suffering, she views her merely as a resource to be used.

It is easy to see how passages like the one above open Wallace up to the charge of insensitivity. But the depressed person's destructive self-centeredness, Wallace suggests, is a starkly painted version of psychological tendencies common to many people living in contemporary American culture. If Wallace has achieved his end, readers should empathize with the character and recognize aspects of themselves (their own "hideousness"), even as they are repulsed by her behavior and rationalizations. In an interview with Michael Silverblatt, Wallace says, "[all of the speakers in the collection] have elements of fear and insecurity and loneliness that I identify with ... they're not monsters for me to set up and the reader and I join in pointing at them and go 'eww' we're so glad we're not like that ... I recognize myself in every speaker." If "depression" in this story results from cultural forces that persuade us to see ourselves as a grouping of mechanical processes, what then is the depressed person to do? If she is to be healed, what would her new, healed life look like? How is she to break out of her psychological prison?

Meredith Rand, the depressed person's counterpart in The Pale King, might tell her simply "to grow up." In The Pale King Rand found herself in a similar solipsistic loop and was institutionalized for cutting herself, a method of self-expression much like the depressed person's late-night phone calls. While in this prison-like setting, she meets her future husband, an orderly who identifies himself as an anti-establishment figure. Contrary to the psychiatrists working with her, he posits that no amount of understanding her condition will help her. The only way to secure freedom from the mental institution is to "grow up" and stop cutting. She tells Shane Drinion that expressions of self-hatred come with the belief that "somebody else is going to gallop up and save you, which is a child's fantasy" (506). In contrast, "growing up" and being "responsible" required her to recognize reality. For her, "reality," she explains, "meant nobody else was for sure going to be nice to me or treat me with any respect [or] see me or treat me the way I wanted to be seen, so it was my job to make sure to see myself and treat myself like I was really worthwhile" (506). Under this rubric, diagnosis is unrelated to cure; cure requires persuasion to better convictions about the nature of the self. However, Rand's strategy of simply changing her behavior does not bring her happiness. Looking inward and elevating herself to the position of creator and savior becomes another form of self-love. As Wallace's notes tell, Rand marries the advisor--who, like the depressed person's friend, is terminally ill--in order to become a kind of savior herself: "she felt sorry for him because he was sick and unattractive ... and going to die soon" (545). When he does not die, she is trapped, realizing that "the real person she'd pitied was herself" (545). Growing up does not lead to joy. It simply allows one to mask better an inner loneliness.

Another strategy Wallace suggests involves a shift of attention. Here we see an important convergence between Wallace and Chesterton. Both argue that the individual's proper orientation to the world is to direct the attention outward rather than inward. In Orthodoxy, Chesterton contrasts inner- and outer-directed attention in the chapter "The Romance of Orthodoxy," where he discusses beliefs that allow or prevent freedom for moral action. Unlike liberal theologies, materialism, Calvinism, pantheism, polytheism, or various forms of unitarianism, Orthodox Christianity gives humans the freedom both to recognize good and to strive toward it. Discussing the tendency to find similarities between Buddhism and Christianity, he compares the two religions by comparing their art: the Buddhist statue with eyes shut "looking with a peculiar intentness inwards" and the Christian saint with eyes open "staring with a frantic intentness outward" (124). He objects to those who would worship the "Inner Light" for reasons similar to his rejection of the "insane simplicity" of materialism: both eradicate the human person. Like the depressed person's solipsism, Buddhist immanentism destroys the distinction of persons: "That Jones shall worship the god within him turns out ultimately to mean that Jones shall worship Jones" (68). In contrast, happiness and joy starts with an outward gaze. "The Christian saint is happy," Chesterton writes, "because he has been cut off from the world; he is separate from things and is staring at them in astonishment" (126).

In his struggle to give his characters an escape from their solipsistic traps, Wallace seems to have arrived at the conclusion that it is only through awareness of the world in front of us that we can achieve happiness. Although Wallace seems to have long been interested in the concept of awareness, this interest is more directly addressed and explored in his later works. It is the main theme, for example, of his Kenyon College address, "This Is Water." Solipsism, in this address, is a form of self-worship, part of the "default" attentional setting that interprets the world from a self-centered position. Foreshadowing the theme of The Pale King, Wallace tackles the problem of how to confront the "day-to-day trenches of adult existence" without walking in a living death of "boredom, routine, and petty frustration." To be truly "alive" in the adult world requires "attention and awareness and discipline." It is a form of intentional consciousness that, in our modern consumer culture, is "unimaginably hard to do." In The Pale King he offers this intentional consciousness as a means to happiness. Happiness can only be achieved by someone who can fully attend to the world outside of the head. We see this transcendence in Shane Drinion during his conversation with Meredith Rand. Attending totally to Rand, he actually levitates several inches off of his chair, "which is what happens when he is completely immersed" (485). Wallace's notes to the character of Shane Drinion offer telling insight into his beliefs about the nature of psychological freedom and happiness:
Shane Drinion is happy. Ability to pay attention. It turns out that
bliss--a second-by-second joy + gratitude at the gift of being alive,
conscious--lies on the other side of crushing, crushing boredom. Pay
close attention to the most tedious thing you can find (tax returns,
televised golf), and, in waves, a boredom like you've never known will
wash over you and just about kill you. Ride these out, and it's like
stepping from black and white into color. Like water after days in the
desert. Constant bliss in every atom. (546)

This is the solution that an older Wallace might offer to the depressed person: "pay attention." But Drinion's bliss seems unrelated to many of the things we would recognize as components of a happy life. An orphan, he has no close friends, has never experienced sexual attraction or desire, and is seen by his peers as "a total lump in terms of personality, possibly the dullest human being currently alive" (448). His happiness arises not only out of his transcendence of self, but from a transcendence of society as well. "Constant bliss" seems to be another form of de-personalization. If enough humans were to achieve it, humanity would be eradicated.

Drinion's bliss is also problematic because it resembles the depressed person's distorted understanding of joy. In her view, everyone except for her lives in a static state of joy and happiness. Her friends' "full, joyful, active" (42), "largely pain-free" (39) lives are repeatedly contrasted with the depressed person's belief that she is, by comparison, "a joyless burden" (42). They are "functional and blissfully ignorantly joyful" (58n.); they enjoy "vibrant, healthy, nurturing, intimate caring partner-relationships" (45); even her terminally ill friend lives a "full, functional, vibrantly other-directed adult life" (66n.). By contrast the depressed person must spend her days in a "toxically dysfunctional and unsupportive workplace" (59) and lives in a constant state of "unbearable isolation and pain" (52). She involuntarily clings to "self-hatred, toxic guilt, narcissism, self-pity, neediness, [and] manipulation" (49). Therapy and introspection of her feelings are supposed to lead her to explore and process the wounds inflicted on her Inner Child so that one day she will simply and suddenly "leave the nest of her defense mechanisms and freely and joyfully fly" (51n.). In her view, to be healed, to be like other, normal people, is to lead a pain-free life filled with warmth and joy. Like Drinion's constant bliss, it is a distorted, unachievable goal.

It is in this understanding of joy that Wallace and Chesterton begin to part ways--or, we could say, where Wallace's imagination leaves the common landscape it shared with a Catholic imagination. In Orthodoxy, Chesterton, too, likens joy to levity. He even cites accounts that saints, like Drinion, could levitate (113). In addition, the levity of Chesterton's Christian joy, like Wallace's, includes a turning away from the self: "Pride is the downward drag of all things into an easy solemnity. One 'settles down' into a sort of selfish seriousness; but one has to rise to a gay self -forgetfulness" (114). But this kind of self-forgetfulness differs from Wallace's. Chesterton describes levity as a kind of frivolity: "It is really a natural trend or lapse into taking one's self gravely, because it is the easiest thing to do. It is much easier to write a good Times leading article than a good joke in Punch. For solemnity flows out of men naturally; but laughter is a leap. It is easy to be heavy: hard to be light" (114). Whereas Wallace describes a joy born out of an intensely concentrated, willed effort to penetrate through the mundane surface of things, Chesterton likens Christian levity to a selfforgetfulness. It is not Wallace's attention, awareness, and discipline so much as it is a receptive humility--a making oneself small in order to be delighted, to laugh, and to be astonished by the fact of existence. It would be hard to imagine Shane Drinion laughing, and though "This Is Water" discusses spiritual communion with "the same force that lit the stars," it leaves out simple mirth. Wallace's is a serious levity; Chesterton's is careless, "the minor acts of a healthy man; whistling as he walks; slashing the grass with a stick; kicking his heels or rubbing his hands" (11).

Unlike Wallace's ideal of total joy, both in the warped perception of the depressed person and in the character of Shane Drinion, Chesteron's view of human happiness in Orthodoxy accommodates sorrow, loneliness, and sadness. The ideal from an orthodox perspective is not to find a way to achieve bliss. Rather, it is to recognize that the normal state of things is to feel odd and out of place and "homesick," like the

"survivors of a wreck, the crew of a golden ship that had gone down before the beginning of the world," to recognize that "we do not fit in the world ... that man is a monstrosity" (72). Here we see the question of sanity arising again. For Chesterton, to be "right way up" is first of all to recognize the inherent oddities of the human condition. Put another way, "The primary paradox of Christianity is that the ordinary condition of man is not his sane or sensible condition; that the normal itself is an abnormality" (151). Such "mental emancipation" leads to his "ultimate idea of joy," namely the idea that "[e]verything human must have in it both joy and sorrow; the only matter of interest is the manner in which the two things are balanced or divided" (152). It is not just "unimaginably hard" but futile, from this perspective, to try to escape sorrow or to be "conscious" as Wallace defines it. But the alternative to willed, conscious attention and awareness, for Chesterton, is not Wallace's unconscious self-centered solipsism either. Rather, it is the right balance of happiness with sorrow that can be achieved only through a romance-like quest. For Chesterton, it is in the search for sanity and joy that the supposed fetters of Christian dogma begin to make sense. Sanity is achieved by recognizing that we are living in the wrong place and by being dissatisfied with the fallenness of a fallen world. Knowing this, we can embark on a quest toward beatification - a quest that entails commitment to the good, choosing one thing over another thing and acknowledging necessary constraints of such choices. But we can also look at the cosmos and find life and ultimate meaning. Thus, for Chesterton, the cosmic attitude of the Christian furnishes the soul with a permanent, expansive pulsation of joy mixed with intervals of the specific, concentrated experiences of sorrow occasioned by our earthly existence. This is contrasted to those who live with only momentary joys punctuating a despair wrought in a dead, impersonal cosmos (152-53). Turning outward, then, does not mean leaving the self, or the frustrations of everyday life. It involves astonishment and wonder, carelessness and delight, pain and sadness, as well as anger at injustices and hatred of evil.

It is not clear how Wallace would have developed his philosophy of joy in the finished Pale King, but the character who comes closest to illustrating the kind of joy in Chesterton's work is Irrelevant Chris Fogle, a character "called" to his profession during a lecture by a Jesuit accounting professor. Fogle's is a conversion narrative. A self-professed "wastoid" and "nihilist" (154), he accidentally stumbles into the Jesuit's lecture at the moment he was coming to realize that his life had no meaning, "that all of the directionless drifting and laziness and being a 'wastoid' which so many ... pretended to have raised to a nihilistic art form, and believed was cool and funny ... was, in reality, not funny, not one bit funny, but rather frightening, in fact, or sad, or something else--something [he] could not name because it has no name" (223). Though not the narcissistic solipsism of the depressed person, Fogle's drifting nihilism evinces a similar erasure of human meaning. It is a pose that becomes reality. "I had somehow chose to have nothing matter," he says, but "through making this choice, I didn't matter, either" (223). As with Wallace's belief that the depressed person's rhetoric of the wounded Inner Child helps to lock her in a state of immaturity, so too does he here identify Fogle's aimlessness as a form of childishness. The Jesuit offers a path both to joy and adulthood, a path marked by what Chesterton might call a type of romance of commitment and constraint that enables true freedom. In the lecture, the Jesuit likens the accounting profession to a heroic adventure marked by the perils of "[r]outine, repetition, tedium, monotony, ephemeracy, inconsequence, abstraction, disorder, boredom, angst, [and] ennui" (231). Just as with Chesterton, for whom "freedom" to act requires limits and "self-sacrifice"--for "when you take one course of action you give up all the other courses" (32)--the Jesuit helps Fogle understand that "if [he] wanted to matter .. . [he] would have to be less free, by deciding to choose in some kind of definite way" (223). Becoming an adult, the Jesuit explains, requires these kinds of binding choices, a true "heroism" entailing that they "'experience commitment as the loss of options, a type of death, the death of childhood's limitless possibility, of the flattery of choice without duress. ... Childhood's end'" (228). It is through such commitment, however, that those called to the profession gain access to "a denomination of joy unequaled," he tells them, "by any you men can yet imagine" (230). Fogle's path to joy and conscious life is not to focus on the connectedness of all things, or to be totally immersed in the sense that Drinion experiences it; it is not the achievement of "constant bliss in every atom." Rather, it is more like Chestertonian adventure, a result of understanding your place in a larger story and faithfully seeking to adhere to the commitments to which you have bound yourself.

If we can accept that the depressed person's condition is not a biologically grounded clinical depression but an exaggerated personification of a common ailment--a particular brand of loneliness aggravated by American consumer culture--then we can see that we each have a stake in the search for a way to break the dehumanizing pull of our own egos. Wallace and Chesterton point to submission and attention as potential means of escape, even if they disagree about how to do this. When confronted with the challenge of finding happiness, joy, and connection in a world that encourages introspection, explanatory mastery, and mechanistic views of the self--of finding meaning in the face of the forces of meaninglessness, nihilism, and self-centeredness - both writers draw on imaginative literature as a source of knowledge. Wallace stops just short of orthodoxy, but his works stand as courageous defenses of the human person against strange but dangerous foes endemic within modern American life.


1 It is usually discussed in analyses of Brief Interviews with Hideous

Men, e.g. Holland's "Mediated Immediacy in Brief Interviews with Hideous Men" (2013), Zadie Smith's Changing My Mind (2009), and Boswell's Understanding David Foster Wallace (2003). One journal article discusses its composition: Morsia's "The Composition of The Depressed Person'" (2015).

2 See: Holland 116, and Boswell 205-06. D.T. Max calls the piece "revenge fiction" which intentionally mocks the narcissistic pretentions of Elizabeth Wurtzel, the author of Prozac Nation, who rebuffed Wallace's advances (242).

3 The collection in part edited by Brick, David Foster Wallace and Religion: Essays on Faith and Fiction, published by Bloomsbury Academic Press, and including one of his essays, appears too late to be cited here. It is slated for a release in November 2019.

4 In his editor's preface to The Best American Essays 2007, for example, Wallace only briefly mentions Chesterton, along with Montaigne, as a historical representative in the genre.


Boswell, Marshall. Understanding David Foster Wallace. U of South Carolina P, 2003.

Brick, Martin. "A Postmodernist's Progress: Thoughts on Spirituality across the David Foster Wallace Canon." Christianity and Literature 64.1 (2014): 65-81.

Chesterton, G. K. The Autobiography of G. K. Chesterton. London: Sheed & Ward, 1936.

--.The Collected Works of G. K. Chesterton. Ed. George Marlin, et. al.. 37 vols. San Francisco: Ignatius, 1986.

--."The Life of St. Francis." Collected Works. 2: 13-133.

--.Orthodoxy. Chicago: Dover, 2004.

Holland, Mary. "Mediated Immediacy in Brief Interviews with Hideous Men." A Companion to David Foster Wallace Studies. Ed. Marshall Boswell and Stephen Burn. Basingstroke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. 107-30.

Max, D. T. Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story. London: Penguin, 2013.

Morsia, Elliot. "The Composition of 'The Depressed Person.'" Textual Cultures 9.2 (2015): 79-99.

Smith, Zadie. Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays. London: Penguin Books, 2010.

Wallace, David Foster. "Deciderization 2007--A Special Report." The Best American Essays 2007. Ed. David Foster Wallace. Boston: Mariner, 2007.

--. "The Depressed Person." Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. Boston: Little, Brown, 2007. 37-71.

--. Infinite Jest. Boston: Little, Brown, 1996.

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--. Interviewed by Michael Silverblatt. KCRW, 12 Aug. 1999,

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Author:Bocharova, Jean
Publication:Renascence: Essays on Values in Literature
Date:Sep 22, 2019

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