By Emily Gold Boutilier
David Foster Wallace ’85, the author of Infinite Jest and The Broom of the System, died four years ago, on Sept. 12, 2008. This past Wednesday, 20 people gathered at the War Memorial to commemorate Wallace’s life and work and to mark the somber anniversary of his suicide.
Daniel R. Pastan ’13 organized the informal memorial, which drew a mix of students, professors, staff members and others. “I found Infinite Jest at a time when I badly needed to interact with a representation of reality that felt true to my experience of this fucked-up world,” Pastan said in opening the service. Someday, he added, “I plan on reading IJ out loud to a child, either my own or someone else’s.”
Dressed in a purple hooded sweatshirt and jeans, Pastan offered coffee to the group and invited others to speak. A few students read excerpts from Infinite Jest (with one describing “the point at which I decided not to stop reading”). Another student read from “This is Water,” the much-forwarded Commencement address that Wallace gave at Kenyon College in 2005.
Dale Peterson, the Eliza J. Clark Folger Professor of English and Russian, described the “cascade of pages” that greeted him whenever he and Wallace met to discuss the young man’s senior thesis in English. That thesis—one of two that Wallace wrote at Amherst—became his first novel, The Broom of the System. Peterson also recommended the new biography of Wallace, Every Love Story is a Ghost Story, by D.T. Max (Viking). “To read the book from cover to cover,” Peterson told the group, “was an enormously emotional experience.”
I first met Pastan a few weeks ago, when I interviewed him for an upcoming Amherst magazine article about the month he spent in the Wallace archive at the Henry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas. Pastan plans to turn his archival research (which he did with the help of an English department grant) into his own senior thesis in English.