Undiplomatic Banner
13th September 2008 Charles J. Brown
10:17 pm

Tragic News

Just two days ago, I linked to and reprinted a phenomenal essay on September 11 written for The Atlantic about a year ago by David Foster Wallace, the noted novelist and essayist.   Today comes the very sad news that he died.

David Foster Wallace, the novelist, essayist and humorist best known for his 1996 [novel] Infinite Jest, was found dead last night at his home in Claremont, according to the Claremont Police Department. He was 46.  Jackie Morales, a records clerk at the Claremont Police Department, said Wallace’s wife called police at 9:30 p.m. Friday saying she had returned home to find her husband had hanged himself.

If you have not done so, make sure you read Infinite Jest. It is not the easiest novel to read — a huge chunk of it, including key plot developments, is written in footnotes to the main text, and I hated the ending — but there are few better — and funnier — critiques of contemporary American culture and the coming decline of American power.

A great loss, not just for letters, but also for everyone who is willing to think critically about those things that our leaders want us to ignore.

If you missed it the other day, you can find the essay after the jump.

Just Asking

Are some things still worth dying for?

Is the American idea one such thing?

Are you up for a thought experiment?

What if we chose to regard the 2,973 innocents killed in the atrocities of 9/11 not as victims but as democratic martyrs, “sacrifices on the altar of freedom”?

In other words, what if we decided that a certain baseline vulnerability to terrorism is part of the price of the American idea? And, thus, that ours is a generation of Americans called to make great sacrifices in order to preserve our democratic way of life—sacrifices not just of our soldiers and money but of our personal safety and comfort?

In still other words, what if we chose to accept the fact that every few years, despite all reasonable precautions, some hundreds or thousands of us may die in the sort of ghastly terrorist attack that a democratic republic cannot 100-percent protect itself from without subverting the very principles that make it worth protecting?

Is this thought experiment monstrous? Would it be monstrous to refer to the 40,000-plus domestic highway deaths we accept each year because the mobility and autonomy of the car are evidently worth that high price?

Is monstrousness why no serious public figure now will speak of the delusory trade-off of liberty for safety that Ben Franklin warned about more than 200 years ago? What exactly has changed between Franklin’s time and ours? Why now can we not have a serious national conversation about sacrifice, the inevitability of sacrifice—either of (a) some portion of safety or (b) some portion of the rights and protections that make the American idea so incalculably precious?

In the absence of such a conversation, can we trust our elected leaders to value and protect the American idea as they act to secure the homeland? What are the effects on the American idea of Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib, Patriot Acts I and II, warrantless surveillance, Executive Order 13233, corporate contractors performing military functions, the Military Commissions Act, NSPD 51, etc., etc.? Assume for a moment that some of these measures really have helped make our persons and property safer—are they worth it?

Where and when was the public debate on whether they’re worth it? Was there no such debate because we’re not capable of having or demanding one? Why not? Have we actually become so selfish and scared that we don’t even want to consider whether some things trump safety? What kind of future does that augur?

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]
This entry was posted on Saturday, September 13th, 2008 at 10:17 pm and is filed under foreign policy, politics, pop culture. It is tagged under , , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

There is currently one response to “Tragic News”

Why not let us know what you think by adding your own comment! Your opinion is as valid as anyone else's, so come on... let us know what you think.

  1. 1 On September 14th, 2008, Midwest McGarry said:

    This is truly tragic. Wallace shared a lot of my Midwestern roots, and I know that background was quite influential on his worldview and writing. I am so sorry to know his voice has been silenced.

Leave a Reply


  • Podcast Player

  • Podcast Feeds

    • View in iTunes
    • Any Podcatcher

  • Archive