Infinity. This is the subject of David Wallace’s book on the mathematics, the philosophy and the history of a vast, beautiful, abstract concept. There are references in the book to Zeno’s dichotomy and Goldbach’s conjecture, to Hausdorff ’s maximal principle. There is also the offsetting breeze of Dave’s plainsong – OK then and sort of and no kidding and stuff like this.
His work, everywhere, tends to reconcile what is difficult and consequential with a level of address that’s youthful, unstudied and often funny, marked at times by the small odd sentence that wanders in off the street.
‘Her photograph tastes bitter to me.’
‘Almost Talmudically self-conscious.’
‘The tiny little keyhole of himself.’
A vitality persists, a stunned vigour in the face of the complex humanity we find in his fiction, the loss and anxiety, darkening mind, self-doubt. There are sentences that shoot rays of energy in seven directions. There are stories that trail a character’s spiralling sense of isolation.
‘Everything and More’. This is the title of his book on infinity. It might also be a description of the novel Infinite Jest, his dead serious frolic of addicted humanity. We can imagine his fiction and essays as the scroll fragments of a distant future. We already know this work as current news – writer to reader – intimately, obsessively. He did not channel his talents to narrower patterns. He wanted to be equal to the vast, babbling, spin-out sweep of contemporary culture.
We see him now as a brave writer who struggled against the force that wanted him to shed himself. Years from now, we’ll still feel the chill that attended news of his death. One of his recent stories ends in the finality of this half sentence: Not another word.
But there is always another word. There is always another reader to regenerate these words. The words won’t stop coming. Youth and loss. This is Dave’s voice, American.