There are many advantages to owning your own business—the tax exclusions are so favorable that I feel guilty, you get to work the hours you want, take time off when you want, and regardless of your current salary can rest easy knowing that your potential upside is greedily immense—but one of the immediate downsides from my job, in particular, is being positioned in front of a screen for more hours than a healthy human being probably should. Part of what made David so special to so many people was the way he wrote about addiction; another was his predictions about technology and the way it can negatively impact human existence, i.e., promote less human to human interaction as the technology gets so good that we don’t ever want to take our eyes off screens and things like virtual reality pornography.
As with many times in life, I first heard about David Foster Wallace after a movie was being advertised. That film is The End Of The Tour, and I must’ve caught it during the aggressive advertising campaign period pre-release because I can vividly remember still having to wait a long time for the chance for me to watch it came about. Part of that was due to the fact that it didn’t get screened across the world or even the United States and living in the small country town that I live in that gets by without a DVD store these days, the chance for me to watch it the quickest was going to be by illegally torrenting it which I usually don’t enjoy doing unless I have to. In fact, I distinctly remember semi-verbally abusing the official The End Of the Tour Twitter account about how the fuck does one watch this movie when after a few months after it’s release it still hadn’t become available for me to see it legally or illegally. Potentially not so coincidentally, literally within a few days the movie was available to torrent.
Even though I was well aware that the Wallace estate was not particularly fond of the movie being made and there’s the real chance of David hating the film that was made of him, it was hard not to fall in love with the character of David Foster Wallace that was being heralded as one of the most down to earth, intelligent and talented writers of our generation. And if anyone ever has the nerve to doubt that fact in front of you feel free to point them in the direction of the Time magazine’s all-time top 100 novels ever written where Infinite Jest comes in at number 44 at the time of writing this.
After watching the movie, I then read every article that was available online about Mr. Wallace—including the ones that said the movie did an appalling job of portraying him and how his death made him into a “celebrity writer dude that would’ve made him wince”—as well as every bit of video footage available from YouTube and other sources online.
The collection of tapes, audio tapes, and written passages give you enough insight to David as a person that you can conclude whether you love or dislike the guy. I become a lover.
After a while, I thought about researching whether David was a believer of God or whether he was an atheist. The movie shows him going to church and there is at least one article online supposedly written by a friend of David’s that suggests that the movie missed many points and another when David did things like go to the church because it was in the church where his AA meetings were held. Reading that, I was quick to assume that the friend would be right and the David Lipsky who traveled from Bloomington Illinois to Minneapolis and back with him for a week probably was the one who got it wrong. However, I’ve since done a great deal (as David would like to say) more research on the subject of David and his potential faith in God and I’m quickly changing my tune.
I believe that there is enough evidence presented to us online and in the movie that suggests David was likely a believer more than a non-believer.
The first bit of proof is spotted by Lipsky himself in the film called The End of The Tour when David leaves the house toward the concluding stages of the film and Lipsky takes a tape recorder around the rooms and observes the home of David Foster Wallace for some more insight into the man. He gets to the bathroom and reads a biblical passage that is a small picture on Wallace’s wall. That passage is the first thing we know about David potential faith. If you have something stuck up on the wall of your home and you live alone, then there is a good chance that means something. We also know that David went to church, but it’s inconclusive whether he did that for getting closer to God or for his alcohol addiction that is well documented.
Further evidence of David being open to the possibility of God existing is in his commencement speech for Kenyan college called “This Is Water” that is being talked about as the best commencement speeches ever to go down in history—and I agree. It’s one of my favorite speeches that I’ve ever heard even outside of all speeches given as commencement speeches. Anyhow, in the speech David says “And a compelling reason for choosing some sort of God or spiritual-type thing to worship—be it J.C. or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess or the Four Noble Truths or some infrangible set of ethical principles—is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive”.
The next bit of evidence that I came across online was in a tape recording he did in New York for a freelance journalist of a newspaper who seemingly managed to meet up with David while he was in New York for other reasons. David Wallace being David Wallace, he gave up his time to the journalist who wanted to meet with him.
The interview is a long one that goes for nearly an hour and a half. Roughly forty to fifty minutes into the tape, the question is proposed to David asking if he is a Platonist. David Wallace’s reply is “personally between you and me—yes, I am a bit of a Platonist. I happen to think that God has particular languages and one of them is math, and one of them is music. That’s not something I can defend, but it’s just something I’ve felt in my tummy since I was a little kid”. Perhaps to David’s frustration, it didn’t remain between the two of them, but the interacting before David answered the question wasn’t ever suggesting that it should either. He just had his doubts that the journalist would have the ability to narrow the article down small enough for any writing about a Platonist and his remark about God fitting into the story.
If you were anything like me and wondered if David Foster Wallace was a believer in the man above or not, then you should find this some of the most convincing information online. The reason I decided to write this article wasn’t to try to persuade people into believing that David was a believer but rather because during my time in researching whether or not David believed in God I came across articles that suggested that he wasn’t and I didn’t think that would be fair to have thousands of people read those articles with the assumption that they are definitely true.
For what it’s worth, I’m going to assume that David did believe in God because I believe that tape evidence that I heard leaves it almost undeniable. However, I welcome you to draw your own conclusion. The tape does say that David has only had a couple of hours sleep; maybe he wasn’t himself that day.