There is a fascinating, impressively-researched article about David Foster Wallace’s relationship to religious faith by Ervin Beck in the latest issue of the Journal of the Center for Mennonite Writing. Wallace is one of my favorite writers, and Beck is a former professor of mine and one of the most important mentors that I’ve had, so I was very excited to read the article this afternoon. Despite its sectarian-sounding title (“David Foster Wallace Among the Mennonites;” Mennonites [including lapsed Mennos such as myself] love to talk about famous people’s connections with Mennonites, with Rembrandt being the most common example. Contemporary examples of celebrities who are either Mennonite or had/have strong Menno connections include Phyllis Diller, Newt Gingerich, Matt Groening, and the Canadian authors Rudy Wiebe, Di Brandt, and Patrick Friesen), the article is of interest for anyone who enjoys Wallace’s work or is interested in contemporary fiction. As is well known, Foster lived a tortured life, struggling with mental illness and constantly feeling that his work was never good enough despite its brilliance. Beck’s article does a beautiful job of sensitively addressing these issues and the role they played in Wallace’s interactions with his Mennonite acquaintances. This is no surprise, as Ervin is one of the sweetest, kindest persons I have ever had the privilege to meet.
2 thoughts on “Ervin Beck on David Foster Wallace”
Dan, I found this blog only this evening when I was researching on the web the death by suicide of my main informant for the article on DFW, Doug Poag of Normal, Illinois, on April 4. I knew him only through telephone conversations, but was impressed by his candor, his integrity and his love for David. And I am now so sad for him and his family. Your tribute to me is very generous, but echos what I feel about you, too. I knew you were bound for greatness, remember? And I’m delighted that you have a good academic position ahead of you. I’ll see you at the end of May in State College, and promise myself I’ll begin writing May 1 and be finished by May 10. How about that?
Ervin, thanks for these kind words. What sad news about Doug.
I’m looking forward to seeing you in about a month, and I look forward to reading the essay you are about to begin writing!