Patterico's Pontifications


Continued Debate Over The Legacy Of David Foster Wallace (UPDATED)

Filed under: Books,Current Events,Miscellaneous — Justin Levine @ 7:08 pm

[posted by Justin Levine]

John Ziegler posts his views on author David Wallace Foster’s suicide here. He is clearly challenging much of the standard narrative coming from the admirers of Wallace.

Ziegler also manages to make reference to a previous Patterico post (written by me) found here (which contains a link to Wallace’s article on Ziegler at issue).

— Justin Levine

UPDATE BY PATTERICO: I am getting a lot of negative reaction to this post. I have asked some of the correspondents if they would like their negative feedback posted as an update. I’ll post some of it here as that feedback comes in.

It feels wrong to take the post down, since it’s been up for a while — whether I would have posted it or not. But I certainly believe in airing any criticism of the post. Send it on and I’ll post it.

UPDATE x2 BY PATTERICO: Scott Eric Kaufman has this reply to Ziegler. It appears clear that Scott doesn’t think much of Ziegler’s piece.

UPDATE x3 BY PATTERICO: I don’t really know anything about Wallace but I’ll add this as a general observation about depressed people who commit suicide. In my view, they are simply ill. Mental illness is a disease like any other. I don’t think depressed people should be faulted for being ill.

And I don’t like speaking ill of the recently dead.

And it would have been more courageous for Ziegler to write this post while Wallace was still alive and had the chance to defend himself.

UPDATE x4 BY PATTERICO: Eric Blair writes:

I have long been impressed by a story about Abraham Lincoln. When angry with someone, he would write an angry letter, detailing how he felt in every lurid detail. Then he would put the letter in a drawer. Soon he cooled off, and never actually sent the letter. The story goes on to relate that Lincoln had several drawers full of such unsent letters, which he felt showed him at his worst.

So it is with John Ziegler’s rant about the recent tragic suicide of David Foster Wallace. So it is with Justin Levine’s linking to that post. Unnecessary. Hurtful to the bereaved survivors of that tragedy. And perhaps most importantly, it changes no one’s mind, while inflaming further partisanship. I’m not saying that John Ziegler is wrong to be angry at David Foster Wallace’s article. Nor am I saying that David Foster Wallace was a great man. The tragedy of suicide is that we will never know what David Foster Wallace had in his future. And more to the point, his surviving friends and family do not either. Instead, they get to read someone saying unkind and angry things about their loved one, perhaps even before the funeral.

I was heartsick at the comments made by the Kos and DU types with the death of Tony Snow. John Ziegler’s unkind and hurtful words are not as bad as that, no. But many good people on the Left stood silent, and did not condemn those statements. I am writing to say this: we are supposed to be better than that. We should not be part of that kind of thing, in any way.

Justin Levine should have known better than to post that link. I’m deeply disappointed.

UPDATE X 5 BY JUSTIN LEVINE: Since I didn’t offer any editorial opinion on this matter either way, I am utterly baffled by the reaction of Patterico, Eric Blair and others. Is the policy that blogs such as this shouldn’t even link to items that people find objectionable?? If you want to criticize Ziegler for what he wrote, have at it. That is why I still have pingbacks engaged on all my posts to allow for such feedback by those who want to take the time to post differing views. [I don’t allow comments because my experience tells me that it is far less conducive to intelligent debate than actual blog posts which are usually more carefully thought out.] But I’m bewildered by the “blame the messenger” mentality directed at me. Is the suggestion that Ziegler’s post should have been ignored? Will this be the new ground rule for all incendiary posts at Kos, Huffington Post, etc.? Are you directing the same criticism to Eric Kaufman who also links to Ziegler’s post and is giving it more attention? Of course Eric criticizes Ziegler. That’s fine. I just don’t get why people have a problem with my choosing to draw people’s attention to the Ziegler’s comments in an editorially neutral fashion.

I am equally disappointed by the reaction towards my merely choosing to link to the post and alert people to it.

UPDATE x6 BY PATTERICO 4-2-09: Having spoken to Ziegler recently, I come away with respect for him as someone who speaks the truth as he sees it, regardless of the consequences — and that causes me to view this controversy with new eyes. I still think the criticism would have been better leveled during Wallace’s life, but I am more receptive than before to the idea that Ziegler’s criticisms may nevertheless have been on target.

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