One measure of a great fiction writer is the ability – possessed by very few – to bend reality, to seem to mould the world into shapes you have created. When David Foster Wallace hanged himself on the porch of his house in Claremont, California, on September 12 2008, he set in motion a chain of events that has come to seem like one of his own sprawling, multistranded fictions, a story whose central image is the transmutation of a much-loved living writer into that bogeyman of the literary canon, the Dead White Male.
My wife and I recently watched the movie Get Low, with Robert Duvall, Bill Murray, and Sissy Spacek (on Netflix) about a hermit (Duvall) who spent 40 years in a self-imposed prison-like life because of an historical tragic event that was a result of his actions. For all those years he said, however, “They keep talking about forgiveness. ‘Ask Jesus for forgiveness.’ I never did nothing to him.”
He then decides to have a funeral celebration before he dies, offering a raffle for his 300 acres of wooded land, and a notion to tell his painful story, eventually seeking forgiveness. It’s one of these small slow-moving movies with a great cast, excellent acting, and a message; and it’s featured (in pictures) in this brief article called The Science of Atonement.
Is self-imposed pain cathartic? Possibly. Do people run marathons or ride bicycles up mountains strictly for the challenge or their health or is there another component?