On Knowing Elizabeth Wurtzel Screwed David Foster WallaceThat Elizabeth Wurtzel had some thing with David Foster Wallace in the nineties is the type of news flash I'd like to have failed detecting this week. Namely because to blog about Elizabeth Wurtzel is to tempt oneself to unwind the various tranches of disquietude summoned when someone like me conducts a Wurtzel Google Image Search. There's the first tranche of familiarity; I've conducted this search before; the second: I remember quickly that I will invariably, though tempted by the grainy topless shots from Bitch, like Radar before me quickly settle on the hottest color photo available, the one she used for the cover of her 2001 addiction memoir More, Now, Again, even though Wurtzel has graciously offered us photographic evidence that she has, in the intervening (ohgod) seven and a half years, aged. For this is not a new asset, this story; the underlying episode dates back to the nineties, when Wurtzel was still dressing up her faculties and skills with too much blue eyeliner and too many mood-altering substances in lieu of the appropriate degree of risk management and/or clothes.So let's examine that tranche for a second: here we have Wurtzel, drawn to David and his big, serious, ambitious, meaty, unfrivolous gold standard of a book; David, drawn to Wurtzel by her fucking leotard and perhaps her nebulous promise to impart upon his serious asset some sort of value-unlocking sense of "buzz"…signing onto one of those confusing, fuzzy subprime relationships that were all the rage, still are. The fine print is almost amusing to us now: the hazy fundamentals and wild histrionics and bombastic promises dependent on "trajectories" neither has any clue how — neither is socialized to have any clue how — to redirect toward a soft landing. Yes, you have done that sort of fucking. From a 1996 account of his reading at the KGB Bar:
The critics aren't the only ones angling to prove that they get it. Wallace's contemporaries have shown up at his public appearances in force. When he read at K.G.B., Elizabeth Wurtzel, the author of ''Prozac Nation,'' claimed a spot near the front of the room. The following night, at another jampacked reading, this time at Tower Books in the Village, Ethan Hawke lurked in the back. And at the official book party two nights later at an East Village club, M. G. Lord, the author of ''Forever Barbie,'' can be seen chatting up another novelist of the moment, A. M. Homes. Between puffs of their cigarettes, many people whisper what Wallace says he does not want to hear: he is the current ''it'' boy of contemporary fiction.
And here's how Wurtzel remembers it:
For some stupid reason, no one ever had the sense to separate the truly desperate from the merely decadent, we were all doing too many drugs together at the same time, the people who could handle it with the people who were going to end up dead and worse, and we were too young to see where all this was going to lead. And into this mess walked David Wallace one spring evening, do-rag and all. I don't think he exactly told me that he was a genius, but I must have gotten that impression, because I believe I was instantly impressed by something about him. Maybe it was just the way he was so open and curious, or the way he was so taken with the silver lamé leotard I was wearing.
And here's Wallace, probably a year later:
"I like not being part of the literary community in New York, particularly in the last year and a half," said Wallace. "[There's] a bizarre pecking order that nobody cares anything about except people who are in that world."
And that was true, and it is true, and it's not just the literary community, but a whole throbbing island that longs and yearns and bleats for the fucking pecking order of it. And as soon as the pecking order is established, it longs to cheat the order, whether it be with scotch and sex and lame leotards or phony credit-default swaps. At some point it became possible, in industries including but surely not limited to literature, to unload one's darkest, most distressed assets — addiction and narcissism and numbness and contempt and incuriosity and selfishness — at a handsome profit, so long as you packaged it all with naked pictures and quippy quotes, and that is exactly what Wurtzel did, again and again, until she finally got sick of it quit for law school. For her that was the solution; it's hard to imagine anyone couldn't go far to rehabilitate oneself merely by evacuating New York:
By appearances, it would have seemed to me that David was doing great, living in Southern California, writing terrific books and pieces, recently married, teaching at a prestigious college. I am not stupid enough to believe that depression does not afflict a person whose life is good, but if he could get by in a hovel in the middle of the Midwest, surely these elements of happy life-love, sunshine, stability-had to be a plus. These things are real, genuine, the stuff depression blocks you from even getting close to. Furthermore, I thought David, at 46, was at a safe age, when things are most likely to be okay or okay enough: the mad search for sex and success that consumes one's twenties, and then leaves a hangover into your thirties, is done with; the sense of failure, the feeling that it's all been a waste, that hits after 50 hasn't come yet. Middle age, which might be a crisis, can also be a calm.
But it wasn't. Who knows why. There is no answer to why some self-obsessed cokehead slut could cash out and get clean and get good and re-channel her energies to the point that she felt she had something to live for while such a merited specimen as Dave, with his voracious mind and evident hard-won goodness and doting students and wife and support system and all that deeply-felt regard of the literary community he'd left behind, did not. There is no answer at all, which is why the fucking pecking order is so stupid to begin with. Which brings me to the comment on the website of New York Magazine, where Wurtzel's uneasy remembrance of her hazy fuckbuddyship with Dave initially appeared, that inspired me to post about this at all:
Elizabeth Wurtzel, predictably, is still beating on the dead (flea-bitten) horse of her undergrad depression. What's more, she wants to trot out the well-known fact that by widely spreading her spindley arachnid legs, she may have garnered Dave Wallace's attention over a misspent weekend in the mid-1990s. We can forgive Dave, who probably hadn't encountered much self-involved, desperate-to-stay-in-the-game pussy at that point. But can we forgive this spent harridan or NY Mag for their faux-sepia toned muckraking? Harder to imagine.
To which I can only reply: try to imagine forgiving them all, Wurtzel included, reader. To withhold forgiveness at a time like this, in a town like this, is simply to persist in the cowardly humoring of the delusions born of the propulsive myopia that won Wurtzel the profitable antipathy of all those peckers that chose to pay attention to her in the first place.