What is literature for?

Excerpted from Jonathan Franzen’s remarks from a memorial service for David Foster Wallace, held in New York City October 23rd 2008.

Dave loved details for their own sake, but details were also an outlet for the love bottled up in his heart: a way of connecting, on relatively safe middle ground, with another human being.

Which was, approximately, the description of literature that he and I came up with in our conversations and correspondence in the early 1990s….

But that “neutral middle ground on which to make a deep connection with another human being:” this, we decided, was what fiction was for. “A way out of loneliness” was the formulation we agreed to agree on…

And so now this handsome, brilliant, funny, kind midwestern man with an amazing spouse and a great local support network and a great career and a great job at a great school with great students has taken his own life, and the rest of us are left behind to ask (to quote from Infinite Jest), “So yo then, man, what’s your story?”