Sunday, September 14, 2008

David Foster Wallace and Haiti

What is the link between David Foster Wallace and Haiti? Well, for me, only that I planned to one day read his magnum opus, "Infinite Jest" in Haiti. I figured Port-au-Prince would be the perfect place to tackle this sprawling, diversionary, real yet unreal novel, Haiti's capital knowing something about these things as well. I thought I would get the chance to do this while the author was still alive, Wallace being a year younger than me. But, alas, this part of the plan was not to be as Walllace committed suicide last week.

Suicide seems to run counter to everything human from the instinct to stay alive to the ability to appreciate the beauty of a Monet painting to the universal experience of loving another person. For all the material comforts of the United States and all the horrible deprivation of Haiti, I believe the suicide rate in the States is much higher than in Haiti. In fact, I've never heard of a Haitian committing suicide. Haitians will do risky things like sail in structures that hardly qualify as boats, but they take these risks for a better shot at life not because they want to die.

Perhaps Wallace left a clue in a 1996 interview he gave with the Chicago Tribune after the publication of Infinite Jest. He says of the success that followed his earlier books,

"In a weird way it seemed like there was something very American about what was going on, that things were getting better and better for me in terms of all the stuff I thought I wanted, and I was getting unhappier and unhappier," he said.

Sister L, a Polish nun, who works near Port-au-Prince, has a term for this: poverty of the heart. She has a job running a clinic and feeding program for some of the poorest people in the world. But she knows there is a deeper kind of poverty, a poverty that is pervasive in the United States. I think the solution for both kinds of poverty is for people in the United States and people in Haiti to spend more time together.

I think about the children who lost their lives to the hurricane pictured in the previous post: they wanted to live. What would they say to David Foster Wallace as his spirit joined theirs? Maybe something like, "We wish you would have wanted to live too."

Thursday, September 11, 2008


Most everyone has heard about the four hurricanes that have hit Haiti in varying spots. And probably a lot of people have heard about the devastation. Haiti is truly the Job of countries. You don't think it can get worse--awful poverty to begin with, recently skyrocketing prices for food, American politicians and bureaucrats who hold up aid, corrupt and incompetent Haitian officials --and now this: destructive hurricanes on an island with little topsoil to absorb the water and little capacity to help people before or after the storms.

What you get are shown in the pictures at the end of the post. Is there anything in the world more heartbreaking then pictures of children who have died? These children died near Cabaret, a village outside of Port-au-Prince. A Haitian-American friend sent them saying, "Don't mean to shock too much, but I wanted to share my horror." As an allegedly civilized nation and world, shouldn't we be moving heaven and earth to prevent children from dying?

If you've been feeling sorry for yourself or worrying about your problems like I have been lately, at the least these pictures should put things in perspective. Of course, this alone won't help the children of Haiti, but maybe it will lead to room in our lives for action.