In 2004, the editors of Gourmet , doubtlessly expecting another further late-model Tocqueville-izing, sent Wallace to the Maine Lobster Festival. He sent back an essay on "the whole animal-cruelty-and-eating issue" so acute and supple in its consideration of uneasy questions about aesthetics and morality that it ranks as a must-read for anyone even thinking of having dinner. In memorializing a writer who has killed himself, there is an impulse—wholly human and totally ghoulish—to rifle through the work in search of clues and cries and suicide footnotes, and in the case of Wallace, the rifling requires no strain. (Like any smart writer aspiring to greatness, despair was a regular theme, and "A Supposedly Fun Thing …" got some of its considerable energy from the author's association of "the ocean with dread and death." Despair, he wrote, is "wanting to jump overboard.") But if you must dwell on pain and suffering, why not pay the man tribute by reading the Gourmet essay , the title piece in Consider the Lobster . It's about boiling lobsters. It's about the neurological capacities of crustaceans and the spiraling motions of the human mind. It's not a tract, just an argument guided by a sure sense of "moral duty," and Wallace's achievement was to make thinking about the facts of Postmodern life, and thinking about thinking about them, one of the keenest pleasures of being alive.
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