what to do after

I know very little about the personal demons that seem to have caught David Foster Wallace, but I have always thought that, in purely literary terms, he had managed to pose himself an extraordinary conundrum: What do you do after you've written Infinite Jest? I have mixed feelings — admiration, delight, frustration, annoyance — about that book, but there's no doubt that it was a bravura performance and a book as ambitious in its way as, say, Ulysses and Gravity's Rainbow are in theirs. But Joyce and Pynchon found their ways past those massive works, and this is true whether one likes what came after or not. My feeling is that Wallace never got past Infinite Jest. Whether this had anything to do with his troubles I don't know; I simply wish that we had gotten another fully-imagined balls-to-the-wall book from him.

I find myself thinking, now, of his wonderful 2006 essay on Roger Federer, which draws on Walace's own history as a tennis player, and especially its concluding paragraph:

In the same emphatic, empirical, dominating way that Lendl drove home his own lesson, Roger Federer is showing that the speed and strength of today’s pro game are merely its skeleton, not its flesh. He has, figuratively and literally, re-embodied men’s tennis, and for the first time in years the game’s future is unpredictable. You should have seen, on the grounds’ outside courts, the variegated ballet that was this year’s Junior Wimbledon. Drop volleys and mixed spins, off-speed serves, gambits planned three shots ahead — all as well as the standard-issue grunts and booming balls. Whether anything like a nascent Federer was here among these juniors can’t be known, of course. Genius is not replicable. Inspiration, though, is contagious, and multiform — and even just to see, close up, power and aggression made vulnerable to beauty is to feel inspired and (in a fleeting, mortal way) reconciled.