September 20, 2008
David Foster Wallace on how to live*
An adaptation of his 2005 Kenyon College commencement speech appeared in yesterday's Wall Street Journal.
It is the best thing I have read this year.
Ditto for you if you choose to spend a little time with it.
Nothing else you do today will come close in terms of value for effort.
Think about it.
Then move on.
The penultimate sentence of Wallace's penultimate paragraph: "It is about making it to 30, or maybe 50, without wanting to shoot yourself in the head."
*Wallace (top) committed suicide eight days ago, on September 12, 2008. He was 46.
September 20, 2008 at 04:01 PM | Permalink
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best thing I have read this year
Posted by: jennie | Sep 23, 2008 2:16:04 AM
Thank you so much for providing the link to the WSJ re-print of that Commencement speech, it was incredible. When I read of David Foster Wallace's death, I felt so sad that depression had driven him to choose suicide...that his incredible talent was not inspiration enough to overcome the sadness. What a great loss. Thanks again for the article.
Posted by: Suzanne | Sep 20, 2008 9:23:32 PM
I loved the article you linked to, but it states that it is "adapted" from his commencement speech. I found what claims to be a transcription of the actual speech here: http://www.marginalia.org/dfw_kenyon_commencement.html
It doesn't mention the shooting oneself in the head (not sure where that came from, but I do think it a bit macabre of someone to ADD IT IN after he's killed himself!!!!!!!). And it has some other bits to it as well.
Anyway, FYI - for posterity. Thanks for helping me find this; it really is beautiful.
Posted by: laura | Sep 20, 2008 7:58:24 PM
We are human. Now he is not. I do so hope that in his next level of existence (and I believe there is one), there be no constructs, no worships and none of the inherent nihilism of life. For my part, I know that to a recognizable degree I embrace the novocaine of my self-centeredness. I may not live without it. I understand also that I cannot disengage from the oxygen of the "me" except in one irreversible way - through death. In this moment, I choose to live my narrow, visually impaired and unsexy existence. As for Mr. Foster, may what surrounds him now be all the water he ever fought to see.
Posted by: Milena | Sep 20, 2008 6:12:14 PM
David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest was very influential book for me. After hearing of his passing I wrote up a brief farewell blog entry that features some of his on-line writings and most of the YouTube videos that I was able to find.
On Monday night in Washington, DC at Guerrilla Poetry Insurgency (a monthly open mic at Dupont Circle) I read this brief paragraph from the commencement speech:
This, I submit, is the freedom of a real education, of learning how to be well-adjusted. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn't. You get to decide what to worship.
Because here's something else that's weird but true: in the day-to day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship -- be it JC or Allah, bet it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles -- is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive.
If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It's the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It's been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story.
The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.
Posted by: Nikolas Schiller | Sep 20, 2008 4:40:48 PM
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