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September 21, 2008

'It is about making it to 30, or maybe 50, without wanting to shoot yourself in the head." — Did David Foster Wallace write those 18 words?

Jgyjy

I assumed, after reading them in this past Friday's Wall Street Journal, where they comprised the penultimate sentence of the penultimate paragraph of what the newspaper, in an unattributed introduction, wrote was "Adapted from a commencement speech given by David Foster Wallace [above] to the 2005 graduating class at Kenyon College," that they most certainly were.

And as such, I quoted them in my 4:01 p.m. post yesterday.

But then, last evening at 7:58 p.m., reader Laura Camacho emailed me as follows:

    Joe,

    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!!!!!!!).

....................

I went back to the transcription she was referring to and read it twice without finding any evidence of the 18-word sentence in the headline up top, whose source now became troubling to me.

At 9:38 p.m. last night I emailed Bill Stilwell, who hosts the transcription I studied, as follows:

    Dear Mr. Stilwell,

    I noted that the Wall Street Journal devoted an entire page of yesterday's
    paper to what it wrote was "Adapted from a commencement speech given by David Foster Wallace to the 2005 graduating class at Kenyon College. Mr. Wallace, 46, died last Friday, after apparently committing suicide."

    The penultimate sentence of the penultimate paragraph of the piece in the paper read, "It is about making it to 30, or maybe 50, without wanting to shoot yourself in the head."

    A reader of my blog (http://www.bookofjoe.com/2008/09/david-foster-wa.html)
    wrote, "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!!!!!!!)."

    I concur.

    I read the address as it appears on the site you host and likewise found nothing remotely close to the line in the newspaper rendition.

    Any thoughts?

    Best,

    Joe

....................

His reply came in at 2:17 a.m. today, and follows:

    Hi Mr Stirt,

    I can only really lay claim to hosting the transcript — I don't have an original recording. You can see the original posts on the wallace-l mailing list.

    I suspect that the WSJ published something adapted from the actual published version, from "The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2006". I don't have a copy to verify this though.

    It could be that Wallace diverged from his written remarks, or reworked them slightly for publication. I agree that it would be horrible if the line was added by someone, but I think it's unlikely.

    Bill

....................

I just read the May 27, 2005 transcription Mr. Stilwell pointed me to in his email and once again, there is not a trace of those 18 words present.

So I put this question to the Wall Street Journal: Who wrote those words — and where may we find proof that they are in fact Wallace's rather than those of an anonymous staffer seeking to heighten the heart-rending impact of Wallace's suicide nine days ago at the age of 46?

I will be sending a link to this post to the Wall Street Journal as well as placing it in the comments section below its version of Wallace's address.

I hope to receive an answer shortly, which I will publish immediately.

Silence on the part of the Wall Street Journal will echo loudly.

In virtual space it sounds like a scream.

September 21, 2008 at 10:01 AM | Permalink


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Comments

Great piece of journalism. Have you made any other findings since? Fascinating that they were excluded...or were they?

Posted by: Kent Strock | Dec 23, 2009 9:17:04 PM

...oh, and in the book's CYA copyright pages it states, ""Kenyon Commencement Speech" by David Foster Wallace. Copyright 2005 by David Foster Wallace. Reprinted by permission of the author."

-m

Posted by: marshall | Sep 22, 2008 4:15:01 PM

According to page 363 of the copyright 2006 version of The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2006 on my wife's nightstand, "The capital-T Truth is about life before (ital.) death. It is about making it to thirty, or maybe even fifty, without wanting to shoot yourself in the head. It is about the real value of a real education, ..."

This appears to be a reference to a previously mentioned tidbit on page 358 that states, "...It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with firearms nearly always shoot themselves in . . . the head. And the truth is that most of these suicides are actually dead long before they pull the trigger."

And the sentence appears to have been omitted in that linked transcript. I have no idea what was actually said at the commencement --I just happen to have a copy of the book and wanted to verify and share what it said.

Not sure if this helps anybody.
-m

Posted by: marshall | Sep 22, 2008 4:06:11 PM

DFW just made one heaving great turn in his grave..,.

Posted by: russ | Sep 21, 2008 11:51:27 AM

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