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Posts Tagged ‘David Foster Wallace’

09 MAY, 2013

David Foster Wallace’s Timeless Graduation Speech on the Meaning of Life, Adapted in a Short Film

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“The real value of a real education … has almost nothing to do with knowledge and everything to do with simple awareness.”

On May 21, 2005, David Foster Wallace got up before the graduating class of Kenyon college and delivered one of history’s most memorable commencement addresses. It wasn’t until Wallace’s death in 2008 that the speech took on a life of its own under the title This Is Water, and was even adapted into a short book. Now, the fine folks of The Glossary have remixed an abridged version of Wallace’s original audio with a sequence of aptly chosen images to give one pause:

UPDATE: The David Foster Wallace Literary Trust exemplifies everything that’s wrong with copyright law. What a shame, this travesty of cultural legacy.

The most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about. Stated as an English sentence, of course, this is just a banal platitude. But the fact is that, in the day-to-day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have a life-or-death importance.

Hear the full speech in its sublime entirety, along with transcript and highlights, here, then wash it down with Wallace on ambition and why writers write.

Thanks, Matt

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18 APRIL, 2013

David Foster Wallace on Ambition, Animated

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“If your fidelity to perfectionism is too high, you never do anything.”

On March 4, 1996, WNYC’s Leonard Lopate sat down with David Foster Wallacecultural critic, articulator of the ineffable, tragic prophet of the meaning of life — to talk about Infinite Jest, the 1,079-page, three-pound-three-ounce novel that catapulted Wallace into literary fame. Now, the wonderful folks of Blank on Blank and animator Patrick Smith have teamed up with PBS Digital Studios to bring Wallace’s wisdom on ambition, education, and writing to life. Highlights below:

Like Neil Gaiman, who famously admonished, “Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving,” Wallace cautions against the lose-lose mindset of perfectionism:

You know, the whole thing about perfectionism. The perfectionism is very dangerous, because of course if your fidelity to perfectionism is too high, you never do anything. Because doing anything results in– It’s actually kind of tragic because it means you sacrifice how gorgeous and perfect it is in your head for what it really is.

Like Sister Corita Kent, Wallace sees learning and teaching as intertwined:

I was a very difficult person to teach when I was a student and I thought I was smarter than my teachers and they told me a lot of things that I thought were retrograde or outdated or B.S. And I’ve learned more teaching in the last three years than I ever learned as a student.

Pair with Wallace on true heroism and why writers write.

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21 JANUARY, 2013

Remembering Aaron Swartz: David Foster Wallace on the Meaning of Life

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“Worship your intellect, being seen as smart — you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.”

I recently attended the heartbreaking memorial for open-access activist Aaron Swartz, who for the past two years had been relentlessly and unscrupulously prosecuted for making academic journal articles freely available online and who had taken his own life a week prior. A speaker at the service read a piece by one of Aaron’s personal heroes, David Foster Wallace — an excerpt from Wallace’s famous Kenyon College commencement address, the only public talk he ever gave on his views of life, which was eventually adapted into a slim book titled This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life (public library).

I’ve written about the speech previously, but the particular excerpt read at Aaron’s memorial resonates with chilling clarity in light of recent meditations on the meaning of life, how to find one’s purpose, morality vs. intelligence, and whether money can really buy happiness. Wallace remarks:

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 own 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 plant you. On one level, we all know this stuff already — it’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, bromides, epigrams, parables: the skeleton of every great story. The trick is keeping the truth up-front in daily consciousness. Worship power — you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart — you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. And so on.

Also speaking at the memorial, data visualization godfather Edward Tufte captured the essence of Aaron’s character:

Aaron’s unique quality was that he was marvelously and vigorously different. There’s a scarcity of that.

Hear This Is Water in its entirety, with notable excerpts, here. Help fight the broken system that mauled Aaron here. Honor his legacy with a contribution to Creative Commons here.

Portrait: Aaron Swartz by Fred Benenson under Creative Commons

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