Saturday, March 5, 2011

This is Water, Part II

We originally wrote about Dave Foster Wallace's famous commencement speech at Kenyon College

We revisit it because we recently listened to the speech. It's very good... and has quite a few absurd insights. We pass along an extended excerpt, then links for you to find the whole thing.

“It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with firearms almost always shoot themselves in: the head. They shoot the terrible master. And the truth is that most of these suicides are actually dead long before they pull the trigger.

And I submit that this is what the real, no bullshit value of your liberal arts education is supposed to be about: how to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone day in and day out…

Because the traffic jams and crowded aisles and long checkout lines give me time to think, and if I don't make a conscious decision about how to think and what to pay attention to, I'm gonna be pissed and miserable every time I have to shop. Because my natural default setting is the certainty that situations like this are really all about me. About MY hungriness and MY fatigue and MY desire to just get home, and it's going to seem for all the world like everybody else is just in my way. And who are all these people in my way? And look at how repulsive most of them are, and how stupid and cow-like and dead-eyed and nonhuman they seem in the checkout line, or at how annoying and rude it is that people are talking loudly on cell phones in the middle of the line. And look at how deeply and personally unfair this is…

If I choose to think this way in a store and on the freeway, fine. Lots of us do. Except thinking this way tends to be so easy and automatic that it doesn't have to be a choice. It is my natural default setting. It's the automatic way that I experience the boring, frustrating, crowded parts of adult life when I'm operating on the automatic, unconscious belief that I am the center of the world, and that my immediate needs and feelings are what should determine the world's priorities.

The thing is that, of course, there are totally different ways to think about these kinds of situations…”

Part I is here:

Part II is here:

Listening to it is what we recommend, but you can read it here:

Enjoy. And remember, "this is water."


  1. Wait . . . this DFW shouldn't really "count" as an entry . . . no new insights. Nonetheless, it is a terrific read that I recommend to others as well.

  2. Stunningly good speech by DFW. As is typical (in my experience) with a good writer, there is nothing in this speech that you don't already know. But the way he delivers that information makes it much more real and accessible. Definitely worth a listen. Or two.