Tom Bissell discusses the commencement speech David Foster Wallace gave at the 2005 Kenyon College Commencement, on the occasion of said speech’s publication as a stand-alone book. Bissell is right that it’s a fantastic essay — simpler and clearer than much of Wallace’s writing, yet containing all of the over-self-consciousness and humanity that marked the best of his fiction.
The capital-T Truth is about life before 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, which has nothing to do with grades or degrees and everything to do with simple awareness — awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, that we have to keep reminding ourselves “This is water, this is water; these Eskimos might be much more than they seem.”
But Bissell’s wrong to say that the speech wasn’t available in print before this: I discovered it in my copy of The Best American Non-required Reading 2006, which (with all due respect to the publishers of the new volume) is probably a better value.