“This is water,” now in convenient filmic format

Via Slate’s Brow Beat blog, and just in time for graduation season, David Foster Wallace’s perennially apt commencement address has been adapted into a video.1

And, lest you think that this only applies to all those bright-eyed twenty-year-olds in the silly hats, see also.◼

1 There are actual, onscreen footnotes, even though I’m pretty sure the original didn’t have any, but I guess they’re there because, DFW.

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Four-part sheet music is a challenging read

Via Kottke: Craig Fehrman has posted the complete text of a “lost” 1996 profile of David Foster Wallace written for Details magazine by David Streitfeld. It’s quite short, but it includes a couple of details about Wallace’s relationship with Christianity I hadn’t heard before, including one that really shouldn’t be surprising given how much of his life he spent in the Midwest:

Recently he found a Mennonite house of worship, which he finds sympathetic even if the hymns are impossible to sing.

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I know what I’m doing this summer.

Re-reading Infinite Jest, footnotes and experimental film references and bizarre medically-nomenclatured anthropoid malformations and all. Via kottke, natch.*

*Actually, I’m already well into the re-read — I’d decided to do it following DFW’s tragic death last fall, and hadn’t actually started till a couple weeks ago. But a head start probably won’t hurt.

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DFW in a nutshell

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.

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Requiescat: David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace, author of innumerable wise, hilarious, occasionally esoteric essays and the incredible novel Infinite Jest (among other works), was found dead Friday in his California home. McSweeney’s Internet Tendency is soliciting remembrances. Over on Flickr, Steve Rhodes, from whom I’m borrowing the photo below under Creative Commons licensing, has a long list of links to DFW’s work and other resources.


Photo by Steve Rhodes.

Wallace was uniquely able to capture everything that is beautiful and foul in millennial American culture – one of my favorite examples is this snippet from Infinite Jest, in which a satirical representation of a U.S. cabinet member refers to people fleeing a (possibly government-created) environmental catastrophe:

Absolutely not, Mart. No way a downer-association-rife term like refugee is going to be applicable here. I cannot overstress this too assertively. Eminent nondomain: yes. Renewal-grade brand of sacrifice: you bet. Heroes, new era’s breed of new pioneers, striking in bravely for already-settled good old settled but unfoul American territory: bien sûr.

This, of course, was written something like a decade before the Hurricane Katrina-created controversy over the application of the term refugee to Americans. Which, to my mind, makes DFW a prophet in both the popular (if incorrect) sense of actually foreseeing the future as well as the correct sense of speaking truth that the world needs to hear. The world is a darker place without him.

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