I saw David Foster Wallace's famous "This is Water" speech about 3-4 years ago. Ever since I saw that speech I've been watching and listening to the interviews he gave while he was alive. He's is an excellent conversationalist and critical thinker. And when he talks, he does not sound jaded, he sounds sincere. I've never had a big brother, but if I could have had a big brother, Wallace would have my choice, someone that I could hang out with 2-3 times a year at family gatherings and just ask questions. He’s has an authenticity, honesty and intelligence that I really admire. Here are a few quotes from his interviews and speeches. And last----a movie was made about his life this past summer called "The End of the Tour." I've included the link to the trailer at the bottom of this page:
On simple things our parents tell us:
“It seems to me that the intellectualization and aestheticizing of principles and values in this country is one of the things that’s gutted our generation. All the things that my parents said to me, like ‘It’s really important not to lie.’ OK, check, got it. I nod at that but I really don’t feel it. Until I get to be about thirty and I realize that if I lie to you, I also can’t trust you. I feel that I’m in pain, I’m nervous, I’m lonely, and I can’t figure out why. Then I realize, ‘Oh, perhaps the way to deal with this is really not to lie.’ The idea that something so simple and, really, so aesthetically uninteresting–which for me meant you pass over it for the interesting, complex stuff–can actually be nourishing in a way that arch, meta, ironic, pomo stuff can’t, that seems to me to be important. That seems to me like something our generation needs to feel.”
-from a Mockingbird compilation of DFW quotes
On values, spiritual principles and contemporary culture:
"The guy who essentially runs the academy now is a fascist, and, whether it comes out or not, he’s really the only one there who to me is saying anything that’s even remotely non-horrifying, except it is horrifying because he’s a fascist… it seems to me that one of the scary things about sort of the nihilism of contemporary culture is that we’re really setting ourselves up for fascism. Because as we empty more and more kind of values, motivating principles, spiritual principles, almost, out of the culture, we’re creating a hunger that eventually is going to drive us to the sort of state where we may accept fascism just because the nice thing about fascism is that they will tell you what to think. They will tell you what is important. And we as a culture aren't doing that for ourselves yet."
From 1996 interview with Michael Silverblatt
On silence and dull moments:
"To me, at least in retrospect, the really interesting question is why dullness proves to be such a powerful impediment to attention. Why we recoil from the dull. Maybe it’s because dullness is intrinsically painful; maybe that’s where phrases like ‘deadly dull’ or ‘excruciatingly dull’ come from. But there might be more to it. Maybe dullness is associated with psychic pain because something that’s dull or opaque fails to provide enough stimulation to distract people from some other, deeper type of pain that is always there, if only in an ambient low-level way, and which most of us spend nearly all our time and energy trying to distract ourselves from feeling, or at least feeling directly or with our full attention. Admittedly, the whole thing’s pretty confusing, and hard to talk about abstractly… but surely something must lie behind not just Muzak in dull or tedious places anymore but now also actual TV in waiting rooms, supermarkets’ checkouts, airports’ gates, SUV’s backseats. Walkmen, iPods, BlackBerries, cell phones that attach to your head. This terror of silence with nothing diverting to do. I can’t think anyone really believes today’s so-called ‘information society’ is just about information. Everyone knows it’s about something else, way down."
-from The Pale King
On Worship and Atheism from his speech "This is Water":
"Because here's something else that's weird but true: in the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship—be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles—is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. 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 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 grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It's been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.
Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they're evil or sinful, it's that they're unconscious. They are default settings."
Wallace’s defining book Infinite Jest, is about American culture in the future (15-20 years from 1996) after it becomes obsessed with entertainment. In a 1996 interview he summarized the purpose of the book, where he talks whether Americans will be able have enough self-control to be focused on what matters:
“In the next fifteen years we’re going to have virtual reality pornography, which I would just invite you to think about, given the level of people’s lives that are ruined just by addiction to sort-of video peep-show shops. What it is going to be like and what kind of resources we are going to have to cultivate in ourselves and in our citizenry to keep from sort of dying on couches, I mean, maybe that sounds silly. (Entertainment) is going to get better and better and better and better and it is not clear to me, that we as a culture, are teaching ourselves or our children what we are going to say yes and no to.
-David Foster Wallace interviewed by PRI 1996
Here's the movie that was made about Wallace's life that came out in July of this summer. Jason Segal and Jesse Eisenberg star in this movie about a road trip that Wallace and a reporter took. Unfortunately, it was only released in big cities, but not in all American theaters.
Check out this trailer:
"The End of the Tour" trailer