this is water

This is water by David Foster Wallace.

The first version of this commencement speech was given in 2005. David Foster Wallace is the smartest author I’ve ever read. Smart in every sense of that word - not just intelligent but also sharp and clean and pithy (but not necessarily witty). His command of the language is unparalleled; his diction is mathematically, pedantically, precise - yet his writing lacks none in passion. Simultaneously cerebral and sensitive.

He did his undergrad in english and philosophy and his undergraduate thesis was “Fate, Time, and Language: An Essay on Free Will”, bent on dismantling fatalism. At the base of all his writing is a deep understanding and inquiry of human connection and meaning and what it is to live - what actual life is, beyond abstract thought. That’s what fucks me up about his death. His writing is considerate and self-conscious and clear headed and it fucks me up that after all that, he still killed himself.

Anyway, where This is Water fits in - it’s a reasonable summary of what’s been on my mind lately. “Lately” here used loosely to mean the past six months or so. As cliché as it sounds, I’ve been searching for meaning. I’ve been trying to put together a sort of Anthology on Meaning that comprises the ideas from various directions - religious, literary, practical, philosophical, historical, anthropological, psychological etc. Everyone’s trying to grapple with the same Big Questions - I think at the bottom, that’s what all great art - all the philosophers and poets and prosaists and painters - ever has been trying to do. I’m trying to piece it together from an interdisciplinary perspective.

In trying to figure out this whole ~real life adulting~ thing, the most urgent need besides doing laundry and making food seems to be figuring out what’s Real, what Matters, and what is Distraction? There are two things I am sure of:

  • without God, there is no meaning
  • meaning exists in relationship

Once in awhile, I revisit old notes, letters, emails to remind myself that there was a time when things seemed otherwise than they do now. I’m taken aback by how honest and vulnerable everyone was and the degree to which I felt those things and the earnestness and urgency with which I put those feelings to words. I used to be so convinced of Something. I’m trying to remember what it was.

Tags: david foster wallace this is water thoughts meaning

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