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    fs.blog | 4/28/12 | 20 min
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    • jbuchana8 months ago

      I love to read DFW. I don’t always agree with him though.

      all that was was a couple Eskimos happened to come wandering by and showed me the way back to camp

      I sure get that though!

      And the truth is that most of these suicides are actually dead long before they pull the trigger.

      In retrospect, very ironic.

      the single most pervasive cliché in the commencement speech genre, which is that a liberal arts education is not so much about filling you up with knowledge as it is about “teaching you how to think.”

      Cliche or not, he goes on to describe just this, for the appropriate definition of “how to think.” In my “Science” as opposed to liberal arts learning, what I think I learned that was more important than the actual knowledge was not “how to think”, but “how to learn.” In the technology fields I usually work in, the technology is always rapidly changing, improving. What I learned decades ago in school is only of value if learning has continued since then. Fossilized technical knowledge has little practical value.

      you can’t take your frustration out on the frantic lady working the register, who is overworked at a job whose daily tedium and meaninglessness surpasses the imagination of any of us here at a prestigious college.

      As someone who has worked jobs from landscaping to apartment maintenance, to electronic engineering, computer programming, Unix Sysadmin, and now works as a cashier, I object to having my work written off as meaningless, as I’m sure the lady at the supermarket checkout would as well.

      I sometimes take classes at a local college (I graduated with my BS in ‘88, but still take classes now and then) A few years ago, I took a literature/writing class. One of the assignments was to write a paper about DFW’s “Consider the Lobster.” I enjoyed the piece, as I do this one, but I felt marginalized then too. He marginalized locals who went to a lobster festival. A lobster festival which seemed almost exactly like our popular Pork Festival. It seemed that he considered those festival attendees, as well as our Pork Festival attendees as somehow less than himself, and other right-minded fortunate people. Cashiers are apparently in the same class of NPCs.

      Except thinking this way tends to be so easy and automatic that it doesn’t have to be a choice

      He may have been aware of this, despite his being steeped in it. That’s sort of what this speech seems to be about.

      The only thing that’s capital-T True is that you get to decide how you’re gonna try to see it.

      Or perhaps he’s just saying that you can control how the situation affects you, not the way you view these other “lesser” people.

      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.

      Here though I couldn’t agree more.

      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.

      Perhaps is says something about what I've been thinking lately, but I thought “Trump” as soon as I read this. Perhaps, in a way, I should be concerned for Trump, he’s probably suffering every moment he’s awake, and probably as he sleeps as well. He may be horrible for us, but he’s surely just as bad for himself.

      the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self.


      As expected, I enjoyed reading this transcript, and feel I should probably search for more DFW to read.

      • bill
        Top reader of all timeScoutScribe
        6 months ago

        In my “Science” as opposed to liberal arts learning, what I think I learned that was more important than the actual knowledge was not “how to think”, but “how to learn.”

        I have been thinking a lot, recently: Do I want to spend the rest of my life (1) learning or (2) thinking? Of course it's just a hypothetical, food-for-thought question (because there is a huge overlap between learning and thinking; perhaps they are even the same thing) but it's still an interesting distinction to noodle on. I wonder if more technical people are interested in learning and more artistic people are interested in thinking. If I had to choose one or the other, I think I'd take thinking. I'd go the Thoreau-route: wandering, thinking, wandering, thinking...

        @jbuchana, this whole comment is amazing. I enjoy returning to it, just as I enjoy returning to David Foster Wallace. So much of this stuff is so dark. But when it's bright, it's really really bright.

        • jbuchana6 months ago

          I find his suicide to be so sad, even though I disagree with some of what he writes, he was an important voice in this world.

    • deephdave
      Top reader this weekReading streakScout
      8 months ago


      learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. Think of the old cliché about “the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master.”

      • Karenz
        8 months ago

        I don’t really read fiction so I didn’t know this apparently famous author. I agree with jbuchana that he seemed to be struggling with his own advice to the graduates about attention and arrogance. I was sad to read that he had killed himself but the kind of unremitting depression he had is beyond a challenge to live with.

    • Pegeen
      Reading streakScribe
      8 months ago

      Wow, this speech had such a heavy, conflicted undertone. One of DFW’s own struggle to have his mind be the servant instead of the master. I can feel his pain and knowing how he chose to end his life, perhaps he just couldn’t live the kind of freedom he felt was really important. “The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad, unsexy ways every day.”

    • bill
      Top reader of all timeScoutScribe
      8 months ago

      Wow. Yes. Proud to assist @deephdave on this one. So fucking strong.

      You get to decide what to worship.

      Boom! (For me: Reading!) And this perfect sentence:

      It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.

      To address one of my current struggles, I can replace the phrase "consumer-hell type situation" with the one word that describes the actual consumer-hell type situation I'm in right now: "Twitter." Works perfectly so that's my new mantra.

      I have read, watched and listened to this speech more than a dozen times across the last decade. It is Enlightening, with a capital-E.

      The reading experience is new every time, because I'm a new person every time I read it. That's how everyone feels when you're reading stuff like this. David Foster Wallace was a prophet. My brain explodes when I remind myself what I'm doing right now, all day every day; I built a machine, powered by humans, not robots, that should proliferate deeper focus and attention to words like these, written by the one and only DFW. Nuts.

      I'm seriously considering printing this one out so I always have it handy, but at some point you gotta stop and move on. It's after 11am now.

      • jbuchana8 months ago

        David Foster Wallace was a prophet.

        Yes he was. I love reading him.