Monday, 22 September 2008

David Foster Wallace

I hadn't even heard of David Foster Wallace until he died last week.

Wallace believed the world needed, "...some weird bunch of anti-rebels, born oglers who dare somehow to back away from ironic watching" and "risk accusations of sentimentality, melodrama. Of overcredulity. Of softness."

As Christopher Taylor wrote, Wallace was, "...always looking for ways to short-circuit his and our embarrassed self-consciousness about serious, large-scale statements on "what's really important - motive, feeling, belief". "How," he asks in a piece on Dostoevsky, "to get up the guts to even try?"

The Guardian published a speech of his which struck a chord and told me something of what we might be missing and why we will be missing it.

"A huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded.
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I can spend time in the end-of-the-day traffic jam being angry and disgusted at all the huge, stupid, lane-blocking SUVs and Hummers and V12 pickup trucks burning their wasteful, selfish, 40-gallon tanks of gas, and I can dwell on the fact that the patriotic or religious bumper stickers always seem to be on the biggest, most disgustingly selfish vehicles driven by the ugliest, most inconsiderate and aggressive drivers, who are usually talking on cell phones as they cut people off in order to get just 20 stupid feet ahead in a traffic jam, and I can think about how our children's children will despise us for wasting all the future's fuel and probably screwing up the climate, and how spoiled and stupid and disgusting we all are, and how it all just sucks ...

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If I choose to think this way, fine, lots of us do - except that thinking this way tends to be so easy and automatic it doesn't have to be a choice. Thinking this way is my natural default setting.
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But if you've really learned how to think, how to pay attention, then you will know you have other options. It will be within your power to experience a crowded, loud, slow, consumer-hell-type situation as not only meaningful but sacred, on fire with the same force that lit the stars - compassion, love, the sub-surface unity of all things. Not that that mystical stuff's necessarily true: the only thing that's capital-T True is that you get to decide how you're going to try to see it. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn't. You get to decide what to worship.
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The freedom to be lords of our own tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the centre of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talked about in the great outside world of winning and achieving and displaying. The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the "rat race" - the constant gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing."

Read the whole speech here.

1 comment:

Darrell Eager said...

Thank you for directing me (center of universe) to that great article. I walk my Grandson to the bus stop every morning and he was having school issues this morning at the bus stop. So I told him the story about the Grampa fish and the two little fish on their way to school. He really thought the "whats water " part was funny.

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