Sunday, December 16, 2012

This is Water by David Foster Wallace

In 2005, David Foster Wallace addressed the graduating class of Kenyon College (Gambier, OH) with a brilliant speech.  He begins with a parable that appeared in his novel Infinite Jest (p. 445):
There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, "Morning, boys.  How's the water?"  And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, "What the hell is water?"
DFW explains that the point of the fish story is that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about.  In the day to day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have a life or death importance.  DFW feels the value of education is awareness of what is real and essential, hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over:
This is water.
This is water.
The book leaves one sentence out from the commencement speech on p. 58: "They shoot the terrible master."  The suicide references, of course, foreshadow DFW's own suicide in 2008.

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