Gosh (and not Gosh)
David Foster Wallace, dead at 46.
It will take a while for all these apparent "clues" in Wallace’s work to stop pulsing like neon signs when we stumble on them. But that work will outlast the garish particulars of his death. In years to come, no one will be able to dismiss it as the symptomatic productions of a depressive head case: the dread to which he gave artistic shape is too real, too universal. True, Wallace was a head case, but in the sense that we’re all head cases: encased in our skulls, and sealed off from our fellow humans, we have worlds upon worlds of teeming, unruly sensations, emotions, attitudes, opinions and-that chillingly neutral word-information. "What goes on inside," Wallace wrote in "Good Old Neon," is just too fast and huge and all interconnected for words to do more than barely sketch the outlines of at most one tiny little part of it at a given instant."
I’ve linked to this before (or so I imagine), but I do think his commencement speech for Kenyon is well worth reading.
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?"
This is a standard requirement of US commencement speeches, the deployment of didactic little parable-ish stories. The story ["thing"] turns out to be one of the better, less bullshitty conventions of the genre, but if you’re worried that I plan to present myself here as the wise, older fish explaining what water is to you younger fish, please don’t be. I am not the wise old fish. The point of the fish story is merely that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about. Stated as an English sentence, of course, this is just a banal platitude, but the fact is that in the day to day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have a life or death importance, or so I wish to suggest to you on this dry and lovely morning.
- 9/14/2008 12:48:27 PM |