Thursday, September 17, 2009

On Our Skull-Sized Kingdoms: David Foster Wallace

I came across David Foster Wallace's story on a tribute episode to him on TTBOOK. I had never heard of the man, but he was known by many literary critics as one of America's best writers . He wrote a thousand page novel called Infinite Jest that is described as "sprawling". It is also considered "avant-garde", so I was initially put-off and wondered whether this is another fluffy head-in-the-clouds writer who only has a lot to say because he has no mental discipline.

Turns out he is pretty brilliant, and I got a lot out of learning about him and his writing. From his story I developed a better understanding of what it means to suffer from severe depression, and that taking your own life isn't necessarily an act of cowardice. His sister talks about how when they found out he had committed suicide in 2008, the family wasn't mad at David, or thought he was selfish. They knew he was suffering debilitating pain, that he was actually very brave, but that in the end he just didn't want to fight any longer. They understood fully.

(Tangent: Leave it to the folks at To The Best of Our Knowledge to make an hour of your attention worthwhile. There are very few media sources that I trust like TTBOOK, where even if the program title or tag line sounds uninteresting to me, I give it a shot anyway because I have profited so many times in unexpected ways from what they present. TTBOOK is one channel that allows me to expand my horizons, learning about topics I wouldn't have otherwise felt are worth exploring.)

The jewel of the program is at the very end where you hear an excerpt from an inspiring commencement address David Foster Wallace gave at Kenyon College. I highly recommend you listen, but I've also attached a written version cued up to the part that is heard.
...But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving and .... 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 petty, unsexy ways every day.

David Foster Wallace Kenyon Address

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