David Foster Wallace is dead. The prodigiously talented writer, quite possibly the best American writer of his generation and one of the best American writers alive, hung himself on Friday. He has published two novels, of which the more famous is the massive Infinite Jest which I haven’t yet finished, but am enjoying every page of, he has also written numerous stories and essays. He is one of the writers whose new books you await impatiently, gobble them up avidly, a writer you reread many times. The mind one encounters in his writing is so wonderful, and the writing is so singularly brilliant, that this…
no, I won’t elaborate. I am full of grief, and getting drunk, and if I give in and write about it, that post will become even crappier than it already is and that would be infelicitous in an obit to the great Mr. Wallace. So, I will close with a quote from DFW’s 2005 commencement speech at Kenyon college.
As I’m sure you guys know by now, it is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive, instead of getting hypnotized by the constant monologue inside your own head (may be happening right now). Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: 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 quote the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master.
This, like many clichés, so lame and unexciting on the surface, actually expresses a great and terrible truth. It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with firearms almost always shoot themselves in: the head. They shoot the terrible master. And the truth is that most of these suicides are actually dead long before they pull the trigger.
The speech, amazingly, ends with these words:
It is unimaginably hard to [...] stay conscious and alive in the adult world day in and day out. Which means yet another grand cliché turns out to be true: your education really IS the job of a lifetime. And it commences: now.