Sunday, 21 June 2015

This is Water

Back in the 80s, I was interested in fiction in large part because I was interested in writing fiction. An author that snagged my attention at that time was T. Coraghessan Boyle. I liked that he was crazy with an intimidating vocabulary and I was jazzed by the madcap way he slung words around and the odd notions in his short stories.

A competing writer for my attention was David Foster Wallace with his first novel The Broom of the System. I liked the book and I sensed many similarities in Wallace’s writing that I found in Boyle, but, at the time, I thought Wallace to be a distant second to Boyle’s lovable variegated strangeness . Wallace’s next book, a collection of short stories, Girl with Curious Hair, just didn’t seem to me to measure up to Boyle’s short stories.

So, when Wallace’s next book was a 1,000-page novel [Infinite Jest], I said, “No, no, no, no, no,” and left the orbit of Wallace, moving on to other writers and interests. [Infinite Jest is now considered by some to be one of the ten greatest novels of the 20th Century.]

There was something obvious that I missed seeing in the 80’s in Wallace’s fiction: his luminous compassion in the midst of all the helter skelter of his oft-crazy stories.

Wallace, who had a decades-long problem with depression, hanged himself in 2008, but will be getting renewed attention as result of a movie coming out about him on the last day of July, titled “The End of the Tour.”

But the reason for this blog post is primarily a tiny book of Wallace’s that contains the text of a commencement speech he gave in 2005 to the graduating class at Kenyon College. A person can read the whole of the book in ten or fifteen minutes. It’s pithy and brilliant as hell. The book’s full title is “This is Water: Some Thoughts Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life.”

The “water” in the title has to do with fish in water and the idea, therefrom, that fish are unaware of the water they’re in because it is so altogether obvious. From a beginning with wet fish, Wallace makes some obvious but oft-missed points in his speech about what humans might overlook if they don't pay attention.

Anyway, here is a GREAT video based on "This is Water" that delivers its central message:

This is Water from Patrick Buckley on Vimeo.

And Here, as an added bonus, is the trailer for "The End of the Tour," coming out on July 31.

UPDATE: The viewpoint of another, more knowledgeable than I am on DFW, his commencement address, his masterwork Infinite Jest, and what his life meant and means to us, today, can be found at the Vulture website, in a long article titled "The Rewriting of David Foster Wallace" by Christian Lorentzen.

Lorentzen describes the Kenyon College commencement address -- "This is Water" -- as being "treacly." HA, I say. BUT, it is possible there is some wisdom in others of Lorentzen's words.  --T.A.

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