Sunday, September 14, 2008

"This Is Water."


I can't know what was in David Foster Wallace's mind when he took his own life Friday. He was a little less than two years younger than me, and a far better writer and thinker than I'll ever hope to be. The news that someone in my age cohort couldn't take it anymore -- whatever "take it" means in this context -- is saddening and frightening both.

This political season has been so far even more frustrating, depressing and shocking than the 2004 fiasco, and obsessively reading political blogs for weeks on end, as I have, has whipped even my even-keeled mind into a case of the Howling Fantods. The idea that this country might be poised once again to swallow a pile of bullshit so dense that it bends gravity, makes me want to climb a clock-tower and just start taking people out.

I won't, though. Wallace was my age, but if I'd been born a few years later and been blessed with the same educational opportunities, I might have been privileged to hear Wallace give the commencement address at my alma mater.

That way sanity lies.

And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. 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 [unintelligible]. 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.

That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.

I know that this stuff probably doesn't sound fun and breezy or grandly inspirational the way a commencement speech is supposed to sound. What it is, as far as I can see, is the capital-T Truth, with a whole lot of rhetorical niceties stripped away. You are, of course, free to think of it whatever you wish. But please don't just dismiss it as just some finger-wagging Dr. Laura sermon. None of this stuff is really about morality or religion or dogma or big fancy questions of life after death.

The capital-T Truth is about life BEFORE death.

22 comments:

The Viscount LaCarte said...

The idea that this country might be poised once again to swallow a pile of bullshit so dense that it bends gravity...

So I'm not the only one who was wrong when I thought, "No matter what, it just can't be any worse than Bush/Cheney?"

Good writing Ned.

JC said...

The polls were, indeed, dismal towards the end of last week. I told A Thursday night that I think we will lose. With their 16 point-lead among white women, how can we win? Of course, we always lose the "white guy" vote. Can you lose both and win? Has anyone ever done that?
I (we?)may be off-base on this, but as soon as I heard of his suicide I thought it had to do with the frightening turn of events on the poltical scene.

Neddie said...

JC, I have to admit my mind Went There too when I read about it this morning, surrounded as it was by horrifying headlines.

It's not for us to speculate, of course, on what was in DFW's mind. It can't have helped, though. Sorta feeling that way a little bit myself.

kathleenmaher said...

Thank you for this, Neddie. I admired David Foster Wallace as a writer without parallel(above and beyond my tightly held little belief that every writer is unique, much like every person being unique...)

In any case, his death saddens me terribly and yours is the first tribute or remembrance I've read that does him any justice.

(A cursory description of his profound writings hits like insult.)

The Viscount LaCarte said...

It isn't over yet, but in the reality based world (which seems to get smaller by the day!) Obama ought be ahead by 20 points.

The "C" word* crossed my mind, though knowing that it also crossed millions of other's as well made me realize that most likely won't be an option.


*The "C" word

Neddie said...

I read somewhere that if you do decide on the "C" option, you can't take your savings with you, that they'll have the crap taxed out of them. Can't remember where I read that, and Great Gazoogle isn't helping much, but check it out before you consider the option.

Neddie said...

JC, if'n you want to pop on ovah heah to Virginny, whe-ah we gots us a gen-yoo-wine barn-burnah, to knock on do-wahs for Barack, you've got a flo-wah to sleep on chez Jingo.

I'm just about to offah my services to the good senatah myself.

Neddie said...

Evidence for bahn-buhnah here.

We'll be WARRIORS!

Neddie said...

JC: Serious offer, actually.

They've made it dead easy. I've already signed up.

It's a pretty neighborhood. Our little 2.5-mile circle is all they're askin' us to do. Knock on a few doors. Argue with some rednecks. Be amazed at how progressive some of 'em are.

Will Divide said...

Oh ye of little faith. . .

And, seriously folks, a man does not leave his body for his wife to find because of some polling data.

Nize having you back, Neddo. I'm counting on you to kick some serious Old Dominion butt.

Neddie said...

And, seriously folks, a man does not leave his body for his wife to find because of some polling data.


You're absolutely ricky-tick, Will, of course. Depression's no respecter of election seasons. I was simply identifying with the departed, 'cos this shit's got me going batshit crazy.

Time to do summat about it. Put the money where the mouth is, what have you.

An'... Nice to BE back. "That" was also some insane shit. I'll tell you about it sometime.

Neddie said...

Fucked up the link for bahn-buhnah...

Neddie said...

Oh, JC? Whoo hoo...

Take a look at somma these poll numbers... You still too chicken to come-a down?

Neddie said...

FYB.... Fucked up the link again...

Trying again...

Neddie said...

A thorough reading of Andrew Sullivan might prove a palliative...

Devils Rancher said...

Well, fuck. I don't know what else to say. Brief Interviews with Hideous Men kinda gave me hope for literature.

Good news, though -- I have it from a friend that New Zealand wants people like us.

Well, fuck.

davidspeller said...

Good luck to you all from "C". I'll wash the spare bed linens and dust the guest room. I await further orders. Bear in mind that we're also in the middle of a general election and it looks as though we could end up with a Bush-lite majority gov't.

giggles said...

Well, ok, then...if not C, how about France...like, Provence, where you can maybe mind your own bizness and truly escape the world...no TV no news...just read and paint...and oh, yeah, read Neddie's blog! I'd consider Santorini, too.... I'm so fuckin' scared and pissed off I can't see straight!

Glad to have ya back, Neddie! Truly!

Mrs. JC said...

As JC's better half, I may cross the Potomac to help turn your home state blue. E-mail us chez nous.

XTCfan said...

Harper's has posted all of the writing DFW did for it:
Check it out.

Nice to hear that you've joined the army and that we'll be serving together, Ned. If we can get Jim Webb in there, maybe we can get Barack in, too.

picassoface said...

He was just pissed that his dad George never got th' presiduncy.

indie in CA said...

The news that someone in my age cohort couldn't take it anymore -- whatever "take it" means in this context -- is saddening and frightening both.

I felt this too. Thanks for acknowledging the tragic loss of one of our generation's great thinkers.