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This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life

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Only once did David Foster Wallace give a public talk on his views on life, during a commencement address given in 2005 at Kenyon College. The speech is reprinted for the first time in book form in THIS IS WATER. How does one keep from going through their comfortable, prosperous adult life unconsciously? How do we get ourselves out of the foreground of our thoughts and ach Only once did David Foster Wallace give a public talk on his views on life, during a commencement address given in 2005 at Kenyon College. The speech is reprinted for the first time in book form in THIS IS WATER. How does one keep from going through their comfortable, prosperous adult life unconsciously? How do we get ourselves out of the foreground of our thoughts and achieve compassion? The speech captures Wallace's electric intellect as well as his grace in attention to others. After his death, it became a treasured piece of writing reprinted in The Wall Street Journal and the London Times, commented on endlessly in blogs, and emailed from friend to friend. Writing with his one-of-a-kind blend of causal humor, exacting intellect, and practical philosophy, David Foster Wallace probes the challenges of daily living and offers advice that renews us with every reading.


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Only once did David Foster Wallace give a public talk on his views on life, during a commencement address given in 2005 at Kenyon College. The speech is reprinted for the first time in book form in THIS IS WATER. How does one keep from going through their comfortable, prosperous adult life unconsciously? How do we get ourselves out of the foreground of our thoughts and ach Only once did David Foster Wallace give a public talk on his views on life, during a commencement address given in 2005 at Kenyon College. The speech is reprinted for the first time in book form in THIS IS WATER. How does one keep from going through their comfortable, prosperous adult life unconsciously? How do we get ourselves out of the foreground of our thoughts and achieve compassion? The speech captures Wallace's electric intellect as well as his grace in attention to others. After his death, it became a treasured piece of writing reprinted in The Wall Street Journal and the London Times, commented on endlessly in blogs, and emailed from friend to friend. Writing with his one-of-a-kind blend of causal humor, exacting intellect, and practical philosophy, David Foster Wallace probes the challenges of daily living and offers advice that renews us with every reading.

30 review for This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life

  1. 4 out of 5

    Stephen M

    David Foster Wallace was a beautiful fucking person who said a lot of beautiful fucking things.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Nathan "N.R." Gaddis

    This is Water, like The Communist Manifesto, is an unfortunate document. Both are occasional pieces written for a narrowly prescribed purpose. Both appear to be distillates of a much broader, systematic force of thinking. Both are of a genre which have very tight constraints--the commencement speech and the manifesto--which dictate and limit the possibilities for both form and content. Both are widely read by those not familiar with that systematic thought. By not taking into account the genre o This is Water, like The Communist Manifesto, is an unfortunate document. Both are occasional pieces written for a narrowly prescribed purpose. Both appear to be distillates of a much broader, systematic force of thinking. Both are of a genre which have very tight constraints--the commencement speech and the manifesto--which dictate and limit the possibilities for both form and content. Both are widely read by those not familiar with that systematic thought. By not taking into account the genre of each or the larger body of work of which each appears to be a precis, both are broadly wrongly evaluated. The commencement address, as a genre, is perhaps the most kitschy of our literary genres. There is little one can say which hasn’t been repeated ad nauseum. Even the clichés about how forgotten they immediately become have to be acknowledged in any standard commencement address, both that they are cliché and that they will be forgotten. The genre is a perfect opportunity for DFW to exercise his project of overcoming and moving out from and beyond irony to a second naivete of a direct, sincere, unselfconscious mode of communication. He won’t escape irony nor its attendant self-consciousness; it is built into language. But, as the AA material in Infinite Jest demonstrates, indulging that irony can be deadly. The alternative is to embrace the banal platitude, something for which commencement speeches are designed. “Banal platitudes can have life-or-death importance. That may sound like hyperbole, or abstract nonsense.” Of course he knows how platitudinous he will sound. His is to rescue the cliche:“‘Learning how to think’ really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think.” “Think of the old cliché about ‘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.” The trick is to not read the cliché naively, but to read the cliché as rescued by means of one’s position within an “I survived irony,” post-critical second naivete. Just as John Barth undertook to say all that which “goes without saying,” so too does DFW undertake to say the cliché , to uncliché the cliché, to un-ironize the unavoidably ironized platitude, finding there a means to continue as a non-zombiod human being, one capable of paying attention. Maybe he doesn’t succeed. Should we evaluate This is Water for the kind of document it is, and refuse our chip on the shoulder that it wasn’t something else, we ought to acknowledge its superiority among other such specimen of the genre. Few commencement addresses are remembered, preserved, or subsequently published. To my mind, only Vonnegut has produced a piece as successful within the constraints of the genre. Thus, despite all of our literary puritanism, our anti-market sympathies, it seems appropriate that the Kenyon Commencement Address, a document born as a kitschy occasional piece, would come to be marketed as a kitschy cash-register gift book. This is only appropriate. Transcript can be found here.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Seemita

    ‘This is Water’. Water - Now I love that metaphor. I end up addressing many things and their traits and their progresses and their declines through this unbound source of immense satiation. But how does this fit into a speech delivered to students, facing a future that’s unknown and by that very virtue, intimidating? Ah well, the thoughts weaved into this beautiful message says it all. For a text that I ended up highlighting half of, I would like to take this particular insight with me, forever. ‘This is Water’. Water - Now I love that metaphor. I end up addressing many things and their traits and their progresses and their declines through this unbound source of immense satiation. But how does this fit into a speech delivered to students, facing a future that’s unknown and by that very virtue, intimidating? Ah well, the thoughts weaved into this beautiful message says it all. For a text that I ended up highlighting half of, I would like to take this particular insight with me, forever. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn't. You get to decide what to worship... Because here's something else that's true. In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of God or spiritual-type thing to worship — be it J.C. or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess or the Four Noble Truths or some infrangible set of ethical principles — is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. Don’t take my word for it though. Read it. And find your meaning.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Greg

    This may come as a surprise to people who know me, but I never read this before it came out in book format. I knew it existed, but like most of the occasional and short pieces by DFW I held off on reading them. At the time his writing came out so infrequently, that I always wanted to have things of his to read at some point in the future, when I would really want something new of his. Of course that has changed to their being nothing new to release, except for unpublished things that might see t This may come as a surprise to people who know me, but I never read this before it came out in book format. I knew it existed, but like most of the occasional and short pieces by DFW I held off on reading them. At the time his writing came out so infrequently, that I always wanted to have things of his to read at some point in the future, when I would really want something new of his. Of course that has changed to their being nothing new to release, except for unpublished things that might see the light of day. After his death I heard about the relevance of this speech, but I didn't go out of my way to read it then either. Now that it's in a nice consumer format I have read it though, something I could have read for free for a few years now. My friend Connor, along with most of the reviews I quickly glanced at, seem obsessed with the format of the book. The format is a little weird. Each page has a sentence on it. One of the sentences runs on to a second page, but basically it ends up sort of looking like an inspirational / devotional book. It also makes what is probably at most a ten page speech into a 135 page book, which the cynic in me screams out money-grubbing, it also seems like it might be aimed for the upcoming graduation market, trying to get in on the lucrative market that Dr. Seuss' Oh, The Places You Will Go makes an annual killing off of. I can see the problem with the format of the book, and I agreed until reading it. The one sentence a page format forced me to read the speech slower than I would have. No quickly skimming at points, every line was read as if it was the first line in a chapter. Maybe this is a bit arrogant to make the reader engage a text in this fashion, but I know I'm guilty of quick reading certain parts of a text. I appreciated the format, although I can't say I would like this to become a norm. The book makes two references to suicide, one can read into them what they want. Reading this speech as a suicide note is probably missing a huge chunk of what DFW was really trying to say, but it is impossible (for me at least) to completely put it out of my head while reading these lines. Too soon after this speech would be given, he would begin his nosedive depression, and twenty eight (or so) months later he hung himself. The advice he gives in the speech is in a way a remedy against the destructive thinking that will destroy one self, but it's not an easy remedy, but one that takes a constant awareness to live a life that isn't the mindless death of daily drudgery nor a cancerous and nihilistic solipsism from living a life trapped in the mind. This book depresses me, in a good way I guess, but it still depresses me. If someone smarter and more successful than me can't manage this kind of Herculean feat of seeing the beautiful and True in the world, what kind of hope do I have?

  5. 5 out of 5

    karen

    so. it gets five stars because of how terribly sad i still am. i read this online, of course, years and years ago, but i reread it in book form, just to see if anything had been added. it hasn't. just the fact of his death on the flap. i'd really rather have added material than that fact, wouldn't you? and i also would have liked this to have been delivered at my graduation (i mean, i had quincy jones, i can't complain too much, but still... despite all the good advice in this book, i am a compl so. it gets five stars because of how terribly sad i still am. i read this online, of course, years and years ago, but i reread it in book form, just to see if anything had been added. it hasn't. just the fact of his death on the flap. i'd really rather have added material than that fact, wouldn't you? and i also would have liked this to have been delivered at my graduation (i mean, i had quincy jones, i can't complain too much, but still... despite all the good advice in this book, i am a complainer) so, a five star, five gun farewell salute to dfw, from me.

  6. 5 out of 5

    MJ Nicholls

    Better heard spoken for the full sting. A powerful speech but the message seems to be rather simple: don’t be a selfish asshat. Or is that a little reductive? Anyway—one star for the cash-in and four stars for the speech. Coming soon from Little, Brown in DVD & books: The Best Hesitant Pauses on KCRW’s Bookworm, The Ten Best Awkward Selfconscious Squirming Moments on Charlie Rose, and Half-Remembered Conversations Anyone Has Ever Had With DFW. Also available from the DFW Tacky Cash-in Emporium: Better heard spoken for the full sting. A powerful speech but the message seems to be rather simple: don’t be a selfish asshat. Or is that a little reductive? Anyway—one star for the cash-in and four stars for the speech. Coming soon from Little, Brown in DVD & books: The Best Hesitant Pauses on KCRW’s Bookworm, The Ten Best Awkward Selfconscious Squirming Moments on Charlie Rose, and Half-Remembered Conversations Anyone Has Ever Had With DFW. Also available from the DFW Tacky Cash-in Emporium: DFW headbands. For that sweaty public reading! DFW scrunchies. For that 80s ponytail look! DFW spectacles. For staring into the soulful eyes of Wallace on Google! Etc and so forth.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Håkon

    “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?" What DFW wanted to get across with this little story was that the most obvious realities are often the hardest ones to talk about. To David Foster Wallace, this difficuilt, but most obvious reality w “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?" What DFW wanted to get across with this little story was that the most obvious realities are often the hardest ones to talk about. To David Foster Wallace, this difficuilt, but most obvious reality was that we, as individual beings, believe ourselves to be the absolute center of the universe. The way in which we can rid ourself of our self-centeredness, is, in David's opinion through a myriad of little unsexy doings throughout our everyday life. Doing these things will not only make everyone else's life better, but also our own. DFW uses the example of an adult coming home from work, tired, then realizing that he/she needs to buy groceries. On the way to the grocery store there is traffic, because of course everyone else had to buy groceries as well. And in front of you there was a a huge SUV that always stayed below the speed limit. And then, when you got to the grocery store, there was a huge line, and so you had to wait, and you noticed how stupid and silly everyone else in front of you looked, and how useless they all were. And in front of you there was a kid screaming, and the mother was yelling at him. Then, DFW tells us how we can make this common life situation so much easier: Maybe the annoying person in the SUV had just survived a life threatening car accident, and his therapist urged him to buy an SUV as it was the only way he could ever dare to drive again. And maybe the woman screaming at her kid in the grocery store had been awake for over 24 hours taking care of her husband who had lung cancer. These things are of course unlikely, but the very possibility of it makes it worth considering. Maybe if we realized that these everyday actions were just as annoying to everyone else, our life would be so much easier DFW, through this story, wishes to show us how we can live a more compassionate life, and while the message is simple, it is absolutely necessary, and deeply moving.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jason

    This Is Water is kind of like a modern version of Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet. With the exception, of course, that This Is Water is not a collection of letters, does not discuss poetry or writing, and is not addressed to a single individual but to a college’s entire student body. Other than that, though, they’re pretty much the same thing. What I mean is that there’s something very inspirational (for lack of a better word) in these texts whose words seem to have been composed on- This Is Water is kind of like a modern version of Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet. With the exception, of course, that This Is Water is not a collection of letters, does not discuss poetry or writing, and is not addressed to a single individual but to a college’s entire student body. Other than that, though, they’re pretty much the same thing. What I mean is that there’s something very inspirational (for lack of a better word) in these texts whose words seem to have been composed on-the-fly, were not intended for publication, and are delivered to a person (or to a group of persons) in a manner that is simple and direct, essentially conversational, but which have the unintended consequence of breaking out beyond the scope of the limited audience for which they were intended. Others discover these “gems of life” (ugh, I sound like Mitch Albom now) and they become words of wisdom for the masses. Spoken as the Kenyon College commencement address in 2005, This Is Water is about David Foster Wallace’s assertion that perspective, a necessary absolute in the life of the well-adjusted individual, is a conscious choice (albeit not always an easy one to make), and that the greatest thing we can do for ourselves as humans is to forcibly extricate ourselves from the natural thought-path of viewing every situation as inherently ABOUT MEEE!, which is natural only by the fact that we exist in a perpetual state of self-centric experience—everything that happens to us happens, of course, to us—but which subsequently limits our ability to be happy. I mean there’s something rather lonesome about the “me” perspective, isn’t there? Well, DFW’s argument here is that the ultimate goal of higher education is less about learning how to think than it is about learning the value of the thought process itself, realizing the importance of putting ourselves in one another’s shoes, acquiring an empathetic point-of-view, not just for the benefit of any kind of global betterment (though I suppose that could be a nice secondary effect) but for the benefit of each of us living our mundane, daily lives. Waiting in a excruciatingly slow checkout line, for example, and concluding that the “this sucks FOR ME” attitude, while understandably the default attitude most people would assume in such a circumstance, isn’t the only attitude, and is certainly not the best attitude for maintaining a happy internal disposition. Maybe the line is slow because someone is holding it up with all her coupon scanning, coupons she has been saving out of desperation to make ends meet after the loss of her husband’s job, and maybe if you knew this you’d understand that things are possibly worse off for her than they are for you, and maybe it will seem less of an annoyance that you’ll be home seven minutes later than you had planned to be. I mean it’s also possible the line is slow because the checkout guy is being a complete dumbfuck, but the point is that it is not going to help you by getting upset at how the situation is inconveniencing you. Your overall and long-term happiness depends more on scrambling out of that depressing “it’s all about me” trap which, admittedly is not always possible to do, than it does on satisfying your immediate need to get out of the checkout line as soon as possible.

  9. 4 out of 5

    rahul

    This is water. And I have to learn to breath in it. This is water.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Joshua Nomen-Mutatio

    FURTHER UPDATED REVIEW (consolidation of general remarks of mine from review comment threads for this book/speech): Is This Speech Depressing? I have to respectfully disagree and say that I found this to be uplifting in a really serious way--like my version of a Chicken Soup For The Soul sense of uplifting (er, uh, something)--which is a feeling of redemption via facing messy truths and feeling my own thoughts to be extremely validated by his beautiful ideas and phrasings. I'd read it many times o FURTHER UPDATED REVIEW (consolidation of general remarks of mine from review comment threads for this book/speech): Is This Speech Depressing? I have to respectfully disagree and say that I found this to be uplifting in a really serious way--like my version of a Chicken Soup For The Soul sense of uplifting (er, uh, something)--which is a feeling of redemption via facing messy truths and feeling my own thoughts to be extremely validated by his beautiful ideas and phrasings. I'd read it many times over before he died though--so perhaps that's more or less responsible for the difference in our interpretations? Of course everything takes on a new weight and tone post-death, especially the obvious things like his explicit mentions of people committing suicide, blowing their brains out in order to destroy the awful master (the mind). But I guess that I just have such strong associations with reading this at a time when he was alive and it was the exact thing I needed to read that this explains my continued sense of it being life-affirming and not so depressing. Personal Ruminations on DFW's Suicide (based heavily upon reading the following: "Lost Years & Last Days of David Foster Wallace" & "The Unfinished" ) You want dark and creepy? Here's another excerpt from DFW's first ever published piece of writing in college (which I posted along with other things in the woefully inactive DFW Goodreads group): "All this business about people committing suicide when they're "severely depressed;" we say, "Holy cow, we must do something to stop them from killing themselves!" That's wrong. Because all these people have, you see, by this time already killed themselves, where it really counts. By the time these people swallow entire medicine cabinets or take naps in the garage or whatever, they've already been killing themselves for ever so long. When they "commit suicide," they're just being orderly." -- THE PLANET TRILLAPHON AS IT STANDS IN RELATION TO THE BAD THING I was surprised, too. I thought he was well beyond that level of, um, maladjustment. I knew about the troubles around the time he wrote the "Planet Trillaphon..." piece but that was in his early twenties. I thought he was this enlightened-beyond-depression kind of guy in his matured age. Which I think he actually was in a lot of ways, and that's what's so damn sad about it: it really sounds like he was just having a mix up with transitioning to a new medication and that he fought really hard. I can't stop thinking about his mom making him his favorite comfort foods and having these wonderful-sounding parents and wife supporting him and comforting him while his brain's chemicals were going haywire and how none of this could prevent the worst from happening. It's scary to think that someone with that kind of mental fortitude and cognitive command, that sort of sane and balanced outlook on life, someone supplied with a network of emotionally and intellectually supportive family and friends can still wind up "eliminating their map" because of a switch from one medicine to another. But maybe it's more complicated than that. For some reason I sort of hope it is. _____________________________________________________ UPDATED "REVIEW" (more of a superficial critique of the packaging than anything else): I just pulled this from my mailbox. Mystery solved: it's the same exact version of the speech I've read dozens of times over the last few years. It's stretched to 137 pages by virtue of its being a tiny book (guessing about 4.5 x 7 inches) and there's an average of one sentence printed per page. Having each sentence broken up page per page adds some aphoristic profundity, though it took a few minutes to get used to as the quicker flow of reading it in paragraph form online was what I was extremely accustomed to and is more aligned with Wallace's rather fast talking style. Actually, the choice to print it this way is really disappointing. It seems a bit too much influenced by his suicide and an attempt to make what were already wonderful and profound thoughts...somehow more profound. It reeks of the kind of mythologizing that seems inevitable when a well loved public figure dies tragically. For instance, the inside jacket refers to Wallace as a "writer and philosopher", a description I've never seen before and for good reason: Wallace would never refer to himself as such. He studied philosophy and had a B.A. in it but certainly didn't teach it or publish "philosophy" in the academic sense of the term. There was a slight twinge of a thought of "this is the publishing company milking the dead cow of DFW" but that was quickly thrown to the wayside when I realized that publishing this beautiful speech will surely propagate it to more people than would have otherwise found it on the 'net. Slight disappointment in a lack of additional material notwithstanding it's a tremendously beautiful speech and now I own a hard bound copy of it. _____________________________________________________ ORIGINAL "REVIEW": So I just got an e-mail from amazon.com recommending this to me. I've read the transcript of the speech dozens and dozens of times over the last few years, because, yes, it's just that good to me. What I'm confused about is how this book will manage to be 140-some pages if it is only the speech. What I'm hoping for is that Wallace wrote a speech that was much, much longer than the one he delivered. The one he delivered can be read here (the same link I've visited over and over, sent to people, etc): http://web.archive.org/web/2008021308... I just realized that this must not be the entire speech, even though it flows like one. Much has been edited out apparently. And now I am going to pre-order this book from amazon right now, knowing for sure that the speech is much longer than the one I've read and re-read and re-reread... Here's the amazon link for those who want to pre-order (it comes out in April apparently): http://www.amazon.com/This-Water-Deli...

  11. 4 out of 5

    Junta

    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?"My first literary quote shirt (received as a present). On the shirt, the utterances make up the fish themselves. I'm waiting for the day when someone sees my shirt, walks up to me, and says "This is W 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?"My first literary quote shirt (received as a present). On the shirt, the utterances make up the fish themselves. I'm waiting for the day when someone sees my shirt, walks up to me, and says "This is Water." The speech (delivered as a commencement address to graduating undergrads) is great, but there's no need to buy it in book form where there's only like one sentence on each page. I should have realised it would be online - I found a link to the transcript in the comment thread to Samadrita's review (thanks Garima): http://web.archive.org/web/2008021308... January 20, 2017

  12. 5 out of 5

    Emma

    If you want something to make you think about the every day life, here. read.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Blixen

    People get used to the sadness of everyday life. Then they find a goal that then becomes the anchor they cling to in order to survive. People live without awareness like the Lotus-eaters in The Odyssey: they live only to live; in and of itself. People I know, above all in the city, are unhappy. They think that the system framed them. Sometimes it happens to me as well. You wonder why you are doing things that you wouldn't normally do. I like my life and I am a positive person: after a good walk all People get used to the sadness of everyday life. Then they find a goal that then becomes the anchor they cling to in order to survive. People live without awareness like the Lotus-eaters in The Odyssey: they live only to live; in and of itself. People I know, above all in the city, are unhappy. They think that the system framed them. Sometimes it happens to me as well. You wonder why you are doing things that you wouldn't normally do. I like my life and I am a positive person: after a good walk all the dark thoughts go away, and the problems become opportunities, but it is also true that on the train or on the bus I see faces without expression and I know how it can be frustrating doing things as a robot. Living an anodyne life will drive you to madness. And time goes by. And you are blocked by fear, by parent's ideas, by society’s expectations and you continue to live day by day a grey life. Ah, the great maybe! Yes, there is a maybe. Not for all. You can spend a lifetime waiting for the great maybe, a day in which to live, a day in which everybody will hold you in high esteem or you can wonder: “How is the water?”. Yes, I am speaking of David Foster Wallace’s speech at Kenyon University. 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?" And so, I think that Wallace wants to say to us: "Your studies, can be a comfort to you, because thanks to philosophy and literature you are not a robot, you know that you are living and that every action has a value, even something as banal as queuing at the supermarket". Wallace wrote: It is about simple awareness -- awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, that we have to keep reminding ourselves, over and over: "This is water, this is water. This nasty system tells us to wait for the great moment which in turn creates frustration. But even unpleasant work could prove to be useful, as Joseph Conrad wrote in Heart of Darkness: I don't like work--no man does--but I like what is in the work--the chance to find yourself. Your own reality--for yourself not for others--what no other man can ever know. They can only see the mere show, and never can tell what it really means. The chance to know yourself, this is your journey, little fish. I wonder if David had known and read these lines, written by Edgar Lee Masters, the metaphor of the sea still remains: I HAVE studied many times The marble which was chiseled for me— A boat with a furled sail at rest in a harbor. In truth it pictures not my destination But my life. For love was offered me and I shrank from its disillusionment; Sorrow knocked at my door, but I was afraid; Ambition called to me, but I dreaded the chances. Yet all the while I hungered for meaning in my life. And now I know that we must lift the sail And catch the winds of destiny Wherever they drive the boat. To put meaning in one’s life may end in madness, But life without meaning is the torture Of restlessness and vague desire— It is a boat longing for the sea and yet afraid. And so guys, go forth! Go away from golden traps and seize the day, create your own life and give a sense to your time.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jenny

    Ωραία ομιλία!Ο Wallace δεν λέει κάτι πρωτότυπο-αλλά οι γνωστές αυτές αλήθειες ξεχνιούνται εύκολα,και μας τις θυμίζει με όμορφο τρόπο.Το κείμενο κυλάει γρήγορα κι εύκολα! "A huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded. Here's one example of the utter wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: Everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute center of the universe, the re Ωραία ομιλία!Ο Wallace δεν λέει κάτι πρωτότυπο-αλλά οι γνωστές αυτές αλήθειες ξεχνιούνται εύκολα,και μας τις θυμίζει με όμορφο τρόπο.Το κείμενο κυλάει γρήγορα κι εύκολα! "A huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded. Here's one example of the utter wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: Everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute center of the universe, the realest, most vivid and important person in existence."

  15. 4 out of 5

    Duane

    What the hell is this you may ask. Well, this is a commencement address by David Foster Wallace to the graduates of Kenyon College in 2005. But why would you want to read that someone else asks. Well, I wanted to be introduced to David Foster Wallace, and this relatively short essay seemed like a good place to start. I'm ready to begin reading Wallace's Infinite Jest, a 1,000 page Everest of a book, which I'm looking forward to about as much as I was to reading Joyce's Ulysses. Also in my litera What the hell is this you may ask. Well, this is a commencement address by David Foster Wallace to the graduates of Kenyon College in 2005. But why would you want to read that someone else asks. Well, I wanted to be introduced to David Foster Wallace, and this relatively short essay seemed like a good place to start. I'm ready to begin reading Wallace's Infinite Jest, a 1,000 page Everest of a book, which I'm looking forward to about as much as I was to reading Joyce's Ulysses. Also in my literary wanderings, I came across a little anecdote that said this was, quite possibly, the best commencement address ever. That's a bit of a strecth, but it does have it's charm. One other anecdote that made me chuckle was when Wallace was introduced to the student who had nominated him for the address, his words to her were, "fuck you". The title of the speech comes from a cliched metaphor about two fish swimming in the ocean who meet another fish who asks, "hows the water today"? The two fish look at each other and say, "what the hell is water"? Meaning, most of us go through life and don't see the the forest for the trees. This is me piling my cliched metaphor on top of Wallace's, but you get the point. Actually, he paints a rather bleak picture of how we fail to see what's really important in life, and how college degrees little prepare us for the mundaneness ahead of us. Interesting stuff and worth reading. You can find it easily on the Internet and it takes 20-30 minutes to read.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Danny

    As I came here to post my review of this book, I stumbled onto reviews posted by others. The general perception seemed to be a sense of sadness. Perhaps it's because of what Wallace did ultimately. But I read this speech differently. I read it as a generous gift delivered by a deeply troubled and pained person of unusual intelligence. And while this is an address to graduates, it seems to me that he speaks, in a way, to try to convince himself too. He says, "...there are all different kinds of fre As I came here to post my review of this book, I stumbled onto reviews posted by others. The general perception seemed to be a sense of sadness. Perhaps it's because of what Wallace did ultimately. But I read this speech differently. I read it as a generous gift delivered by a deeply troubled and pained person of unusual intelligence. And while this is an address to graduates, it seems to me that he speaks, in a way, to try to convince himself too. He says, "...there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talked about in the great outside world of winning and achieving and displaying. The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom. That is being taught how to think." Dare I say it, but I think he's talking about existence, and the freedom to love. And to love is to rebel against periods of depression and unhappy listlessness and repetition and pain and absurdity, to care about others and to sacrifice. It's a Sisyphean existence. I subscribe to that. It doesn't depress me at all. The struggle itself is enough to fill a man's heart. I think Camus said that.

  17. 5 out of 5

    framptonhollis

    I have been getting really into DFW over the past few days and thus felt super compelled to finally get to actually reading the manuscript of his masterpiece of a commencement speech, 'This Is Water', which I had already listened to the audio recording of sometime in the past but did not really remember a whole lot about and also can vaguely sense that I sort of found it overrated despite my profound love for Wallace and his work. However, reading this little hardcover w/a mere average of say 3 I have been getting really into DFW over the past few days and thus felt super compelled to finally get to actually reading the manuscript of his masterpiece of a commencement speech, 'This Is Water', which I had already listened to the audio recording of sometime in the past but did not really remember a whole lot about and also can vaguely sense that I sort of found it overrated despite my profound love for Wallace and his work. However, reading this little hardcover w/a mere average of say 3-4 sentences per page (and that is being generous, as I still feel some suspicion that the average number of sentences p.p. could be even lesser, but I digress), any real personal belief that it was in any way "overrated" or something has completely washed (pun possibly eventually intended) away. I love this damn speech. Wallace's laxed and relateable voice is comforting, comic, serious, genuine, entertaining, profound, and insightful, and his life philosophy is a splash (that time the pun was definitely intended) of beautifully positive semi-controlled-but-still-truly-*free*-thinking. He sort of faintly semi satirizes the truisms of the average commencement speech before admitting that said truisms do hold genuine truth and honesty and are worth looking in to and listening to and thinking more about. He discusses how to "learn how to think", but not in any traditional self-help-booky kind of way, but instead in a way very much akin to his oft-conversational but still super wise and insightful and unique stylistic voice, and the result is a powerhouse of relatability, comedy, entertainment, and insight.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Sentimental Surrealist

    My basic problem with This is Water is how it's contributed to the Cult of DFW, who (don't get me wrong for a second) was a terrific writer who deserves a place in any sort of canon you can imagine. I'd still put him as my favorite writer and still put Infinite Jest as my favorite book if I was pressed, but the more I learn about him as a person, the more I realize he was in many ways a dick, and the more I realize his dickish tendencies contributed to what's so good about his fiction. That is t My basic problem with This is Water is how it's contributed to the Cult of DFW, who (don't get me wrong for a second) was a terrific writer who deserves a place in any sort of canon you can imagine. I'd still put him as my favorite writer and still put Infinite Jest as my favorite book if I was pressed, but the more I learn about him as a person, the more I realize he was in many ways a dick, and the more I realize his dickish tendencies contributed to what's so good about his fiction. That is to say, he portrays characters tormented about their inability to live up to the lofty ideals they set for themselves so well because he was one of those people himself. Or so I've concluded, through a combination of interviews and secondhand accounts and a few biographical details (I haven't read the D.T. Max bio but have considered it) I've gathered. This is Water has earned him the image of a man on top of Mt. Empathy shooting empathy-bolts down to his less-empathetic disciples, who of course Can Be Taught, all they have to do is read more DFW. And yeah, I've been as guilty of perpetuating the DFW-as-a-saint view as anyone else - this is, I think, an inevitable part of getting into his fiction - but frankly it's easier for me to buy him as a high-minded guy tripped up by basic human selfishness than a high-minded guy immune to basic human anything, and anyway, isn't that more compelling? A friend of mine said it best: he sounds like he's trying to convince himself of something. And while it's a nice philosophy and while empathy is among the noblest of goals to pursue, and while he's dead-on when he says we all worship, don't you think the deity-worship he proposes toward the end of this speech is just as consuming as the worship of money or talent or beauty or anything else he puts forth? I still think "The Devil is a Busy Man" (the one about wiring a stranger money, not the one about selling junk) is the most compelling distillation of not just DFW's philosophy but how he fits within his philosophy. It doesn't make you feel as good, but it's a hell of a lot more provocative.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Khashayar Mohammadi

    Simple, but quite interesting. It starts off as new-age mysticism but takes a rather engaging turn.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Carla

    Simplesmente brilhante! “The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default-setting, the “rat race” — the constant gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing.” (P.7/8)

  21. 4 out of 5

    Steven

    "I know that this stuff probably doesn’t sound fun or breezy or grandly inspirational the way a commencement speech's central stuff should sound. What it is, so far as I can see, is the truth, with a whole lot of rhetorical bullshit pared away." (124-125) [I'll add more to this review tomorrow; it's late and I very much need to sleep.]

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jess ❈Harbinger of Blood-Soaked Rainbows❈

    Read a self-improvement book. This is a short little book that my dad gave me to read after receiving it from a friend of his. I have several friends who have read DFW's other works and really loved his writing. I have never read anything of his though I know he words have been known to cause ideas of gargantuan proportions inside individuals who love him. I also know that he suffered from major depression and anxiety and ultimately took his life in 2008. Basically this little book is the dictatio Read a self-improvement book. This is a short little book that my dad gave me to read after receiving it from a friend of his. I have several friends who have read DFW's other works and really loved his writing. I have never read anything of his though I know he words have been known to cause ideas of gargantuan proportions inside individuals who love him. I also know that he suffered from major depression and anxiety and ultimately took his life in 2008. Basically this little book is the dictation of a speech that DFW gave just 3 years before he died in 2005 at Kenyon College's commencement ceremony. It is the only speech of this sort that he ever gave. And in it he begins with a little parable about fish and water, but really he delivers a beautiful analogy on human nature, and in particular, the nature of humans to be innately self-centered. Especially during the mundane, tedious, every day parts of our lives. Like when we are tired at the end of the day and have to go to the supermarket to buy food and the overcrowding of the store, the roads, the parking lots, all just make us more tired and cranky and difficult. And that is our natural way of thinking. We think about our own tiredness and frustrations and difficulties and do not think about those who are surrounding us, probably also tired and frustrated and worn out and having to make a long, out of the way trip to the store to buy food. We take our frustrations out on the clerk at the supermarket who is also probably tired and frustrated, and really wanting to go home at the end of the shift. But we humans aren't wired to think about the store clerk. We are wired to think about ourselves. It's human nature. This little book offers a way out of that thinking, that hard-wiring of our brains, our "default setting" as he calls it. And the way he illustrates his point is absolutely gorgeous and makes so much sense. Especially in its original context, which is addressing a bunch of college seniors who have just spent the last four years of their lives in a liberal arts academic setting. What group of people are more self-centered than the early 20-something academic college graduates? Who think they know everything because they just graduated from college. However this group of society knows next to nothing about the real life, or in particular, the mundane and tediousness and repetition of real life. Its not a book about changing your life drastically to be a Mother Theresa, or even about dropping your great job in order to join the Peace Corps. It's not a book that is chastising or condescending or superior. It is a book that only offers one simple way to change your outlook, and that is by changing your "default setting," offering another perspective, seeing the world outside of the self can be very freeing and mind-opening, and can really have a huge impact on your own consciousness, and thus, your life. It opened my eyes. It is a book I will return to whenever I feel my own life being bogged down. It makes me remember that when I'm having a really bad day, somebody else is probably having a worse one. That if there is a driver behind me on the road who is flashing his lights and honking his horn and passing me illegally, he could have a real emergency to get to and I am really in his way right now. I'm so happy I read this book because it was such a delight and beauty to read. The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom. That is being taught how to think. 5 stars.

  23. 4 out of 5

    leynes

    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 Water is a commencement speech given by David Foster Wallace at Kenyon College on May 21, 2005. It is also the only public speech he ever gave outlining his outlook on life. Wallace contin 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 Water is a commencement speech given by David Foster Wallace at Kenyon College on May 21, 2005. It is also the only public speech he ever gave outlining his outlook on life. Wallace continued to edit the speech up until the last hours leading up to its delivery and his posthumous biographer claims the late author considered the speech an opportunity to convey the things he cared about without having to worry about the extra work required of a novel. The speech covers subjects including the difficulty of empathy, the importance of being well adjusted, and the apparent lonesomeness of adult life. Additionally, Wallace’s speech suggests that the overall purpose of higher education is to be able to consciously choose how to perceive others, think about meaning, and act appropriately in everyday life. He argues that the true freedom acquired through education is the ability to be adjusted, conscious, and sympathetic. “The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.” I was shocked to learn that Wallace actually committed suicide three years after delivering this speech. It gives his views on suicide and depression so much more meaning: “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.” It makes me incredibly sad that he didn't manage to “make it to 30, or maybe even 50, without wanting to shoot yourself in the head”, as he proposed in his speech. Wallace's father said that David had suffered from major depressive disorder for more than twenty years and that antidepressant medication had allowed him to be productive. He experienced severe side effects from the medication and in June 2007 stopped taking phenelzine. The depression recurred, and he tried other treatments, including electroconvulsive therapy. Eventually he went back on phenelzine but found it ineffective. On September 12, 2008, David wrote a two-page suicide note, arranged part of the manuscript for The Pale King and hanged himself from a rafter of his house. He was 46. “And I submit that this is what the real, no-shit value of your liberal arts education is supposed to be about: How to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone, day in and day out.” Listening to this heartfelt speech and getting an insight into Wallace's views on life actually made me interested in checking out some of his work. I think I'll pick up a collection of his essays in the future.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Adam Floridia

    This is the "transcript" of DFW's graduation speech at Kenyon College. It's a speech that I'm sure any DFW fan has seen/heard/read on the internet. It's nothing new. It'll take you 15 minutes to read, and it's tough to justify shelling out $15 for something that's totally free on the web. And but so it is a 5-star book because the content of the speech really is...touching...moving...or some similar adjective and because having the speech written out--literally one sentence per page--and being ab This is the "transcript" of DFW's graduation speech at Kenyon College. It's a speech that I'm sure any DFW fan has seen/heard/read on the internet. It's nothing new. It'll take you 15 minutes to read, and it's tough to justify shelling out $15 for something that's totally free on the web. And but so it is a 5-star book because the content of the speech really is...touching...moving...or some similar adjective and because having the speech written out--literally one sentence per page--and being able to read and and being forced to read it slowly--because it's one sentence per page--just adds like a certain gravitas to it. It's worth buying.

  25. 4 out of 5

    britt_brooke

    “‘Learning how to think’ really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think.” This is a quick little book of excerpts from the only commencement address DFW ever gave. Worth a read!

  26. 4 out of 5

    Nick Craske

    Brave, honest and sincere. DFW's compassionate and heartfelt commencement address. Small in word count huge in heart. [ This Is Water: short film adaptation: http://bit.ly/YSEa47 ] Brave, honest and sincere. DFW's compassionate and heartfelt commencement address. Small in word count huge in heart. [ This Is Water: short film adaptation: http://bit.ly/YSEa47 ]

  27. 4 out of 5

    Chris_P

    What's amazing about This Is Water isn't the truths Wallace tried to convey to his listeners. Of course, they are spot-on and totally useful but nothing others haven't said before. What's amazing is the way he did it. Usually, when reading a wise-ass book (or article for that matter) about self-improvement and advice on how to live, I (and, I assume, the same goes for everyone) can't help but hear this calm, smiling, disgusting know-all voice in my head which makes me want to puke and then end m What's amazing about This Is Water isn't the truths Wallace tried to convey to his listeners. Of course, they are spot-on and totally useful but nothing others haven't said before. What's amazing is the way he did it. Usually, when reading a wise-ass book (or article for that matter) about self-improvement and advice on how to live, I (and, I assume, the same goes for everyone) can't help but hear this calm, smiling, disgusting know-all voice in my head which makes me want to puke and then end my life on the spot. That is not the case here. This is not some kind of follow-my-advice-cuz-I-know bullshit. This is simply a talk Wallace gave at a college, keeping it pure and simple. "This is my truth guys. Think about it". And that's that. What I hated, though, was the fact that a bunch of money-making assholes, decided to prey on his fame and tragic death in order to do the only thing they know how to do. MAKE MONEY! SHAME ON YOU PEOPLE! And of course shame on those of us who support those sharks. Wallace exited the absurdity we live in, so don't worry about supporting him. The only ones you support by buying this are zombies with suits. Do NOT do that! You can find it for free here.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Noah Nichols

    Wallace continues to awe us. Quite frankly, his legendary commencement speech is still powerful and unforgettable...regardless of whether you consume it through text or via voice. Both work wonders. Everything David says here is palatable (and helpful) to any living human—if they simply allow it to be. When it comes to my own default setting, I give this conscious-awakening assortment of words a full FIVE, and anything less would be uncivilized...

  29. 5 out of 5

    Sheila

    First off, I will admit I did not buy this book. This book is the commercial publication of a speech that was given by David Foster Wallace at the 2005 Kenyon College graduation commencement. This speech is easy to find online. So yes, I googled it and read it for free. And for some reason, I think David Foster Wallace would approve. I looked up this speech because I am currently reading Infinite Jest, and the constant and continuous talk of drugs and depression and drugs and death and drugs and First off, I will admit I did not buy this book. This book is the commercial publication of a speech that was given by David Foster Wallace at the 2005 Kenyon College graduation commencement. This speech is easy to find online. So yes, I googled it and read it for free. And for some reason, I think David Foster Wallace would approve. I looked up this speech because I am currently reading Infinite Jest, and the constant and continuous talk of drugs and depression and drugs and death and drugs and pain is in its own way depressing. DFW is a genius with the written word, but Infinite Jest feels like it is looking into the darkness of the author's mind, into the darkness that led him to take his own life. I knew there had to be more to DFW than just what I am reading in Infinite Jest. So I went in search of this speech, hoping to learn more of this man. I am very happy that I did. The man who wrote this speech is a man I would have liked to have known. The man who wrote this speech had a mind that I can relate to. I was still saddened to find suicide mentioned in this speech, in the lines "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. and later in the speech where he says "The capital-T Truth is about life BEFORE death. It is about making it to 30, or maybe 50, without wanting to shoot yourself in the head." This last one is especially sad, knowing that DFW killed himself 3 years after giving this speech, at the age of 46. But looking past the mentions of suicide, this speech is a work of art. It is obviously the work of a brilliant writer, a man with a wonderful grasp of the written (and apparently spoken) word, and a man whom I wish was still around to share his gift of language with us.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Vivek Tejuja

    I have read quite a few commencement speeches by authors. Authors who celebrate creativity (Rowling), some who talk about making art great again or creating good art (Gaiman) and some others who speak of the future and what it has in store (Saunders). And then there is someone like Foster Wallace who gives it to you the way it is – the real world, with no sugar-coating whatsoever. I knew that would be the case once I received this backlist title from the good folks at Hachette India. David Foster I have read quite a few commencement speeches by authors. Authors who celebrate creativity (Rowling), some who talk about making art great again or creating good art (Gaiman) and some others who speak of the future and what it has in store (Saunders). And then there is someone like Foster Wallace who gives it to you the way it is – the real world, with no sugar-coating whatsoever. I knew that would be the case once I received this backlist title from the good folks at Hachette India. David Foster Wallace has left behind a legacy. A cannon of work that I at least read in bits and pieces because sometimes what he says is too much to bear. This is Water is a speech given by Foster Wallace to the graduating class at Kenyon College in 2005. He starts with a little parable – the one that seems like one, and quickly goes on to break that mode of starting a commencement speech. David’s speech is a trove of wisdom and compassion, thought provoking, and what it means to live in the 21st century. I think the thing about such books that there is no single universal message. There is something that relates with everyone. The message of giving up on the rat-race (is that even possible?), the one that speaks about awareness, self-consciousness before saying or doing what we say or do (this one hit home real hard), or just the one to understand what it means to give and sometimes sacrifice a little bit, if you have to. David Foster Wallace doesn’t speak of glory in the most basic terms. There is glory in empathy. There is glory in understanding. There is glory in small efforts as he rightly puts it. This is Water is the kind of book that is needed at every stage of life. The speech will resonate throughout. I will leave you with this thought that is my favourite from this read: “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.”

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