My Season of David Foster Wallace Update: “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men”, “This is Water”

I began my season of David Foster Wallace reading Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. It’s a collection of short stories which as the title implies largely contain hideous men.

There are several sections in the book titled Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. They are written as if they are sit down interviews, locations and dates are provided to the reader adding to the feeling of authenticity. All of the interview participants are given the anonymous name “Q” and the interviewers questions are not included in the transcript. This gives the often squeamishly inappropriate perspectives given in the interviews even more weight. Although these are the namesake sections of the book, they were my least favorite parts, I prefer Wallace’s slice of life stories.

My favorite piece in the book is also one of the briefest. Forever Overhead puts us in the mind of a boy on his thirteenth birthday. To celebrate his birthday his family goes to a local swimming pool. He spends a large portion of the day deciding to jump off of the high dive. In the process, he questions the rhythm of thinking and the two black ovals left at the edge of the board from the abraded feet of the jumpers before him.

“You decide this needs to be thought about. It may, after all, be all right to do something scary without thinking, but not when the scariness is the not thinking itself.”

I posted a desk picture on a frustrating work day which showed my copy of Brief Interviews.

I made a new Instagram friend that day who encouraged me to check out this David Foster Wallace speech:

The speech, although it has been in existence since 2005 became a revelation to me. In the speech, Wallace discusses the real value of education, being careful about what and how we worship and staying alert to our surroundings. I needed to hear that perhaps our best gift to ourselves is to stomp out our frustration of banal day-to-day events of life. To try to refocus on these things that must be done and find some uniqueness and value in each experience. This is Water is considered one of the most important commencement speeches ever given. this speech has been analyzed by dozens before, one of the most concise breakdowns that I found was in Time Magazine.

“The capital T-Truth is about life before death. It is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with the simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over: ‘This is water. This is water.'”

Do not be surprised if you ask me how I am and I reply, “I just keep reminding myself, this is water…” Next up I’m reading Every Love Story is a Ghost Story and A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again.

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