David Foster Wallace

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David Foster Wallace was born in Ithaca, New York on February 21, 1962, and mainly raised in Illinois by his mother and father, English and philosophy professors respectively. He attended Amherst College, and majored in English and philosophy. His senior thesis, written for his English major, would later become his first novel. Wallace also received a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from the University of Arizona. In 1992, Wallace began teaching in the English department at Illinois State University and ten years later moved to Claremont, California where he taught creative writing at Pomona College.

Wallace writes both fiction and non-fiction. His fiction stories and novels tend to focus on the interactions between people and the relationships that develop from the society we live in. his non-fiction work is similar in the fact that he likes to analyze everyday questions and phenomena and use them to both satirize our society, and to question the true meaning of how we think about the modern world. Wallace wrote many novels and essays during his career, his most famous of which is the 1000+ pages fiction novel Infinite Jest, published in 1996. His book Consider the Lobster (2005) is a collection of non-fiction essays in which he explores some controversial topics and how society tends to view and deal with them. His commencement address to the graduating class of 2005 at Kenyon College was later published as the book This is Water. He has also published short works in magazines such as Esquire, GQ, Harper's, The New Yorker and the Paris Review

On September 12, 2008 at the age of 46, David Foster Wallace committed suicide by hanging himself. In an interview with The New York Times, Wallace's father reported that Wallace had suffered from depression for more than 20 years and that antidepressant medication had allowed him to be productive. On his doctor's advice, Wallace stopped taking the medication in June 2007, and the depression returned. In the months before his death, his depression became severe. Many ceremonies were held to honor Wallace after his death, including memorial services at Pomona College, Amherst College, University of Arizona, and NYU.
David Foster Wallace received various awards for his work, including the Whiting Award, the Lannan Award for Fiction, The Paris Review Prize for humor, and an O. Henry Award.

Here are some of Wallace's thoughts on literature and where he thinks he stands in the big picture:

Personal Reactions:

David Foster Wallace’s book Consider the Lobster is a collection of non-fiction essays which he wrote about various aspects of human nature and which ponder some extremely interesting philosophical dilemmas. I especially enjoyed this book because of the way Wallace can relate almost any situation to an everyday example that anybody can understand. He has an incredible ability to analyze a concept in every way imaginable and still present a coherent argument and statement to the reader. Throughout his essays in the book, he makes liberal use of brilliant analogies in order to allow the reader to truly understand and see the idea that he is trying to get across.

In this book, Wallace presents his own take on many (often controversial) topics ranging from the argument of whether or not animals, specifically lobsters, feel pain, to a detailed description and analysis of the personalities behind the American porn industry. As I read through Wallace’s thoughts on these subjects, I felt that I completely understood where he was coming from, and that what he was saying was incredibly true. His remarks on society, which often times are very satirical, are extremely insightful and caused me to rethink my own views about the world. I was in awe at how easily he made writing seem, and as if the words he wrote on the page were being taken directly out of my own mouth. His writing style is addicting, to say the least. Every sentence put a different thought into my head, encouraging me to keep reading to find out what other insights he had in store.

From the very first sentence in Wallace's book This is Water, I was hooked. In what was probably the most honest and truthful piece of writing I've ever read, David Foster Wallace preaches about how to best live your life to the fullest through the use of a series of examples and insights about how to think as an adult. This inspirational speech lays out a set of principles which Wallace believes will bring joy and success to those who follow them, while at the same time admitting that he himself struggles to follow them. I especially enjoyed how, unlike almost all other commencement speakers, Wallace actually acknowledges to his audience the blatant reality of the situation they are in, explicitly calling out what he believes many members of the audience may be thinking during certain points in his speech. He takes as casual a tone as one can when delivering a speech of this caliber, something that is incredibly hard to do for most speakers, and the one thing that sets this book/speech apart from the rest. He writes as if he is trying to persuade a close friend to listen to what he is saying, an aspect that made me feel like he was talking directly to me, and me alone. His use of parables and clever comparisons kept my attention throughout the entire piece, making me really focus in on and understand the message he was trying to get across.

Critical Review Summary:

The book Consider the Lobster is a compilation of non-fiction articles and essays by David Foster Wallace. The book as a whole can best be described as a “cultural criticism” of the world and Wallace’s attempt to explain why and how certain people and aspects of society work. The essays by themselves are in no way related, something that some reviewers criticize, but something I believe keeps the book interesting and enjoyable. Each essay tackles an entirely new subject matter, and Wallace wastes no time diving right into the nitty-gritty details of it all. His writing style is unique, to say the least. With abundant use of footnotes and self-annotations, the book presents multiple levels of reading for the reader to enjoy. DFW has very little censorship in his work, writing exactly how he feels and not holding back any thoughts or details that may seem controversial. This too, has upset some critics, however the large majority of reviews for this work are positive and revering of Wallace’s writing. DFW uses very distinctive and interesting diction when it comes to describing things, using uncommon yet still comprehensive language to precisely describe to the reader the dynamics of the situation. For example, he speaks of people eating lobster for “gustatory pleasure” and the only sounds heard during the meal are “masticatory.” I found this language to be enticing and kept me paying close attention to detail while reading.

The topics discussed in the book vary immensely, but each present their own new food for thought. Wallace discusses the collective mentality in his small town community on the day of 9/11, the extent to which language restricts the way we think, the true nature and meaning behind adult entertainment, and many other philosophical dilemmas. Each topic is interesting to think about on its own, but with DFW’s own opinions and reasonings thrown in, the reader is exposed to aspects of the situation which otherwise would most likely have not even been noticed. In this book, David Foster Wallace shows that he is a true expert at analyzing and offering explanations to ideas that many would consider unexplainable, while at the same making these explanations completely understandable and relatable to the reader.

Critical Review Outline:

This is Water by David Foster wallace is a plea for the younger generations to act and think compassionately and maturely as they become adults. Wallace's main message is that he wants people to stray away from the default way of thinking by realizing that each mind works in a completely different way, and that we must adapt to consider each others' ways of thinking in order to make a better society.

Quote 1: "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?""

Right off the bat, Wallace presents his main point in the form of this short story. We as humans tend not to question things that are so prevalent and widely accepted. By delivering this story, Wallace is encouraging his audience to question these things, to question everything. He is showing that often times, it's the biggest things that go unnoticed, and that we while you may see something that seems obvious to you, many others may never realize it as long as they live. This, in Wallace's opinion, is more reason to be inquisitive and learn, but at the same time shows the need to be adaptive to others' way of thinking.

Quote 2: "The only thing that's capital-T True is that you get to decide how you're going to try to see it [life]. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn't."

Here, Wallace tells his audience that not only does every person see and experience everything differently, but that you actually get to DECIDE how you see the world. He wants his readers to know that they are entirely in control of how they live their lives, based solely on the fact that no matter what happens to you, it's ultimately yourself that decides how that thing is going to effect you. Applied to his main point, this means that you must be the one that learns how to deal with the world and the people that come in it.

Quote 3: "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. It is about simple awareness."

The grim irony in this statement is impossible not to notice. Yes, Wallace did take his own life only 3 years after this speech, however the simple fact that these words came out of his mouth show that he did, at least at one point in his life, understand what can truly make on happy. The "capital-T Truth" phrase is repeated to add significant weight to his statement as being, well, TRUE. He believes that the key to success and happiness in life is just to simply BE AWARE of the world around you. Realize that although you are pre-programmed to believe that you are the most supreme being in the universe, that there are 7 billion others who are thinking the exact same way. And the only way to really live life to the fullest is to understand this fact and learn how to adapt and work with all the other people around you. Don't get stuck in default mode. Be curious. Be aware that "this is water."

-Danny Cohen

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