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David Foster Wallace Links Post

August 23, 2010

This is just a convenient list of articles you should read by David Foster Wallace. Most of his non-fiction is framed as an earnest and even-handed investigation of a particular topic, but behind the “let’s just take a naive look at this” attitude there is always a wealth of very careful thoughts, insights, and sort-of-advice on how the world might not be as bad as it seems sometimes. Warning: most of these are really long!

Transcription of the 2005 Kenyon Commencement Address – May 21, 2005
A speech to a bunch of college students that attempts to answer the question “what’s the point of education” and ends up being a meditation on what living can be and how desperate it can get for obsessives.

E unibus pluram: television and U.S. fiction
Probably my favourite article of all of these, in this one the main topics are TV (both advertising and programming) and contemporary literature, and how both are in some sense stuck in an insanely powerful self-referential trap. As the horizons of TV get ever-narrower, advertising and programming get closer and closer together, and the world of TV has less and less to do with anything other than TV and celebrity culture, the world seems to get more and more impossible.

Consider the Lobster
A very well-argued piece on the ethics of eating meat, inspired by the Maine lobster festival. Here you get his characteristic even-handedness and non-committal tone but it seems to only make the arguments even more difficult to deal with.

Collection of Harper’s articles
Three choice ones:

Laughing with Kafka
Fun article about trying to get students to appreciate Kafka, and literature generally.

Shipping Out: On the (nearly lethal) comforts of a luxury cruise
Something similar to the lobster article but about cruise ships. Much despair and feelings of hopelessness at being trapped on a ship with all these people who seem to live their lives on board normally without being terrified of death etc.

Tense Present: Democracy, English, and the wars over usage
Actually I think this article is wrong in quite a few ways, but it’s interesting nonetheless as an entry in the genre of kind of postmodern luddite-ism: people who see what TV/language/the internet/ebooks/iphones/other modern things are doing to our way of life and wonder whether to actually just choose not to get too deeply invested into every new thing that comes along.

Host
Fascinating examination of an American talkback radio host/show and what goes on behind the scenes, and how these hosts think and deal with the problem of having to get people interested enough to call in.

Federer as Religious Experience
The String Theory

A duo of articles on tennis, and how technically and maybe even artistically interesting it is, and the challenges of devoting your entire life to being the best in the world at this one arcane ritual of hitting balls with a raquet.

And if you want even more to read by other authors try this on for size. A massive collection of articles voted the best available online.

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