This is Water

By

David Foster Wallace

Read in
June, 2020
My rating:
8
/10

Summary

Uncommonly unusual and remarkable. Talks largely about the ethics of how we decide to think and what must mean for us as we go through our lives. Originally written as a commencement address at Kenyon College. More of an essay than a book, but a book it is nonetheless.

Notes

  • How we construct meaning, and what we choose to do with that, is a matter of our own personal choice.
  • Sometimes the most obvious and widespread realities of life are difficult for us to see - the wood for the trees, as it were.
  • 'The point here is that I think this is one part of what the liberal arts mantra of “teaching me how to think” is really supposed to mean: to be just a little less arrogant, to have some “critical awareness” about myself and my certainties… because a huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded.'
  • There is no experience that we have in life where we, as an individual, are not the centre of the experience. How we choose to think about each experience we have is crucial to how we move through life.
  • We must exercise our abilities of learning how to think. That is, we must be conscious and aware, first of all, of what we decide to pay attention to then, second, decide how we are to construct meaning from what we have paid attention to.
  • 'If you’ve really learned how to think, how to pay attention, then you will know you have other options.'
  • '...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.'
  • Whatever it is you choose to worship - and we all worship something, whether we choose to or not - and it will bear ill fruit. Money? You won't have enough of it. Your own body? You will feel ugly. Power? You will feel weak and afraid. Your own intellect? You will feel stupid and fraudulent.
  • '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.'
  • 'The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the “rat race” — the constant, gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing.'

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