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Although, of course, you end up becoming yourself

11th of September, 2020

I remember the first time I listened to the Kenyon College commencement speeech given by David Foster Wallace in 2005. A condensed version of the grocery store story that Wallace tells, which illustrates the theme of his speech, was set to a mix of live-action re-enactment and gaudy motion graphic overlays, created by some well-meaning fan, and posted to Vimeo. That version was soon taken down for copyright violation (or something similar) but not before it led me to the aforelinked full (and better) version.

This is a post about David Foster Wallace. I’m aware that, as a middle-aged white guy, I’m dangerously close to being a trope by writing about this. This is not, however, a post about Infinite Jest so I hope that I can avoid making myself a tired cliche.

I’ve always preferred his more accessible works including his essay about time spent on the John McCain 2000 presidential campaign and his profile of a right-wing radio host in 2005. I only discovered these after listening to the This is Water speech above. In fact, I had only passingly heard of Infinite Jest and had no real idea about Wallace himself. I soon discovered the above works, and learned that Wallace had committed suicide in 2008. This would have been around 2013 which was a particularly tumultuous time in my life and I stopped reading altogether for a while.

Then, in 2015, a movie adaptation of a book, which I didn’t even know existed, about a few days a writer spent in the company of Wallace was released. The movie is called The End of The Tour and I highly recommend it. Jason Segel does a great job of playing Wallace without making him a cartoon and Jesse Eisenberg portrays David Lipsky, an author interviewing Wallace for a Rolling Stone article that never came to be. The film does a really great job capturing the mood of icy cold midwest winters.

The book the movie was based on, titled Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, though is truly an enjoyable read. The book tells a much more nuanced, and more boring story (in a good way) than the movie. And much more detailed. I was surprised, and pleased, to read early on in the book Lipsky and Wallace enjoying Monical’s Pizza, a small central Illinois pizza chain that I grew up eating.

Below are some of my favorite quotes from the book.

The technology’s gonna get better and better at doing what it does, which is seduce us into being incredibly dependent on it, so that advertisers can be more confident that we will watch their advertisements. And as a technology system, it’s amoral. It doesn’t … it doesn’t have a responsibility to care about us one whit more than it does: It’s got a job to do. The moral job is ours.

Here, Wallace is mainly speaking about television. But it’s obvious he saw the problems the world today is dealing with in social media.

And one of the things I noticed in the halfway house is the difference between me and like a twenty-year-old prostitute who is dying of AIDS, who’d been doing heroin since she was eleven, is, is a matter of accidents.

I think about this a lot.

I think we’re really setting ourselves up for repression and fascism. I think our hunger, our hunger to have somebody else tell us what to do—or for some sort of certainty, or something to steer by—is getting so bad … the next few decades are going to be really scary.

I can’t help but feel like this is a real prediction that seems to be coming true, and not just a coincidence. It sure does seem like a whole swath of citizens in the US are really primed for fascism.

Tarantino is such a schmuck 90 percent of the time.

Only including this because it makes me feel vindicated in my unpopular opinion that Tarantino is hideously overrated.

… the job that we’re here to do is to learn how to live in a way that we’re not terrified all the time. And not in a position of using all kinds of different things, and using people to keep that kind of terror at bay.

This feels really important and thematically similar to the infamous This is Water speech from above.

The book is quite good. The movie is quite good. Consider reading/watching them.


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