Saturday, November 7, 2009

David Foster Wallace on True Freedom

Back in 2005, writer David Foster Wallace gave a convocation address to Keyon High School. I have come across excerpts in a number of blogs, including in Justine Musk’s.

Excerpted below are bits that really resonated:
There is no such thing as not worshipping.
Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship...
If you worship money and things-- if they are where you tap real meaning in life-- then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It's the truth.
Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you...
Worship power-- you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay.
Worship your intellect, being seen as smart-- you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. And so on...
The really important 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.

That is real freedom.
-- David Foster Wallace's convocation address to Kenyon College

The full address is well worth reading.


Arvind said...


Over the years, I've noticed that you have a tendency to fall for the almost and not for the real deal. For example your liking of freakonomics, the author in this post, rich dad-poor dad etc, fall into this category.

I sometimes wish you would undertake the harder and more rewarding task of a deeper dive in the areas you like. For example, Krishnamurthys "Freedom from the known" is much more comprehensive than what I gather from the post here. This is not to denigrate Wallaces very good writing in any way, but to lament that for a person who is capable of doing so, you dont go deep enough.

This strikes at the heart of what is your current approach is. If I am projecting you correctly from when we last met, you still are goal driven to read a certain number of books and see a certain number of movies every year. This strength of yours has it weakness - reading krishnamurthy requires committment to understanding him and debating and disagreeing. You will not be able to read 50 books in a year if you want to read Krishnamurthy or the Upanishads or Plato.

Why not live in the woods for a year instead of traveling from one national park to another?

I am sure you have reaped the benefits of your wandering style - the marginal reward of retaining that style is likely to be small compared to at least making a temporary switch.



Ram said...


I'll accept your point about me choosing breadth over depth, with a few caveats.

Maybe some people (me, for example) are wired to choose variety over depth. While I can see your point that reading the Upanishads or JK for a couple of months might be more rewarding, in many ways I am not ready for it.

Not to sound New-Agey but I do believe that books choose us as much as we choose the books we read. I still believe that the variety of thoughts I encounter from assorted authors is more fulfilling (to me) than reading one "good" or "deep" author for say a couple of months.
Also, we have to be ready for certain authors and that happens on its own terms. I have given JK many tries, but am not ready for him yet.

I have nothing against anyone wanting to live in the woods for a year or more. It is just that I am drawn to more National Parks. Yes, this shows a lack of depth and yes I accept that.

Your statement about "the marginal reward of maintaining the current lifestyle" is a dangerous one. It can be applied to anybody with a broad enough definition of one's lifestyle (same job, same apt, same spouse etc.) When I feel the marginal rewards diminishing, I will surely try to make some changes. I just think that my appetite for "surface changes" might be a lot bigger than (say) your desire for depth.


Chris said...

Ram, I enjoyed this essay. I came across this article and thought it gave some great insight into DFW: