I just ran into a quote by David Foster Wallace that really hit me. It is a short fragment
of a commencement
speech to the 2005 graduating class at Kenyon College. The fragment
is short, less than 1/2 a page and it is the best case for spirituality
that I have ever read. It starts out:
here's something else that's weird but true: in the
day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as
atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships.
The only choice we get is what to worship.
reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to
worship–be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or
the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles–is
that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive.
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 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 grieve you. On one level, we all
know this stuff already. It's been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés,
epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick
is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.
was so brilliant and I am so sorry that he is gone.
Foster Wallace committed suicide some time ago, I was staggered. It seemed so unlikely. I felt like I knew him from his writing and he seemed so confident. He was incredibly competent but, I guess, not as confident as he appeared.
Two of my favorite pieces of writing were by David Foster Wallace – and he seems to always be David Foster Wallace, never David, or Wallace – A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again and Tense Present; Democracy, English, and the Wars over Usage. Both were, IMHO, brilliant: interestingly written, interesting and informative, and great fun. And even though I read them when I was well into my 50's and 60's, I was greatly influenced by both of them.
A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again was written in 1997 and was about going on a cruise ship. It was a vicious takedown of the Cruise, but in a very funny and gentle way. The two things I most remember about the article was how jam-packed the cruise was – leaving no time to relax or contemplate the day – and the incredible amount of footnotes that were a huge part of the article. One of the footnotes even had it's own footnote1. For months, if not years, my footnote use went way up much to the annoyance of some people who were trying to read what I had written.
But Tense Present; Democracy, English, and the Wars over Usage was the biggest influence on me. It was a very favorable book review of A Dictionary of Modern American Usage by Bryan Garner. But it was also about the the importance of of good grammar and the use of the right word in the right way. It is about the importance of language in our democracy and how language defines class and much more such as why he doesn't like Politically Correct English:
Were I, for
instance, a political conservative who opposed taxation as a means of
redistributing national wealth, I
would be delighted to watch PCE progressives spend their time and energy
arguing over whether a poor
person should be described as "low-income" or "economically
disadvantaged" or "pre-prosperous" rather than
constructing effective public arguments for redistributive legislation
or higher marginal tax rates on corporations….As a practical matter, I strongly doubt whether a guy who
small kids and makes $12,000 a year feels more empowered or less
ill-used by a society that carefully
refers to him as "economically disadvantaged" rather than "poor." Were I
he, in fact, I'd probably find the
PCE term insulting — not just because it's patronizing but because it's
hypocritical and self-serving.
I bought the dictionary, still use it, and highly recommend it.
1. He writing about a fire extinguisher in the passageway by his room, he footnoted that the sign said Break glass to access Fire Extinguisher and then footnoted the footnote with Duh!