22 David Foster Wallace Quotes That Will Inspire You To Read Everything He’s Ever Written

Recently, I had the pleasure of watching The End of the Tour, the film adaptation of a five-day interview between the brilliant David Foster Wallace (played by Jason Segel) and Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky (played by Jesse Eisenberg). To say this film had a profound impact on me would be…a gross understatement. I admit, I wasn’t as familiar with David Foster Wallace as I’d like. I’d read a few excerpts here and there, but hadn’t ever made the plunge to read his novel of epic proportions, “Infinite Jest.” But after that movie?! Oh, I was ready to make the commitment. The film is mostly conversational, heavily character driven, and had me captivated the entire time. For any writer, anyone who has dealt with depression, or really, just been a damn human being, I can’t recommend it enough. So as soon as I got home, what did I do? Ordered as many books of his as I could get my hands on. I’m late to the genius, but better late than never, right? In memory of a very important writer and soul, here are just a few of his best.
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“The truth will set you free. But not until it is finished with you.”
“We’re all lonely for something we don’t know we’re lonely for. How else to explain the curious feeling that goes around feeling like missing somebody we’ve never even met?”
“The interesting thing is why we’re so desperate for this anesthetic against loneliness.”
“That sometimes human beings have to just sit in one place and, like, hurt. That you will become way less concerned with what other people think of you when you realize how seldom they do.”
“It’s a very American illness, the idea of giving yourself away entirely to the idea of working in order to achieve some sort of brass ring that usually involves people feeling some way about you – I mean, people wonder why we walk around feeling alienated and lonely and stressed out.”
“Whatever you get paid attention for is never what you think is most important about yourself.”
“The most obvious, ubiquitous, important realities are often the ones that are the hardest to see and talk about.”
“You can be shaped, or you can be broken. There is not much in between. Try to learn. Be coachable. Try to learn from everybody, especially those who fail. This is hard. … How promising you are as a Student of the Game is a function of what you can pay attention to without running away.”
“Try to learn to let what is unfair teach you.”
“That there is such a thing as raw, unalloyed, agendaless kindness. That it is possible to fall asleep during an anxiety attack. That concentrating on anything is very hard work.”
“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. On one level, we all know this stuff already — it’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, bromides, epigrams, parables: the skeleton of every great story. The trick is keeping the truth up-front in daily consciousness. 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.”
“Every love story is a ghost story.”
“When people call it that I always get pissed off because I always think depression sounds like you just get like really sad, you get quiet and melancholy and just like sit quietly by the window sighing or just lying around. A state of not caring about anything. A kind of blue kind of peaceful state.”
“What the really great artists do is they’re entirely themselves. They’re entirely themselves, they’ve got their own vision, they have their own way of fracturing reality, and if it’s authentic and true, you will feel it in your nerve endings.”
“Fiction’s about what it is to be a human being.”
“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.”
“It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive, day in and day out.”
“He just sits there. I want to be like that. Able to just sit all quiet and pull life toward me, one forehead at a time. His name is supposedly Lyle.”
“Probably the most dangerous thing about college education, at least in my own case, is that it enables my tendency to over-intellectualize stuff, to get lost in abstract arguments inside my head instead of simply paying attention to what’s going on right in front of me.”
“Are we not all of us fanatics? I say only what you of the U.S.A. pretend you do not know. Attachments are of great seriousness. Choose your attachments carefully. Choose your temple of fanaticism with great care. What you wish to sing of as tragic love is an attachment not carefully chosen.”
“Die for one person? This is a craziness. Persons change, leave, die, become ill. They leave, lie, go mad, have sickness, betray you, die. Your nation outlives you. A cause outlives you.”
“Everybody is identical in their secret unspoken belief that way deep down they are different from everyone else.”

To hear some of these quotes in full form, take 22 minutes out of your life to watch This Is Water — the original commencement speech given by the great David Foster Wallace to Kenyon College Class of 2005. One of the best commencement speeches of all time, in my humble opinion. TC mark

Ari Eastman

✨ real(ly not) chill. poet. writer. mental health activist. mama shark. ✨

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