55 David Foster Wallace Quotes That Make You Want To Be A Better Person

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From his nonfiction essays, to his fiction, to his reporting and his reviews, a compilation of David Foster Wallace’s 55 greatest quotes
It was when I was the age where you can, as they say, “hear voices” without worrying that something is wrong with you. I “heard voices” all the time as a small child.
I never, even for a moment, doubted what they’d told me. This is why it is that adults and even parents can, unwittingly, be cruel: they cannot imagine doubt’s complete absence. They have forgotten.
It’s probably hard to feel any sort of Romantic spiritual connection to nature when you have to make your living from it.
It feels intensely twisted to see reigning industry queen Jenna Jameson chilling out at the Vivid booth in Jordaches and a latex bustier and to know already that she has a tattoo of a sundered valentine with the tagline Heart Breaker on her right buttock and a tiny hairless ole just left of her anus.
Kafka’s evocations are, rather, unconscious and almost sub-archetypal, the little-kid stuff from which myths derive; this is why we tend to call even his weirdest stories nightmarish rather than surreal.
The most obvious, ubiquitous, important realities are often the ones that are the hardest to see and talk about.
This is what the real, no-bull- value of your liberal-arts education is supposed to be about: How to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default-setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone, day in and day out.
Worship power—you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever ore 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.
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.
I have heard upscale adult U.S. citizens ask the ship’s Guest Relations Desk whether snorkeling necessitates getting wet…I now know the precise mixocological difference between a Slippery Nipple and a fuzzy navel.
I felt, as I became a later and later bloomer, alienated not just from my own recalcitrant glabrous little body but in a way from the whole elemental exterior I’d come to see as my co-conspirator.
It did what all ads are supposed to do: create an anxiety relievable by purchase.
You have decided being scared is caused mostly by thinking.
To be, in a word, unborable….It is the key to modern life. If you are immune to boredom, there is literally nothing you cannot accomplish.
I’d like to be the sort of person who can enjoy things at the time, instead of having to go back in my head and enjoy them.
You will become way less concerned with what other people think of you when you realize how seldom they do.
I knew my limitations and the limitations of the courts I played on, and adjusted thusly. I was at my best in bad conditions.
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.
The point is that petty, frustrating crap like this is exactly where the work of choosing comes in. Because the traffic jams and crowded aisles and long checkout lines give me time to think, and if I don’t make a conscious decision about how to think and what to pay attention to, I’m going to be pissed and miserable every time I have to food-shop, because my natural default-setting is the certainty that situations like this are really all about me, about my hungriness and my fatigue and my desire to just get home
The first time I lay actual eyes on the real David Lynch on the set of his movie, he’s peeing on a tree…Mr. David Lynch, a prodigious coffee drinker, apparently pees hard and often.
For me, though, a more interesting question ended up being whether David Lynch really gives a shit about whether his reputation is rehabilitated or not. The impression I get from rewatching his movies and from hanging around his latest production is that he really doesn’t. This attitude—like Lynch himself, like his work—seems to me to be both grandly admirable and sort of nuts.
(I’m not putting any of this well. I am not and never have been an intellectual. I am not articulate, and the subjects that I am trying to describe and discuss are beyond my abilities. I am trying, however, the best I can, and will go back over this as carefully as possible when I am finished, and will make changes and corrections whenever I can see a way to make what I’m discussing clearer or more interesting without fabricating anything.)
The desire for perfect release and the real-world impossibility of perfect, whenever-you-want-it release had together produced a tension they could no longer stand.
Great short stories and great jokes have a lot in common. Both depend on what communication-theorists sometimes called “exformation,” which is a certain quantity of vital information removed from but evoked by a communication in such a way as to cause a kind of explosion of associative connections within the recipient.
There happen to be whole large parts of adult American life that nobody talks about in commencement speeches. One such part involves boredom, routine, and petty frustration.
The only thing that’s capital-T True is that you get to decide how you’re going to see it. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t. You get to decide what to worship…
But of course there are all kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talked about in the great outside world of winning and achieving and displaying.
I had, by thirteen, developed a sort of Taoist hubris about my ability to control via non-control.
Acceptance is usually more a matter of fatigue than anything else.
There’s good self-consciousness, and then there’s toxic, paralyzing, raped-by-psychic-Bedouins self-consciousness.
Logical validity is not a guarantee of truth.
The sound of wind had become, for me, silence. When it went away, I was left with the squeak of the blood in my head and the aural glitter of all those little eardrum hairs quivering like a drunk in withdrawal.
Or I can choose to force myself to consider the likelihood that everyone else in the supermarket’s checkout line is just as bored and frustrated as I am, and that some of these people probably have much harder, more tedious or painful lives than I do, overall.
It’s not that students don’t “get” Kafka’s humor but that we’ve taught them to see humor as something you get—the same way we’ve taught them that a self is something you just have. No wonder they cannot appreciate the really central Kafka joke—that the horrific struggle to establish a human self results in a self whose humanity is inseparable from that horrific struggle.
At root, vulgar just means popular on a mass scale. It is the semantic opposite of pretentious or snobby. It is humility with a comb-over. It is Nielsen ratings and Barnum’s axiom and the real bottom line. It is big, big business.
I was never the sort of child who believed in “monsters under the bed” or vampires, or who needed a night-light in his bedroom; on the contrary, my father…once laughingly told my mother that he thought I might suffer from a type of benign psychosis called “antiparanoia,” in which I seemed to believe that I was the object of an intricate universal conspiracy to make me so happy I could hardly stand it.
The fact that the most powerful and significant connections in our lives are (at the time) invisible to us seems to me a compelling argument for religious reverence rather than skeptical empiricism as a response to life’s meaning.
True heroism is minutes, hours, weeks, year upon year of the quiet, precise, judicious exercise of probity and care—with no one there to see or cheer. This is the world.
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.
Whatever you get paid attention for is never what you think is most important about yourself.
The capital-T Truth is about life before death. It is about making it to 30, or maybe 50, without wanting to shoot yourself in the head. It is about simple awareness—awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, that we have to keep remind ourselves, over and over: “This is water, this is water.”
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.
Stated as an English sentence, of course, this is just a banal platitude—but the fact is that, in the day-to-day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have life-or-death importance. That may sound like hyperbole, or abstract nonsense.
But if you’ve really learned how to think, how to pay attention…it will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, loud, slow, consumer-hell-type situation as not only meaningful but sacred, on fire with the same force that lit the stars—compassion, love, the sub-surface unity of all things.
The truth will set you free. But not until it is finished with you.
What passes for hip cynical transcendence of sentiment is really some kind of fear of being really human, since to be really human […] is probably to be unavoidably sentimental and naïve and goo-prone and generally pathetic.
The interesting thing is why we’re so desperate for this anesthetic against loneliness.
Am I a good person? Deep down, do I even really want to be a good person, or do I only want to seem like a good person so that people (including myself) will approve of me? Is there a difference? How do I ever actually know whether I’m bullshitting myself, morally speaking?
If you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is and who and what is really important—if you want to operate on your default-setting—then you, like me, will not consider possibilities that aren’t pointless and annoying.
This is not a matter of virtue—it’s a matter of my choosing to do the work of somehow altering or getting free of my natural, hard-wired default-setting, which is to be deeply and literally self-centered, and to see and interpret everything through this lens of self.
The parts of me that used to think I was different or smarter or whatever, almost made me die.
Everything I’ve ever let go of has claw marks on it.
Try to learn to let what is unfair teach 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?
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. TC mark

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