This is Sad


I just finished listening to the David Foster Wallace commencement speech, entitled This is Water, given at Kenyon College in 2005. I bought the audio version online.

I found and purchased this because someone (The Glossary <;) with enormous talent took an audio excerpt from this and made a video that captured visually the core sentiment of the talk.This video was posted on the internet, and blogged on Open Culture and on other sites–from BoingBoing to the Drudge Report: with millions of views in its first week.  A few days ago I learned that the video was removed from the internet by the David Foster Wallace Literary Estate. <> This is Stupid.

I really like David Foster Wallace’s work. His New York Times piece on Roger Federer’s tennis game <> is fabulously fun to read. Again, this summer, I am looking to find time to read Infinite Jest. So I might at some point have Googled up David Foster Wallace and might have discovered this speech. But I didn’t have to go looking for it. The minute I finished the video, I keyed in “This is Water” and found the publisher’s store. I can fully imagine others, many, many others, doing the same. (The publisher’s eCommerce store also, predictably, sucks.)

IMG_1128The reason this is stupid is not simply because the video was an excellent, effective advertisement for the work, but because the videographers did a great job capturing the tone and message of the work. For his estate and publisher to not know and to not applaud this accomplishment is worse than stupid.

The talk is marvelous in many ways. It builds an argument for a liberal education that has nothing to do with careers, unless you consider living to be a career. And it’s short. Powerful and well crafted. Well worth the $4.95. I’ll listen to it a lot before I consider I understand it well.

Wallace argues that education is about giving students the ability to choose to not buy into the default narratives that surround them as water surrounds a fish, but to live consciously a mundane life that is no longer anywhere near mundane. That his estate is trapped by the default narrative of copyright protection, blind to the amplification that this mash-up offered to the work, makes them as dim as any unschooled individual who can see no alternative to worshipping money, or beauty, or power. This is sad.

You can hear his talk here: This is Water.

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