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Wallace Summary

By | November 2012
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Wallace Summary
David Foster Wallace presented a commencement speech to Kenyon College in 2005. He believed that a college education teaches us how to choose what to think about rather than how to think. The choices we will make as life progresses after college into adult life can have a “life or death importance.” It is at this point in Wallace’s speech that he asks the graduating class to think about the value of the totally obvious.

Wallace recites a story about fish. A wise fish one day walks by two little fish and asks them, “How’s the water?” The little fish swims on for a bit, until one fish finally turns to the other and says, “What the hell is water?” Wallace’s point of the fish story is to explain that “the obvious important realities, are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about.” The fish don’t know anything but water because they are surrounded by it daily. Wallace uses the term “default settings” repetitively throughout his speech. He uses this term as an example of our self-centeredness. Every person’s world revolves around themselves and they believe themselves to be the center of the universe. This all encompassing arrogance really decreases our self awareness. Wallace suggests we become more critically aware of ourselves and our certainties, for if we have “blind certainty”, according to Wallace, then we are close minded to any other beliefs or arguments. He gives the example of two men at a bar discussing their belief in God. There are two men in the blizzard. One of the men is so certain that his rescue is due to the Eskimos, that his single-mindedness limits him to pondering other possibilities. Wallace goes on to explain the misinterpreted phrase “day in and day out.” We often get caught up in our own thoughts and over analyze simple situations when really, we can just look at what is right in front of us. Thinking is being conscious and aware to what we pay attention to and to make meaning from our experiences. His...

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