David Foster Wallace

David Foster

American Novelist, Short Story Writer, Essayist and Professor of English and Creative Writing

Author Quotes

Watching TV can become malignantly addictive. TV may become malignantly addictive only once a certain threshold of quantity is habitually passed, but then the same is true of whiskey. And by malignant and addictive I again do not mean evil or coercive. An activity is addictive if one's relationship to it lies on that downward-sloping continuum between liking it a little too much and downright needing it. Many addictions, from exercise to letter-writing, are pretty benign. But something is malignantly addictive if (1) it causes real problems for the addict, and (2) it offers itself as relief from the very problems it causes. A malignant addiction is also distinguished for spreading the problems of the addiction out and in in interference patterns, creating difficulties for relationships, communities, and the addict's very sense of self and soul. The hyperbole might strain the analogy for you, but concrete illustrations of malignant TV-watching cycles aren't hard to come by. If it's true that many Americans are lonely, and if it's true that many lonely people are prodigious TV-watchers, and if it's true that lonely people find in television's 2D images relief from the pain of their reluctance to be around real humans, then it's also obvious that the more time spent watching TV, the less time spent in the real human world, and the less time spent in the real human world, the harder it becomes not to feel alienated from real humans, solipsistic, lonely. It's also true that to the extent one begins to view pseudo-relationships with Bud Bundy or Jane Pauley as acceptable alternatives to relationships with real humans, one has commensurately less conscious incentive even to try to connect with real 3D persons, connections that are pretty important to mental health. For Joe Briefcase, as for many addicts, the special treat of TV begins to substitute for something nourishing and needed, and the original hunger subsides to a strange objectless unease.

We're all?especially those of us who are educated and have read a lot and have watched TV critically?in a very self-conscious and sort of worldly and sophisticated time, but also a time when we seem terribly afraid of other people's reactions to us and very desperate to control how people interpret us. Everyone is extremely conscious of manipulating how they come off in the media; they want to structure what they say so that the reader or audience will interpret it in the way that is most favorable to them. What's interesting to me is that this isn't all that new. This was the project of the Sophists in Athens, and this is what Socrates and Plato thought was so completely evil. The Sophists had this idea: Forget this idea of what's true or not?what you want to do is rhetoric; you want to be able to persuade the audience and have the audience think you're smart and cool. And Socrates and Plato, basically their whole idea is, Bullshit. There is such a thing as truth, and it's not all just how to say what you say so that you get a good job or get laid, or whatever it is people think they want.

When he kneels at other times and prays or meditates or tries to achieve a Big-Picture spiritual understanding of God as he can understand Him, he feels Nothing ? not nothing, but Nothing, an edgeless blankness that somehow feels worse than the sort of unconsidered atheism he Came In with.

The sun is a hammer. I can feel one side of my face start to cook. The blue sky is glossy and fat with heat, a few thin cirri sheared to blown strands like hair at the rims.

The worst kind of nihilist?the kind who isn't even aware he's a nihilist.

There is no hatred in my love for you. Only a sadness I feel all the more strongly for my inability to explain or describe it.

They can kill you, but the legalities of eating you are quite a bit dicier.

This was in [Orwell's] 1946 'Politics and the English Language,' an essay that despite its date (and its title's basic redundancy) remains the definitive SNOOT statement on Academese. Orwell's famous AE translation of the gorgeous 'I saw under the sun that the race is not to the swift' in Ecclesiastes as 'Objective consideration of contemporary phenomena compels the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account' should be tattooed on the left wrist of every grad student in the anglophone world.

Tonight and shut up, Bubu, you'll have to solve some administrative disputes with God. I will say that God seems to have a style of coaching that I do not like anything to me. I'm pretty anti-death. God gives every impression of being quite pro-death. I do not know how we will reach an agreement about he and I, Bubu.

We all have our little solipsistic delusions, ghastly intuitions of utter singularity: that we are the only one in the house who ever fills the ice-cube tray, who unloads the clean dishwasher, who occasionally pees in the shower, whose eyelid twitches on first dates; that only we take casualness terribly seriously, that only we fashion supplication into courtesy, that only we hear the whiny pathos in a dog's yawn, the timeless sigh in the opening of the hermetically-sealed jar, the splattered laugh in the frying egg, the minor-D lament in the vacuum's scream; that only we feel the panic at sunset the rookie kindergartener feels on his mother's retreating. That only we love the only-we. That only we need the only-we. Solipsism binds us together, J.D. knows. That we feel lonely in a crowd and stop not to dwell on what's brought the crowd into being. That we are, always, faces in a crowd.

Were he now still among the living, Dr. Incandenza would now describe tennis in the paradoxical terms of what?s now called ?Extra-Linear Dynamics.? And Schtitt, whose knowledge of formal math is probably about equivalent to that of a Taiwanese kindergartner, nevertheless seemed to know what Hopman and van der Meer and Bollettieri seemed not to know: that locating beauty and art and magic and improvement and keys to excellence and victory in the prolix flux of match play is not a fractal matter of reducing chaos to a pattern. Seemed intuitively to sense that it was a matter not of reduction at all, but ? perversely ? of expansion, the aleatory flutter of uncontrolled, metastatic growth ? each well-shot ball admitting of n possible responses, n? responses to those responses, and on into what Incandenza would articulate to anyone who shared both his backgrounds as a Cantorian continuum of infinities of possible move and response, Cantorian and beautiful because infoliating, contained, this diagnate infinity of infinities of choice and execution, mathematically uncontrolled but humanly contained, bounded by the talent and imagination of self and opponent, bent in on itself by the containing boundaries of skill and imagination that brought one player finally down, that kept both from winning, that made it, finally, a game, these boundaries of self.

The sun like a sneaky keyhole view of hell.

The worst thing about irony for me is that it attenuates emotion.

There is no such thing as not voting: you either vote by voting, or you vote by staying home and tacitly doubling the value of some Diehard's vote.

They said downstairs the Parnate made me black out. It did a blood pressure thing. My mother heard noises upstairs and found me she said down on my side chewing the rug in my room. My room?s shag-carpeted. She said I was on the floor flushed red and all wet like when I was a newborn; she said she thought at first she hallucinated me as a newborn again. On my side all red and wet.' 'A hypertensive crisis will do that. It means your blood pressure was high enough to have killed you. Sertraline in combination with an MAOI2828 will kill you, in enough quantities. And with the toxicity of that much lithium besides, I'd say you're pretty lucky to be here right now.?

This was primarily because of the semi-agoraphobia?I?d have to sort of psych myself up to leave the cabin and go accumulate experiences, and then pretty quickly out there in the general population my will would break and I?d find some sort of excuse to scuttle back to 1009. This happened quite a few times a day.

Tornadoes were, in out part of Central Illinois, the dimensionless point at which parallel lines met and whirled and blew up. They made no sense.

We all suffer alone in the real world. True empathy's impossible. But if a piece of fiction can allow us imaginatively to identify with a character's pain, we might then also more easily conceive of others identifying with their own. This is nourishing, redemptive; we become less alone inside. It might just be that simple.

What goes on inside is just too fast and huge and all interconnected for words to do more than barely sketch the outlines of at most one tiny little part of it at any given instant.

The sun would leave my sky if I couldn't assume you'd simply come and tell me you were sad.

The writing that I do is longhand... The first two or three drafts are always longhand... I can type very much faster than I can write. And writing makes me slow down in a way that helps me pay attention.

There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of God or spiritual-type thing to worship--be it J.C. or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess or the Four Noble Truths or some infrangible set of ethical principles--is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive.

Think of the old clich? about the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master. This, like many clich?s, so lame and unexciting on the surface, actually expresses a great and terrible truth. It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with firearms almost always shoot themselves in the head. And the truth is that most of these suicides are actually dead long before they pull the trigger.

This wise old whiskery fish swims up to three young fish and goes, 'Morning, boys, how's the water?' and swims away; and the three young fish watch him swim away and look at each other and go, 'What the fuck is water?' and swim away.

Traditionally, Prescrittivisti tend to be conservative politicians and Descrittivisti tend to be liberal. But in reality to have more influence on the rules of English public is a form of prescriptivism austere and rigorous liberal. I am referring to English politically correct (RPI), according to the conventions which the poor become economically disadvantaged and people in wheelchairs differently abled. Although it is common to make beats on the IPC, you know that the various pre-and proscriptions ability politically correct are taken very seriously by the college and by the companies...The opinion of this reviewer is that the IPC is not prescrittivista only foolish but it is ideologically confused and harmful to its own cause. And here is my argument. The use of a language is always political, but it is so complex. Compared, for example, to political change, use the conventions can be operated in two ways: on the one hand may be a reflection of political change and the other can be an instrument of political change. The important thing is that these two functions are distinct and must remain so. Confusing results in the bizarre belief that the America stop being elitist or unfair simply because Americans stop using a certain vocabulary that is historically associated with elitism and injustice. This is the fundamental flaw of the IPC - the mode of expression of a society produces its attitudes rather than being a product of such attitudes - and of course is nothing more than the inverse of the Snob conservative illusion that social change can be delayed by limiting the change in the use of the standard language. Politically correct English has in itself an irony even more gross. That is, although the IPC has the claim of being the dialect of progressive reform, in fact - in its Orwellian substitution of the euphemisms of social equality instead of the actual social equality - much more help to conservatives and the status quo of than they have ever been the traditional requirements Snob...In other words, the IPC acts as a form of censorship, and censorship is always at the service of the status quo. In practice, I highly doubt that a man with four children and a salary of twelve thousand dollars a year to feel stronger or less mistreated by a company that has the kindness to call it economically disadvantaged rather than poor. Indeed, if I were him, I probably would feel offended by the term Ipc - not only because it is paternalistic (which is anyway) but because it is hypocritical and tended to the advantage of those who pronounce it in a way that people usually treated with paternalism picks on the fly. The hypocrisy regarding basic expressions such as economically disadvantaged and differently abled is that the supporters of the CPI believe that the recipients of compassion and generosity of these terms are the poor and people in wheelchairs, and neglect again something that everyone knows but no one ever mentions - namely, that part of the reason why any talk using a certain vocabulary is always the desire to communicate something about himself. The IPC has the primary function to report and congratulate certain virtues in the speaker - scrupulous egalitarianism, concern for the dignity of all, sophistication about the political implications of the language - and thus serves the selfish interests of the Pc much more than serve any person or group renamed it.

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David Foster
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American Novelist, Short Story Writer, Essayist and Professor of English and Creative Writing