Updated: December 7, 2020 5:09:35 pm
At Kenyon College in 2005, author David Foster Wallace gave a speech which has assumed iconic status over the years. He started his speech in a way it was expected, and then undercut it with his wry humour. “Given the triumphant academic setting here, an obvious question is how much of this work of adjusting our default setting involves actual knowledge or intellect. This question gets very tricky. Probably the most dangerous thing about an academic education – least in my own case – is that it enables my tendency to over-intellectualise stuff, to get lost in an abstract argument inside my head, instead of simply paying attention to what is going on right in front of me, paying attention to what is going on inside me.”
He continued saying, “That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing. I know that this stuff probably doesn’t sound fun and breezy or grandly inspirational the way a commencement speech is supposed to sound. What it is, as far as I can see, is the capital-T Truth, with a whole lot of rhetorical niceties stripped away. You are, of course, free to think of it whatever you wish. But please don’t just dismiss it as just some finger-wagging Dr Laura sermon. None of this stuff is really about morality or religion or dogma or big fancy questions of life after death,” he said.
He continued saying, “The capital-T Truth is about life before death. It is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over: “This is water.” “This is water.” It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive in the adult world day in and day out.”
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