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David Foster Wallace “Water” Summary

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On May 21, 2005, the author of “This is Water”, David Foster Wallace gave his commencement speech to the graduating class of Kenyon College. Foster Wallace starts his speech with a story of “two young fish swimming along” and neither of them know what water is (Wallace 1). Wallace goes on to say that, “The point of the fish story is merely that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are the hardest to see and talk about” (Wallace 1). Wallace uses the story to portray the idea that we hardly ever want to talk about what is hardest to see.

Most of the students the graduating class from Kenyon College are liberal arts majors, and according to Wallace, an education in the field of liberal arts, “isn’t really about the capacity to think, but rather about the choice of what to think about” (Wallace 2). Wallace goes on to tell another story about a person that believes in a type of God and another person that does not believe in the idea of a God. The two people look at the situation of the story differently because the atheist did not feel that God had come to his side to help him. The atheist’s story was, “I got caught away from the camp in that terrible blizzard, and I was totally lost, and I couldn’t see a thing, and it was fifty below, and so I tried it: I fell to my knees in the snow and cried out ‘oh God, if there is a God, I’m lost in this blizzard, and I’m gonna die if you don’t help me” (Wallace 2). The believer thought that the atheist would believe in God after that experience, but the atheist said, “all that was was a couple of Eskimos happened to come wandering by and showed me the way back to camp” (Wallace 2).

Wallace goes on to say that this happens because of, “two different belief templates and two different ways of constructing meaning from experience” (Wallace 2). Wallace goes on to talk about what he calls our “default setting”, and in this default setting, we think we are “the absolute center of the universe” (Wallace 3). Being taught how to think allows you to “choose what you pay attention to and choose how you construct meaning from experience” (Wallace 4). Wallace also says, “the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master”(Wallace 4). Wallace believes that we can alter our mind’s “default setting” on how we think, so that we may be able to look at things from multiple different viewpoints. By doing this we aren’t allowing our mind to be the master, but the servant. This will allow us to understand other people’s ideas and beliefs.

Work Cited
Wallace, David Foster. “Transcription of the 2005 Kenyon Commencement Address- May 21, 2005”. Kenyon College Graduation Ceremony. Kenyon College, Gambier, OH. 21 May 2005. Commencement Address. Web. 20 August 2014. https://blackboard.uttyler.edu/bbcswebdav/pid-679317-dt-content-rid-2007208_1/courses/2014-FALL-ENGL-1301.007/Wallace%20Speech.pdf

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