“Impossible, I realize, to enter another’s solitude. If it is true that we can ever come to know another human being, even to a small degree, it is only to the extent that he is willing to make himself known. A man will say: I am cold. Or else he will say nothing, and we will see him shivering. Either way, we will know that he is cold. But what of the man who says nothing and does not shiver? Where all is intractable, here all is hermetic and evasive, one can do no more than observe. But whether one can make sense of what he observes is another matter entirely”
― Paul Auster, The Invention of Solitude
In the midst of my regular and usually quite aimless meanderings online, searching for meaning on subjects I obsess over and research in my spare time, I was recently reminded of this talk entitled, This is Water, given by David Foster Wallace in 2005, addressing the graduating class at Kenyon College. DFW committed suicide in 2008 and it is impossible to read or listen to this talk now without thinking of what was to come when he originally delivered it.
In (This is Water) he argues, gorgeously, against “unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.” – From The New Yorker
He begins with a parable:
“There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”
DFW goes on to say:
“The point of the fish story is merely that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about. Stated as an English sentence, of course, this is just a banal platitude, but the fact is that in the day to day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have a life or death importance.”
As I read on, I was so moved, I decided to order the speech which has been reprinted in book form by the Hatchet Book Group.
Only once did David Foster Wallace give a public talk on his views on life, during a commencement address given in 2005 at Kenyon College. The speech is reprinted for the first time in book form in THIS IS WATER. How does one keep from going through their comfortable, prosperous adult life unconsciously? How do we get ourselves out of the foreground of our thoughts and achieve compassion? The speech captures Wallace’s electric intellect as well as his grace in attention to others. After his death, it became a treasured piece of writing reprinted in The Wall Street Journal and the London Times, commented on endlessly in blogs, and emailed from friend to friend.
Writing with his one-of-a-kind blend of causal humor, exacting intellect, and practical philosophy, David Foster Wallace probes the challenges of daily living and offers advice that renews us with every reading.
It’s a small and lovely book and I’ve been carrying it around for days. I especially like how DFW eloquently points out that we are not victims of some innate inclination for how we find meaning in our lives, or as he puts it, we are not “hardwired” in some specific way. Instead we are free to choose. It’s so easy to become trapped in the tedium of every day life and think that we are free.
“Learning how to think” really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think.
It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience.
Because if you cannot or will not exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.” – David Foster Wallace
There’s so much more to discover… Google This is Water, and see for yourself.
After our opening at the Octagon Gallery in Westfield on Friday, we headed to Fredonia for dinner and drinks with friends. Deb’s friend Steve rode with Allen and me to make sure we didn’t get lost. Along the way we passed through Brocton, a tiny village within the town of Portland in Chautauqua County. It would have been easy to overlook Brocton all together if we’d been driving through during the day, but at night its old store fronts and abandoned businesses seem fantastically lit by a combination of rickety street lights and the stars in the sky.
I quickly snapped half a dozen mental images as we whizzed down E. Main Street which cuts Brocton in half along Rout 20. Just as we reached the end of the strip, Allen insisted we turn around so I could take a picture of something he had seen. We circled around and I grabbed this shot. Allen felt the connection to my work would be interesting to me, and he was right. It’s an abandoned doll shop Called Pegg’s Enchanted Doll House and Hospital. I can’t wait to go back some night and take more pictures in Brocton.
My title, The Pencil of Nature, for this group of iPhone shots, pays playful tribute to the book of the same name by William Henry Fox Talbot, published in London between 1844 and 1846. These images started out as studies for another project shot using a DSLR, but as they accumulated, they took on a life of their own. The theme, which is revealed subtly in the image titles, is very much in line with my work on memory and loss, but the technology that frames the work has even more of a presence than usual. This is unavoidable, since Instagrams and their ilk remain rarely charted terrain in the world of fine art and so my use of them must enter my discussion of the work.
In the passage below from his original text, enamored of crediting nature and not the painter’s hand, Talbot muses about future photographic technologies. He seems to almost predict their many forthcoming incarnations, which we now know range from Calotypes to Instagrams, with countless points in between.
“They are impressed by Nature’s hand; and what they want as yet of delicacy and finish of execution arises chiefly from our want of sufficient knowledge of her laws. When we have learnt more, by experience, respecting the formation of such pictures, they will doubtless be brought much nearer to perfection; and though we may not be able to conjecture with any certainty what rank they may hereafter attain to as pictorial productions, they will surely find their own sphere of utility, both for completeness of detail and correctness of perspective.”