By Julia Waldow
It is a warm day in May 2005. Hundreds of Kenyon graduates and their family members lean forward in their seats, listening intently, to novelist and essayist David Foster Wallace give one of today’s best-known commencement speeches.
“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, ﾑMorning, boys. How’s the water?'” Wallace begins. “And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, ﾑWhat the hell is water?'”
The message Wallace delivered in “This is Water” about being conscious of one’s surroundings forms a core part of journalist D.T. Max’s newest book, Every Love Story is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace.
Max, who will discuss Wallace on Tuesday, Oct. 1 from 7 to 9 p.m. in Rosse Hall, believes the author offers valuable life lessons to his audience, both at Kenyon and beyond.
“I think what [Wallace] teaches, and I think that his speech shows this too, is the importance of being aware and awake in your own life,” Max, a staff writer for The New Yorker, said.
Cosponsored by The Kenyon Review and Student Lectureships, Max’s lecture will focus on Wallace’s creative works, as well as his struggle with depression and his suicide in 2008.
“Wallace is a physical embodiment of the emotional trauma we go through in order to experience life to its fullest and create the highest level of creative output possible,” Adam Brill ’17, who heard Max speak in Washington, D.C., said. “I think that his story is unfortunate, but it’s important to know about because he struggled with real things ﾗ not only things that drug addicts deal with, but things that affect people who are addicted to stimuli in the age of entertainment.”
Max first became interested in writing a biography about Wallace while investigating his life and death for The New Yorker.
“The New Yorker pieces are long, about 10,000 words, but when I was done with that article, I still felt like I had only begun to get to know Wallace,” Max said. “And I also wanted to find an excuse to spend my time reading his books again.”
Student Lectureships Co-Chair Max Rappoport ’14 believes students and staff alike will benefit from reading and hearing Max’s story about one of Kenyon’s most celebrated commencement speakers.
“Student Lectureships is mainly for the benefit of the student body, and we saw this as a good way to bring in an interesting speaker,” Rappoport said. “With David Foster Wallace’s history at Kenyon, we thought it would be a good draw for the students and be an interesting topic and a good event overall.”
Max considers his visit to Kenyon, the birthplace of “This is Water,” to be a “magic weirdness” and believes the College encourages Wallace’s philosophy.
“I think that in Wallace’s life ﾅ you see ﾅ this fervent need to be bold in life,” he said. “I think that’s something that Kenyon College addresses, too ﾗ not that you have to be successful or make a million dollars or be a doctor or a famous writer, but that you just can’t sleepwalk through your own life.”
[starbox id=”Julia Waldow”]
Comments for this article have closed. If you'd like to send a letter to the editor for publication, please email us at email@example.com.