“In 1996, when Harper’s Magazine sent writer David Foster Wallace on a seven-night Caribbean cruise, they were expecting a magazine-article-length, fish-out-of-water adventure. What they got back was practically a novella about the dread of death, and how being pampered for a week aboard an unsinkable vessel is little more than a denial of death’s inevitability. About a decade later, Kenyon College was less surprised when, in place of the commencement speech Wallace had been invited to give to the class of 2005, he delivered an unforgettable sermon on the sadnesses of modern life — and their cure.
“The genius of all of Wallace’s writing (aside from the beauty and exactness of the language itself) lies in the way he worked within the boundaries of established forms while reshaping them in weird and beautiful ways, commenting on a genre as it underwent his origami. His speech begins conventionally enough, with what he calls the “deployment of [a] didactic little parable-ish” story about two fish that are ignorant to the fact that they are surrounded by a thing called water. But, after accepting the parabolic-opening as “one of the better, less bullshitty conventions” of the commencement genre, he quickly turns the practice on its head by signaling that this isn’t going to be a typical go-forth-and-excel speech.”
Click here to read this OZY.com article in its entirety and listen to Wallace’s “unforgettable sermon on the sadnesses of modern life.”.