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15 Great David Foster Wallace Quotes

February 21, 2013  |  11:51am
15 Great David Foster Wallace Quotes

Today would have been the 51st birthday of David Foster Wallace if not for his tragic death in 2008. Lauded by readers, critics and his literary peers as one of the most important voices of his generation, Wallace wrote three novels, three short story collections, and multiple works of non-fiction and reportage.

His most famous work, 1996’s leviathan Infinite Jest, contains a world fashioned by Wallace’s inimitable imagination, exploring subjects ranging from tennis to substance abuse to the state of American popular culture. In 2005 it was named one of the best English-language novels since 1923 by Time.

Below we’ve gathered some of our favorite quotes from David Foster Wallace, including selections from his fiction, essays and This Is Water, the commencement address he delivered at Kenyon College in 2005.

1. “The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day. 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.”
- This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life (2009)

2. “True heroism is minutes, hours, weeks, year upon year of the quiet, precise, judicious exercise of probity and care—with no one there to see or cheer. This is the world.” – The Pale King (2011)

3. “The truth will set you free. But not until it is finished with you.”
- Infinite Jest (1996)

4. “What goes on inside is just too fast and huge and all interconnected for words to do more than barely sketch the outlines of at most one tiny little part of it at any given instant.” – Oblivion (2004)

5. “Am I a good person? Deep down, do I even really want to be a good person, or do I only want to seem like a good person so that people (including myself) will approve of me? Is there a difference? How do I ever actually know whether I’m bullshitting myself, morally speaking?” – Consider the Lobster and Other Essays (2005)

6. “Because here’s something else that’s weird but true: in the day-to day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.
- This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life (2009)

7. “What passes for hip cynical transcendence of sentiment is really some kind of fear of being really human, since to be really human [...] is probably to be unavoidably sentimental and naïve and goo-prone and generally pathetic.”
- Infinite Jest (1996)

8. “Fiction is one of the few experiences where loneliness can be both confronted and relieved. Drugs, movies where stuff blows up, loud parties — all these chase away loneliness by making me forget my name’s Dave and I live in a one-by-one box of bone no other party can penetrate or know. Fiction, poetry, music, really deep serious sex, and, in various ways, religion — these are the places (for me) where loneliness is countenanced, stared down, transfigured, treated.”

9. “To be, in a word, unborable…. It is the key to modern life. If you are immune to boredom, there is literally nothing you cannot accomplish” – The Pale King (2011)


10. “’Mario, what do you get when you cross an insomniac, an unwilling agnostic and a dyslexic?’

‘I give.’

‘You get someone who stays up all night torturing himself mentally over the question of whether or not there’s a dog.’”
- Infinite Jest (1996)

11. “You will become way less concerned with what other people think of you when you realize how seldom they do.” – Infinite Jest (1996

12. “I do things like get in a taxi and say, ‘The library, and step on it.’”
- Infinite Jest (1996)

13. “Everything takes time. Bees have to move very fast to stay still.” – Brief Interviews with Hideous Men (1999)

14. “A U. S. of modern A. where the State is not a team or a code, but a sort of sloppy intersection of desires and fears, where the only public consensus a boy must surrender to is the acknowledged primacy of straight-line pursuing this flat and short-sighted idea of personal happiness.” – Infinite Jest (1996)

15. “If you are bored and disgusted by politics and don’t bother to vote, you are in effect voting for the entrenched Establishments of the two major parties, who please rest assured are not dumb, and who are keenly aware that it is in their interests to keep you disgusted and bored and cynical and to give you every possible reason to stay at home doing one-hitters and watching MTV on primary day. By all means stay home if you want, but don’t bullshit yourself that you’re not voting. In reality, there is no such thing as not voting: you either vote by voting, or you vote by staying home and tacitly doubling the value of some Diehard’s vote.”
- “Up, Simba!” in Rolling Stone (2000)

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