‘This Is Water’: Complete Audio of David Foster Wallace’s Kenyon Graduation Speech (2005)

Last month, on the occa­sion of the author’s 50th birth­day, we post­ed a large col­lec­tion of free essays and sto­ries by David Fos­ter Wal­lace. But we missed a rare item: the com­plete audio record­ing of the com­mence­ment address Wal­lace gave at Keny­on Col­lege, in Ohio, on May 21, 2005–three years before he took his own life. The text of the speech has been pub­lished on the Inter­net and as a book called This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Deliv­ered on a Sig­nif­i­cant Occa­sion, about Liv­ing a Com­pas­sion­ate Life, but the com­plete audio ver­sion has been hard to find.

In the speech, Wal­lace talks about the chal­lenge of mov­ing beyond the super­fi­cial kind of free­dom that can be acquired through pow­er and wealth, toward a truer lib­er­a­tion that aris­es only when we become more ful­ly con­scious of the world out­side our “tiny skull-sized king­doms.” He says:

The real­ly impor­tant kind of free­dom involves atten­tion, and aware­ness, and dis­ci­pline, and effort, and being able tru­ly to care about oth­er peo­ple and to sac­ri­fice for them, over and over, in myr­i­ad pet­ty lit­tle unsexy ways, every day. That is real free­dom. The alter­na­tive is uncon­scious­ness, the default set­ting, the “rat race”–the con­stant gnaw­ing sense of hav­ing had and lost some infi­nite thing.

You can lis­ten to the first half of the speech above. And to delve deep­er into Wal­lace’s world­view, be sure to watch the fas­ci­nat­ing 84-minute inter­view he gave in 2003 to a Ger­man tele­vi­sion sta­tion. H/T Avi Burstein.

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

30 Free Essays & Sto­ries by David Fos­ter Wal­lace on the Web

The 321 Books in David Fos­ter Wallace’s Per­son­al Library: From Blood Merid­i­an to Con­fes­sions of an Unlike­ly Body­builder

David Fos­ter Wal­lace on What’s Wrong with Post­mod­ernism: A Video Essay

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