‘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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