Allen Lee is a mathy-sciencey guy, not your typical lit geek. Below are his reactions to a commencement speech delivered by lit-geek hero DFW.
I recently surfed onto a transcript of David Foster Wallace's commencement address at Kenyon University in May of 2005. I have some reactions to share and would be interested in any thoughts or potential blogo-discussions. Spoilers from now on.
The two-sentence summary of DFW's message to the graduating body is, "A large portion of the value of education, and in particular your liberal arts education, relates to controlling what you think about and how you construct meaning from experience -- the nature and quality of your consciousness. If you can't control your mind, you are screwed, and as a concrete example of why, I go into some depth about a typical after-work stop at the grocery store for yours truly, acting as a representative for your typical educated working American adult."
I pretty much agree with everything he says, except for the details of the after-work stop. What really surprised me was the apparent energy and passion he had for these ideas -- they make it seem like these ideas are much fresher in his mind than I would expect. Because basically, I don't expect a 43-year-old man to be energized by these thoughts. I would expect these thoughts to be so familiar, so basic, so second nature by the age of 43, that he wouldn't deliver this speech this way. Now I get that the college kids don't have as much life experience, so these ideas are theoretically "useful" for them (of course even the ones who really pay attention probably won't understand without learning the hard way like everybody else), and obviously DFW was a really troubled guy, and maybe this speech foreshadowed his suicide, etc etc. I am not ragging on the guy, just surprised, and wondering exactly how common his mindset is in the general population, because the praise in the blogosphere seemed so overwhelmingly positive.
I found the after-work episode really extreme. My continual reaction while reading it was, "not really dude." I don't think I've ever been that pissed about traffic, Muzak, long lines, SUVs, blah blah; I don't think my "default setting" is to consider myself the center of the universe; I don't get pissed at religious-bumper-sticker-coated V12 pickups driven by ugly people, whatever. Just the framing of the discussion is weird. These are weird things to get pissed about; and the compensating intellectual reactions (e.g., maybe the lady is being rude b/c she was up all night with her dying husband) are also out of proportion and weird. It's a lot of thinking and construction for what I would expect to be complete trivialities for a married, 43-year-old, highly educated, and on top of it all brilliant dude.