My Favorite David Foster Wallace Quotes

“The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flame yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don‘t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.”

-Infinite Jest

“Molly Notkin often confides on the phone to Joelle van Dyne about the one tormented love of Notkin’s life thus far, an erotically circumscribed G.W. Pabst scholar at New York University tortured by the neurotic conviction that there are only a finite number of erections possible in the world at any one time and that his tumescence means e.g. the detumescence of some perhaps more deserving or tortured Third World sorghum farmer or something, so that whenever he tumifies he’ll suffer the same order of guilt that your less eccentrically tortured Ph.D.-type person will suffer at the idea of, say, wearing baby-seal fur. Molly still takes the high-speed rail down to visit him every couple of weeks, to be there for him in case by some selfish mischance he happens to harden, prompting black waves of self-disgust and an extreme neediness for understanding and nonjudgmental love.”

-Infinite Jest

“And make no mistake: irony tyrannizes us. The reason why our pervasive cultural irony is at once so powerful and so unsatisfying is that an ironist is impossible to pin down. All U.S. irony is based on an implicit “I don’t really mean what I’m saying.” So what does irony as a cultural norm mean to say? That it’s impossible to mean what you say? That maybe it’s too bad it’s impossible, but wake up and smell the coffee already? Most likely, I think, today’s irony ends up saying: “How totally banal of you to ask what I really mean.” ”

E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction

“It’s hard to get good answers to why Young Voters are so uninterested in politics. This is probably because it’s next to impossible to get someone to think hard about why he’s not interested in something. The boredom itself preempts inquiry; the fact of the feeling’s enough. Surely one reason, though, is politics is not cool. Or say rather that cool, interesting, alive people do not seem to be the ones who are drawn to the Political Process. Think back to the sort of kids in high school or college who were into running for student office: dweeby, overgroomed, obsequious to authority, ambitious in a sad way. Eager to play the Game. The kind of kids other kids would want to beat up if it didn’t seem so pointless and dull. And now consider some of 2000’s adult versions of these very same kids . . . Men who aren’t enough like human beings even to dislike—what one feels when they loom into view is just an overwhelming lack of interest, the sort of deep disengagement that is so often a defense against pain. Against sadness. In fact the likeliest reason why so many of us care so little about politics is that modern politicians make us sad, hurt us in ways that are hard even to name, much less to talk about. It’s way easier to roll your eyes and not give a shit. You probably don’t want to hear about all this, even.”

– The Weasel, Twelve Monkeys, and The Shrub




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