The Most Memorable David Foster Wallace Quotes

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David Foster Wallace was an American author who wrote short stories, essays and novels. He was a university professor who taught English and creative writing. He became most famous fo this 1996 novel Infinite Jest which has been described as a mind-altering comedy about the pursuit of happiness in America. The novel is set in a halfway house for drug addicts and a tennis academy. The book explores essential questions about what is entertainment and how it has come to dominate American’s daily lives and how it impacts our connections with others. The book is equal parts comedy and philosophy and is a very unique and complex book.

Unfortunately, Mr. Wallace died in 2008 from suicide after a long struggle with depression.

David Foster Wallace Quotes

We spent considerable time researching our favorite quotes from David Foster Wallace. These are the best ones!

1. 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?

2. 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 chases 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.

3. 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, which 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 a 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.

4. If you spend enough time reading or writing, you find a voice, but you also find certain tastes. You find certain writers who, when they write, it makes your own brain voice like a tuning fork, and you just resonate with them. And when that happens, reading those writers … becomes a source of unbelievable joy. It’s like eating candy for the soul. And I sometimes have a hard time understanding how people who don’t have that in their lives make it through the day.

5. Everybody is identical in their secret unspoken belief that way deep down, they are different from everyone else.

6. Are we not all of us, fanatics? I say only what you of the U.S.A. pretend you do not know. Attachments are of great seriousness. Choose your attachments carefully. Choose your temple of fanaticism with great care. What you wish to sing as tragic love is an attachment not carefully chosen.


7. This is what the real, no bullshit value of your liberal arts education is supposed to be about: how to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone day in and day out.

8. The truth will set you free. But not until it is finished with you.

9. The really important kind of freedom involves attention, awareness, discipline, effort, and being able to truly care about other people and sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.

10. “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. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship—be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles—is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.”

11. 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.

12.We live today in a world where most of the really important developments in everything from math and physics and astronomy to public policy and psychology and classical music are so extremely abstract and technically complex and context-dependent that it’s next to impossible for the ordinary citizen to feel that they (the developments) have much relevance to her actual life.

13. When people call it that, I always get pissed off because I always think depression sounds like you just get like really sad, you get quiet and melancholy and just like sit quietly by the window sighing or just lying around. A state of not caring about anything. A kind of blue kind of peaceful state.

14. Probably the most dangerous thing about college education, at least in my own case, is that it enables my tendency to over-intellectualize stuff, to get lost in abstract arguments inside my head instead of simply paying attention to what’s going on right in front of me.

15. Try to let what is unfair teaches you.

16. 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.

17. Lonely people tend, rather, to be lonely because they decline to bear the psychic costs of being around other humans. They are allergic to people. People affect them too strongly.

18. If you worship money and things — if they are where you tap real meaning in life — then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure, and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. On one level, we all know this stuff already — it’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, bromides, epigrams, parables: the skeleton of every great story. The trick is keeping the truth up-front in daily consciousness. Worship power — you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart — you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. And so on.

19. I had kind of a midlife crisis at twenty, which probably doesn’t augur well for my longevity.

David Foster Wallace – 2005 Graduation Speech

This is the famous speech given by David Foster Wallace to Kenyon College’s 2005 graduating class. It is about 20 minutes in length and really gives you a good sense of what he was like in his speaking and how his mind works. It’s very funny and worth a listen!

 

Conclusion

David Foster Wallace always has a unique take on life. We hope these quotes reminded you of his perspective and perhaps inspire you to read his books again.


Image Credit: Steve Rhodes / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)

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