David Foster Wallace & Jules Evans
Since being persuaded to join Twitter by my cousin Eanna about a year ago I’ve found myself directed toward brilliant audio, visual, and textual content. Tweets, and their media content, are fleeting by nature but 2 videos I’ve watched have brought me back again and again. The first of these is a graduation speech by author David Foster Wallace, given in 2005, called ‘This is Water.’ The second is much more current and is by another author, Jules Evans, called ‘How not to be a superhero.’ The Evans video is pretty nice visually, the Foster Wallace one is not, although there are various versions of this available. What they have in common is their originality and sincerity, values that shines like a beacon in a social media world full of repetition, prequels, and weary cynicism.
David Foster Wallace: This is Water
Everybody worships. the only thing we get to choose is what we worship.
I read Infinite Jest by Foster Wallace last summer. It’s an epic read, in page count and ambition. I read it without any prior knowledge of the author. At the time of reading I didn’t know he had taken his own life. I took an age to read it, not because it’s difficult even though it has that reputation, but because I had fallen out of the habit of reading.
The book, for all its intellectual power and subsequent academic adoration, attempts what most great art attempts. It tries to tell us about ourselves. Even during periods of days when I wasn’t reading I couldn’t escape it’s message. Certain passages in the book will stay with me forever. There’s a passage near the start describing a young tennis star injuring himself while trying to impress his Father that will haunt me forever as a description of the power parents have to fuck their kids up. As a Father this power terrifies me. As an ex-child I remember this need to impress acutely. Order Infinite Jest now, you’ll thanks me.
Having read the book I went in search of interviews, podcasts etc that could better acquaint me with Foster Wallace. That’s when I found This is Water. It speaks for itself and more eloquently than I ever could but the most powerful recommendation I can give it is this. I teach 18-21 year olds. Very little impresses them. They’ve seen it all twice. I showed most of the classes that I teach the 22 minute video at some stage during the last academic year. It’s not even really a video, it’s a picture of a still with a voiceover. Every time the class fell silent. Every time the students retreated to their own inner worlds. Every time the mood in the room changed. Every time there was silence when the video was over. Every time I wondered why I can never keep their attention like that. Enjoy.
Jules Evans: How not to be a superhero
We impress people with our strengths, we connect with people through our vulnerabilities
Last summer I read Philosophy for Life and other dangerous situations while on holiday in south east Ireland. It’s an excellent introduction to some of the main schools of philosophical thought. I followed Evans on twitter and am currently hoping to have him on my show in the near future. In How not be a Superhero (taken from a talk he gave to Saracens Rugby in 2014) Evans uses Jungian psychology to reassure us that’s what wrong with us is normal, human. Better than this, he teaches us how to overcome the fears associated with our humanity. This may be the video I show my students in the next academic term.