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David Foster Wallace - Adult Life

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Uploaded on May 27, 2011

There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, "Morning, boys, how's the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, "What the hell is water?"

If at this moment, you're worried that I plan to present myself here as the wise old fish explaining what water is to you younger fish, please don't be. I am not the wise old fish. The immediate point of the fish story is that the most obvious, ubiquitous, important realities are often the ones that are the hardest to see and talk about. Stated as an English sentence, of course, this is just a banal platitude -- but the fact is that, in the day-to-day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have life-or-death importance. That may sound like hyperbole, or abstract nonsense.
A huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded.
-David Foster Wallace

"The challenge lies in knowing how to bring this sort of day to a close. His mind has been wound to a pitch of concentration by the interactions of the office. Now there are only silence and the flashing of the unset clock on the microwave. He feels as if he had been playing a computer game which remorselessly tested his reflexes, only to have its plug suddenly pulled from the wall. He is impatient and restless, but simultaneously exhausted and fragile. He is in no state to engage with anything significant. It is of course impossible to read, for a sincere book would demand not only time, but also a clear emotional lawn around the text in which associations and anxieties could emerge and be disentangled. He will perhaps only ever do one thing well in his life.

For this particular combination of tiredness and nervous energy, the sole workable solution is wine. Office civilisation could not be feasible without the hard take-offs and landings effected by coffee and alcohol."
— Alain de Botton (The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work)

"Partially undermining the manufacturer's ability to assert that its work constituted a meaningful contribution to mankind was the frivolous way in which it went about marketing its products. Grief was the only rational response to the news that an employee had spent three months devising a supermarket promotion based on an offer of free stickers of cartoon characters called the Fimbles. Why had the grown-ups so churlishly abdicated their responsibilities? Were there not more important ambitions to be met before Death showed himself on the horizon in his hooded black cloak, his scythe slung over his shoulder?"
— Alain de Botton (The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work)

"office life typically proceeds behind a mask of shallow cheerfulness...
"To maximise output, every organisation will strive to obtain its necessary raw materials, labour and machinery at the lowest possible cost and combine them to turn out a product that it will then attempt to sell at the highest possible price... And yet, troublingly, there is one difference between 'labour' and other commodities, a difference that conventional economics does not have a means of representing or giving weight to but that is nevertheless unavoidably present in the world: that labour feels pain."
— Alain de Botton

A huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded. Here's one example of the utter wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: Everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute center of the universe, the realest, most vivid and important person in existence. We rarely talk about this sort of natural, basic self-centeredness, because it's so socially repulsive, but it's pretty much the same for all of us, deep down. It is our default-setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth. Think about it: There is no experience you've had that you were not at the absolute center of. The world as you experience it is right there in front of you, or behind you, to the left or right of you, on your TV, or your monitor, or whatever. Other people's thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real -- you get the idea. But please don't worry that I'm getting ready to preach to you about compassion or other-directedness or the so-called "virtues."

People who can adjust their natural default-setting this way are often described as being "well adjusted," which I suggest to you is not an accidental term.

David Foster Wallace
http://www.pangeaprogress.com/1/post/...

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