Getting out of Our Comfort Zone: David Foster Wallace’s “The Depressed Person” and “This Is Water”
David Foster Wallace is important (I am sorry to be that guy) but who has time for a 1,200 page novel that actively tries to not be enjoyable? Join me as we experience the most grim and darkly funny short story I have ever seen and an uplifting commencement address, and think about art that stretches our capacity for empathy, sometimes quite painfully.
“This is Water” — This essay covers subjects including “the difficulty of empathy,” “the importance of being well adjusted,” and “the essential lonesomeness of adult life.” Additionally, Wallace’s speech suggests that the overall purpose of higher education is to be able to consciously choose how to perceive others, think about meaning, and act appropriately in everyday life. He argues that the true freedom acquired through education is the ability to be adjusted, conscious, and sympathetic.
“The Depressed Person” — This story ran in Harper’s back in 1998 and most Wallace aficionados are familiar with it. It follows a depressed person who remains nameless throughout. The first sentence gives you a pretty good idea of the whole thing’s tone: “The depressed person was in terrible and unceasing emotional pain, and the impossibility of sharing or articulating this pain was itself a component of the pain and a contributing factor in its essential horror.”