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See The Short Film Made From David Foster Wallace's Unforgettable "This Is Water" Speech

In 2005, author David Foster Wallace delivered the commencement speech for Kenyon College, a stirring oratory that went on to be published as a short book. Now, it’s been adapted into a 9-minute film.

If you haven’t yet read David Foster Wallace’s singularly life-affirming 2005 commencement speech at Kenyon College, you’ve been missing out on a true gem. On the bright side, you’re also in for a treat as the speech has now been adapted into an elegant 9-minute film.

Created by video production house, The Glossary, the dearly departed author’s speech, which has since been published as This Is Water, plays throughout the video, with visual interpretation. The title comes from the zen koan Wallace opens the speech with:

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?'"

In the video, this part is accompanied by images of swimming goldfish, but afterwards we move on to the young humans for whom the speech was intended. Basically, it’s a call to present-mindedness, with Wallace urging the graduating class--and all of us, really--to stop and appreciate life as it’s happening and to be aware of the choices we make about all of life’s moments, not just the "important" ones. The video accents the point with surreal touches like the grocery store signs that show which foods are in each aisle unfurling to reveal the names of the days and the months, as they threaten to fly by with too little fanfare.

If all that sounds a little trite, don’t think Wallace isn’t aware. In his hands, though, what might have seemed trite becomes both new and profound. The speech isn’t just about smelling the roses--it’s about how to do so, why it’s important, and what those roses are in relation to you. The amazing thing, given how much our technology and our attention spans have changed in the eight years since this speech was first delivered, is how it seems more relevant today than ever.

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4 Comments

  • Marty Schubert

    Good speech, good video. I guess I'd feel a lot better about the whole thing if its speaker didn't hang himself three years later.

  • Jeff

    I choose to look at it from his point of view.  I think he experienced more than most of us the depressing monotony every day.

    You can't believe everything you read on Wikipedia, but I choose to believe this:Wallace committed suicide by hanging himself on September 12, 2008. In an interview with The New York Times, Wallace's father reported that Wallace had suffered from depression for more than 20 years and that antidepressant medication had allowed him to be productive. When he experienced severe side effects from the medication, Wallace attempted to wean himself from his primary antidepressant, phenelzine. On his doctor's advice, Wallace stopped taking the medication in June 2007, and the depression returned. Wallace received other treatments, including electroconvulsive therapy. When he returned to phenelzine, he found it had lost its effectiveness. In the months before his death, his depression became severe.