Geoff Ruddock

Abridged: David Foster Wallace's “This Is Water”

This is Water is a 22-minute commencement speech given by David Foster Wallace at Kenyon College in 2015 which was later adapted into a short book. It is difficult to overstate how powerful it is. Even after listening to this speech countless times, it never fails to send a shiver down my spine.

If you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won’t consider possibilities that aren’t annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.

I originally discovered the speech through an article on Farnam Street, which includes audio and a full text transcript of the speech. The original version is a bit long though. It also includes some parts tailored to the graduating class which I find subtract from the overall power of the primary message. I found this abridged transcript from James Clear, which is better, but only includes an abridged transcript, not an abridged version of the audio itself.

In the interest of periodically forcing myself out of this default mode of thinking, I created a recurring calendar event to re-listen to the speech every sixth months. The transcript is good, but it doesn’t quite “click” as well as when I listen to the audio version, delivered by DFW himself. So I pulled the original audio into Audacity and edited it to roughly match the abridged transcript. You can download this abridged audio version here.

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