The late David Foster Wallace on the liberal arts

The following is a section from The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction, by Alan Jacobs, pg. 85:

“The late David Foster Wallace explained why [shutting out distractions is important], in the commencement address he delivered at Kenyon College in 2005. This address has become famous and widely quoted in the aftermath of Wallace’s suicide in 2008, in part because for some people Wallace’s inability to conquer his own demons yields a certain frisson to the earnestness and passion of his advice to graduates. But it’s a great address, made all the more moving by our retrospective awareness of just how hard-earned its wisdom was. For our purposes, this is the key passage:

‘Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts clichĂ© about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.’ “

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