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DFW Questions: 1. What is the purpose of the anecdote with which David Foster Wallace opens the speech? What is the effect of his to the line “This is water” again near the end of the speech and repeating it there? 2. What does Wallace mean when he refers to the “natural, hard-wired default- setting” of himself and other (para 3)? To what extent do you think that most of us are “deeply and literally self-centered”? 3. Wallace points out that the phrase “being ‘well-adjusted’…is not an accidental term” (para 4); in the next sentence he refers to “this work of adjusting our default-setting” (para 5). Reflect on the word adjust, its denotations and connotations. Why does Wallace emphasize the deliberate choice of this word? 4. What does Wallace mean in the following sentences: “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” (para 5)? What view of “thinking” does he seem to be arguing against? 5. What effect does Wallace achieve by using the hypothetical narrative of “an average day” in paragraphs 7-11? 6. Examine the syntax in one or two paragraphs of this piece. In paragraph 7, for instance, how does the form of the sentence beginning “It’s the end of the work day” reinforce its content? 7. Throughout the speech, Wallace emphasizes that he is not offering “banal platitude(s)” (para 2) or “moral advice” (para 12). Why? What is he concerned about avoiding? 8. Wallace contends that once we have “really learned how to think, how to pay attention,” then “it will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, loud, slow, consumer-hell-type situation as not only meaningful but sacred, on fire with the same force that lit the stars – compassion, love, the sub-surface unity of all things” (para 12). What is the casual link between attention and experience that he is asserting? 9. In paragraphs 13 and 14, Wallace discusses the concept of worship, claiming, “There is no such thing as not worshipping.” Do you agree? Do you think that he risked offending members of his audience in his use of worship to mean something other than traditional religions? Why or why not? 10. How does he make the transition from the concept and forms of worship to his definition of “real freedom” (para 14)? What is the connection? 11. In paragraph 14, Wallace asserts, “That is real freedom.” How does he define “real freedom” in this speech? To what extent – and why – do you agree with him? 12. Throughout this speech, Wallace shifts between sophisticated, formal diction and colloquial language. Find examples of the latter, and discuss how appropriate and effective you think they are within the context of this speech. 13. Throughout this speech, Wallace builds a tension between two ways of being/living in the world. What are they? How does he explain and illustrate each to build his argument for the superiority of one over the other? 14. According to one researcher, a commencement speech has four major characteristics: it acknowledges the graduates, creates an identification between the graduates and the speaker, presents the world and its challenges, and instills hope. To what extent does this speech embody these characteristics? Cite specific passages to support and illustrate your response. 15. If someone asked you what this speech is about, how would you answer in under 10 words? Explain your response.
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