This Is Water Book Summary - This Is Water Book explained in key points

This Is Water summary

David Foster Wallace

Brief summary

This Is Water by David Foster Wallace is a commencement speech that challenges us to see the world with empathy and choose meaningful values, bringing awareness to our default selfishness and the importance of conscious living.

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Table of Contents

    This Is Water
    Summary of key ideas

    Unconsciousness and Daily Life

    In This Is Water, David Foster Wallace opens by illustrating the unconscious routines we follow in our daily lives. Using a parable of two young fish who are oblivious to the water they're swimming in, Wallace draws attention to the essential aspects of life we tend to overlook. The book nudges us to realize our automatic, unconscious way of living and the limiting perspectives we lock ourselves into. Through this metaphor, he pushes us to understand the significant yet unseen realities that exist beyond our plain sight.

    Wallace presents a bleak picture of a typical day, to highlight how easily we can become victims of monotony and unconscious living. He highlights moments when we're trapped in frustrating routines like long supermarket queues or congested traffic, to propose that these instances are, in fact, our lives themselves, not mere obstructions to it. Our non-consideration of these moments can lead to an unfulfilled existence.

    Education and Awareness

    Introducing the concept of liberal arts education as an essential tool in life, Wallace shifts his focus to the importance of thinking. In This Is Water, Wallace argues that the true value of education lies in its ability to shake us out of our default settings, awaken us from an unconscious existence and fine-tune our basic cognitive skills. Thus, education helps us choose what to pay attention to and how to construct meaning from experience.

    Wallace stresses that this form of education doesn't involve absorbing facts or receiving a well-paying job. It's about consciousness, awareness, and learning to exercise control over how and what we think. This way, we become flexible and open enough to choose how we see others, our surroundings, and ultimately, how we make sense of life.

    Living Compassionately

    The next theme in This Is Water is compassion. Wallace insists on the conscious decision to reject self-centered thoughts and to extend empathy toward others as essential life skills. To fully exercise our freedom, we must learn to put ourselves in other people's shoes, understand their struggles and offer kindness, even in seemingly insignificant circumstances. Wallace suggests that this choice lies at the heart of our existence and signifies our capacity to live meaningful and fulfilled lives.

    Wallace argues that while default settings make us slaves of our own ego, causing us to measure the world around us through the lens of self, resisting these settings and choosing empathy can free us from the confinement of our own desires. This shift in perspective changes how we experience life, bringing richer and more meaningful experiences.

    The Struggle for Conscious Living

    Wrapping up his discourse, Wallace mentions that the day-to-day trenches of adult life can be monotonous and hard. However, he emphasizes that choosing how we conceptualize, amidst the repetitive and often boring routines, is what matters. It's about being fully conscious of what's happening around us and choosing to give it positive meaning.

    In conclusion, This Is Water presents itself as a call for mindful living. While acknowledging that leading a conscious and compassionate life is strenuous and offers no tangible rewards, Wallace suggests that the alternative ‒ an unconscious life driven by self-centered thoughts ‒ is infinitely worse. The book challenges us to acknowledge the water we swim in and, more importantly, teaches us the significance of choosing how we perceive and respond to it.

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    What is This Is Water about?

    This Is Water by David Foster Wallace is a collection of commencement speeches that encourage readers to question their default perspectives and consider the true nature of reality. Wallace focuses on the importance of awareness, empathy, and conscious choice-making in order to find meaning and fulfillment in everyday life. He urges readers to cultivate a mindset that is open, compassionate, and aware of the interconnectedness of humanity.

    Who should read This Is Water?

    • People seeking a fresh perspective on everyday experiences and challenges
    • Individuals looking to improve their awareness and mindset
    • Anyone interested in philosophical exploration and self-reflection

    About the Author

    David Foster Wallace was an American author known for his clever and thought-provoking writing. He gained recognition for his collection of essays, Consider the Lobster, as well as his novels, including Infinite Jest and The Pale King. Wallace's distinctive style and exploration of contemporary themes made him a prominent figure in the literary world. Regrettably, Wallace tragically took his own life in 2008, leaving behind a remarkable body of work that continues to resonate with readers today.

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