Wise Words From a Wise Man

Ever heard of David Foster Wallace?

He was a smart dude. He graduated double summa cum laude from Amherst College with a senior thesis on the philosophy of free will (or an argument thereof) and a creative work that would become his first novel The Broom of the System. He would go on to write essays, short stories, speeches and novels, the most famous of which may well be his colossal volume Infinite Jest.

But it wasn’t only his accolades and  accomplishments that made Wallace grade A smart: he knew people. He knew their experiences and was eminently aware of what was going on in the world around him, perhaps to a fault.

Here are some words from a short story of his called “Mister Squishy” from his 2004 collection Oblivion: Stories. I find them (i.e. the words) philosophically and theologically rich, and also touchingly personal. Give them a gander. You can figure out the rest.

Cum Caritate,


“At various intervals throughout the pre-GRDS presentation the limbic portions of Schmidt’s brain pursued this line of thinking—while in fact a whole other part of his mind surveyed these memories and fantasies and was simultaneously fascinated and repelled at the way in which all these thoughts and feelings could be entertained in total subjective private while Schmidt ran the focus group through its brief and supposedly Full-Access description of Mister Squishy’s place in the soft-confection industry and some of the travails of developing and marketing what these men were experiencing as Felonies! (referring offhandedly to nascent plans for bite-sized misdemeanors! [sic] if the original product established a foothold), at least half the room’s men listening with what’s called half an ear while pursuing their own private lines of thought, and Schmidt had a quick vision of them all in the conference room as icebergs and/or floes, only the sharp caps showing, unknown and –knowable to one another, and he imagined that it was probably only in marriage (and a good marriage, not the decorous dance of loneliness he’d watched his mother and father do for seventeen years but rather true conjugal intimacy) that partners allowed each other to see below the berg’s cap’s public mask and consented to be truly known, maybe even to the extent of not only letting the partner see the repulsive nest of moles under the left arm or the way any sort of cold or viral infection the toenails on both feet turned a weird deep yellow for several weeks but even perhaps every once in a while sobbing in each other’s arms late at night and pouring out the most ghastly private fears and thoughts of failure and impotence and terrible and thoroughgoing smallness within a grinding professional machine you can’t believe you once had the temerity to think you could change or make a difference or ever be more than a tiny faceless cog in, the shame of the industry that you’d fantasized over and over about finally deciding to make a difference with a hypo and eight cc’s of castor bean distillate was better, was somehow more true to your own inner centrality and importance, than being nothing but a faceless cog and doing a job untold thousands of other bright young men and women could do at least as well as you, or rather now even better than you because at least the younger among them still believed  deep inside that they were made for something larger and more central and relevant than shepherding preoccupied men through an abstracted sham-caucus and yet at the same time still believed that they could (=the bright young men could) begin to manifest their larger potential for impact and effectiveness by being the very best darn Targeted Forum Group facilitator that Team Δy and R.S.B. had ever seen. . . . Or maybe that even the mere possibility of expressing any of this childish heartbreak to someone else seemed impossible except in the context  of the mystery of true marriage, meaning not just a ceremony and financial merger but a true communion of souls, and Schmidt now lately felt he was coming to understand why the Church all through his childhood catechism and pre-Con referred to it as the Holy Sacrament of Marriage, for it seemed every bit as miraculous and trans-rational and remote from the possibilities of actual lived life as the crucifixion and resurrection and transubstantiation did, which is to say it appeared not as a goal to expect ever to really reach or achieve but as a kind of navigational star, as in in the sky, something high and untouchable and miraculously beautiful in the sort of distant way that reminded you always of how ordinary and unbeautiful and incapable of miracles you your own self were, which was another reason why Schmidt had stopped looking at the sky or going out at night or even usually ever opening the lightproof curtains of his condominium’s picture window when he got home at night and instead sat with his satellite TV’s channel-changer in his left hand switching rapidly from channel to channel out of fear that something better was going to come on suddenly. . .” (31-33).


One thought on “Wise Words From a Wise Man

  1. Pingback: Contagious Caritas | Literary and Theology: David Foster Wallace and Christianity from Without

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