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160 David Foster Wallace Quotes on Life and Freedom

And make sure to read these and .

1. “It’s all very confusing. I think I’m very honest and candid, but I’m also proud of how honest and candid I am—so where does that put me?”

2. “There’s good self-consciousness, and then there’s toxic, paralyzing, raped-by-psychic-Bedouins self-consciousness.”

3. “The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.”

4. “What goes on inside is just too fast and huge and all interconnected for words to do more than barely sketch the outlines of at most one tiny little part of it at any given instant.”

5. “If your fidelity to perfectionism is too high, you never do anything.”

6. “It’s weird to feel like you miss someone you’re not even sure you know.”

7. “True heroism is minutes, hours, weeks, year upon year of the quiet, precise, judicious exercise of probity and care—with no one there to see or cheer. This is the world.”

8. “Some people, from what I’ve seen, ‘Boo,’ when they lie. They become very still and centered and their gaze very concentrated and intense.”

9. “We’re all lonely for something we don’t know we’re lonely for. How else to explain the curious feeling that goes around feeling like missing somebody we’ve never even met?”

10. “Everybody is identical in their secret unspoken belief that way deep down they are different from everyone else.”

11. “ It takes great personal courage to let yourself appear weak.”

12. “You will become way less concerned with what other people think of you when you realize how seldom they do.”

13. “We live today in a world where most of the really important developments in everything from math and physics and astronomy to public policy and psychology and classical music are so extremely abstract and technically complex and context-dependent that it’s next to impossible for the ordinary citizen to feel that they ‘the developments’ have much relevance to her actual life.”

14. “The truth will set you free. But not until it is finished with you.”

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15. “I do things like get in a taxi and say, ‘The library, and step on it.’”

16. “Lonely people tend, rather, to be lonely because they decline to bear the psychic costs of being around other humans. They are allergic to people. People affect them too strongly.”

17. “The job of the first eight pages is not to have the reader want to throw the book at the wall, during the first eight pages.”

18. “To be, in a word, unborable, it is the key to modern life. If you are immune to boredom, there is literally nothing you cannot accomplish.”

19. “You don’t have to think very hard to realize that our dread of both relationships and loneliness has to do with angst about death, the recognition that I’m going to die, and die very much alone, and the rest of the world is going to go merrily on without me.”

20. “They can kill you, but the legalities of eating you are quite a bit dicier.”

21. “Most substance-addicted people are also addicted to thinking, meaning they have a compulsive and unhealthy relationship with their own thinking.”

22. “In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship.”

23. “You are what you love. No? You are, completely and only, what you would die for without, as you say, the thinking twice.”

24. “Everything I’ve ever let go of has claw marks on it.”

25. “Ghosts talk to us all the time—but we think their voices are our own thoughts.”

26. “Ninety-five percent of political commentary, whether spoken or written, is now polluted by the very politics it’s supposed to be about.”

27. “There is an ending to infinite jest, as far as I’m concerned.”

28. “Try to learn to let what is unfair teach you.”

29. “Am I a good person? Deep down, do I even really want to be a good person, or do I only want to seem like a good person so that people ‘including myself’ will approve of me? Is there a difference? How do I ever actually know whether I’m bullshitting myself, morally speaking?”

30. “The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise.” 

31. “People really do judge one another according to their use of language. Constantly.”

32. “I know I never work in whatever gets called an office—e.g., a school office I use only for meeting students and storing books I know I’m not going to read anytime soon.”

33. “It’s not that students don’t get Kafka’s humor but that we’ve taught them to see humor as something you get—the same way we’ve taught them that a self is something you just have.”

34. “There are what I might call your Kamikaze-style . These’ll tell you a surreal and fundamentally incredible lie, and then pretend a crisis of conscience and retract the original lie, and then offer you the like they really want you to buy instead, so the real lie’ll appear as some kind of concession, a settlement with truth.”

35. “My life is unmanageable and I’d like to share it with you.”

36. “Every love story is a ghost story.”

37. “If some people read my fiction and see it as fundamentally about philosophical ideas, what it probably means is that these are pieces where the characters are not as alive and interesting as I meant them to be.”

38. “I’m so scared of dying without ever being really seen. Can you understand?”

39. “Everything takes time. Bees have to move very fast to stay still.”

40. “It’s got something to do with love. With having the discipline to talk out of the part of yourself that can love instead of the part that just wants to be loved.”

41. “You can be shaped, or you can be broken. There is not much in between. Try to learn. Be coachable. Try to learn from everybody, especially those who fail.”

42. “Life’s endless war against the self you cannot live without.”

43. “I’d like to be the sort of person who can enjoy things at the time, instead of having to go back in my head and enjoy them.”

44. “I was trained mainly as a short story writer and that’s how I started writing, but I’ve also become very interested in non-fiction, just because I got a couple of magazine jobs when I was really poor and needed the money and it turned out that non-fiction was much more interesting than I thought it was.”

45. “The fact is that we’re all lonely, of course. Everyone knows this, it’s almost a cliché. So yet another layer of my essential fraudulence is that I pretended to myself that my loneliness was special, that it was uniquely my fault because I was somehow especially fraudulent and hollow.”

46. “You have decided being scared is caused mostly by thinking.”

47. “That loneliness is not a function of solitude.”

48. “How odd I can have all this inside me and to you it’s just words.”

49. “We enter a spiritual puberty where we snap to the fact that the great transcendent horror is loneliness, excluded encagement in the self. Once we’ve hit this age, we will now give or take anything, wear any mask, to fit, be part of, not be alone, we are young.”

50. “The interesting thing is why we’re so desperate for this anesthetic against loneliness.”

51. “You seek to vanquish and transcend the limited self whose limits make the game possible in the first place. It is tragic, sad, chaotic, and lovely. All life is the same, as citizens of the human state—the animating limits are within, to be killed and mourned, over and over again.”

52. “She was terrified of everything, and terrified to show it.”

53. “What passes for hip cynical transcendence of sentiment is really some kind of fear of being really human, since to be really human, is probably to be unavoidably sentimental and naïve and goo-prone and generally pathetic.”

54. “And Lo, for the earth was empty of form, and void. And darkness was all over the face of the deep. And we said, ‘Look at that fucker dance.’”

55. “The parts of me that used to think I was different or smarter or whatever, almost made me die.”

56. “It did what all ads are supposed to do—create an anxiety relievable by purchase.”

57. “That sometimes human beings have to just sit in one place and, like, hurt.”

58. “He doesn’t realize something’s always wrong with everybody. Often more than one thing. He doesn’t know everybody’s always going around all the time with something wrong and believing they’re exerting great willpower and control to keep other people, for whom they think nothing’s ever wrong, from seeing it.”

59. “The depressed person was in terrible and unceasing pain, and the impossibility of sharing or articulating this pain was itself a component of the pain and a contributing factor in its essential horror.”

60. “Logical validity is not a guarantee of truth.”

61. “In reality, there is no such thing as not voting—you either vote by voting, or you vote by staying home and tacitly doubling the value of some diehard’s vote.”

62. “That you do not have to like a person in order to learn from him—her—it.”

63. “Quentin Tarantino is interested in watching somebody’s ear getting cut off—David Lynch is interested in the ear.”

64. “Not having a passport makes me very blast about what appears in foreign periodicals since I know I’ll never see it.”

65. “If you worship money and things—if they are where you tap real meaning in life—then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough.”

66. “Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you.”

67. “Whatever you get paid attention for is never what you think is most important about yourself.”

68. “Sarcasm and jokes were often the bottle in which clinical depressives sent out their most plangent screams for someone to care and help them.”

69. “Acceptance is usually more a matter of fatigue than anything else.”

70. “Like all good ad clichés, it manages to suggest everything and mean nothing.”

71. “Why not? Why not? Why not, not then, if the best reasoning you can contrive is why not?”

72. “The assumption that everyone else is like you. That you are the world. The disease of consumer capitalism. The complacent solipsism.”

73. “If you do something nice for somebody in secret, anonymously, without letting the person you did it for know it was you or anybody else know what it was you did or in any way or form trying to get credit for it, it’s always its own form of intoxicating buzz.”

74. “Talent is sort of a dark gift, that talent is its own expectation—it is there from the start and either lived up to or lost.”

75. “We ignore what’s obvious, that most of this straining is farce. It’s farce because the realities of top-level athletics today require an early and total commitment to one area of excellence. An ascetic focus. A subsumption of almost all other features of human life to one chosen talent and pursuit. A consent to live in a world that, like a child’s world, is very small.”

76. “Morning is the soul’s night.”

77. “If you are bored and disgusted by politics and don’t bother to vote, you are in effect voting for the entrenched establishments of the two major parties, who please rest assured are not dumb, and who are keenly aware that it is in their interests to keep you disgusted and bored and cynical and to give you every possible reason to stay at home doing one-hitters and watching MTV on primary day.”

78. “There are no choices without personal freedom, Buckeroo. It’s not us who are dead inside. These things you find so weak and contemptible in us—these are just the hazards of being free.”

79. “The thing about people who are truly and malignantly crazy—their real genius is for making the people around them think they themselves are crazy. In military science, this is called Psy-Ops, for your info.”

80. “You burn with hunger for food that does not exist.”

81. “I am not what you see and hear.”

82. “The most obvious, ubiquitous, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about.”

83. “Almost nothing important that ever happens to you happens because you engineer it.”

84. “Every time someone I know decides to terminate a , I am required to believe simultaneously that she is doing the wrong thing and that she has every right to do it.”

85. “I have filled three mead notebooks trying to figure out whether it was them or just me.”

86. “What the really great artists do is they’re entirely themselves. They’re entirely themselves, they’ve got their own vision, they have their own way of fracturing reality, and if it’s authentic and true, you will feel it in your nerve endings.”

87. “If you spend enough time reading or writing, you find a voice, but you also find certain tastes.”

88. “Words and a book and a belief that the world is words.”

89. “If what’s always distinguished bad writing—flat characters, a narrative world that’s clichéd and not recognizably human, etc.—is also a description of today’s world, then bad writing becomes an ingenious mimesis of a bad world.”

90. “There are very few innocent sentences in writing.”

91. “I think the only thing for me, the tricky thing with the footnotes, is that they are an irritant, and they require a little extra work, and so they either have to be really germane or they have to be kind of fun to read.”

92. “I don’t think writers are any smarter than other people. I think they may be more compelling in their stupidity, or in their confusion.”

93. “You find certain writers who when they write, it makes your own brain voice like a tuning fork, and you just resonate with them and I sometimes have a hard time understanding how people who don’t have that in their lives make it through the day.”

94. “I like the fans’ sound at night. Do you? It’s like somebody big far away goes like, it’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay—over and over. From very far away.”

David Foster Wallace Quotes About Fiction

95. “Fiction becomes a weird way to countenance yourself and to tell the truth instead of being a way to escape yourself or present yourself in a way you figure you will be maximally likable.”

96. “Fiction’s about what it is to be a fucking human being.”

97. “Good fiction’s job is to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.”

98. “I tend to think of fiction as being mainly about characters and human beings and inner experience, whereas essays can be much more expository and didactic and more about subjects or ideas.”

99. “Fiction is one of the few experiences where loneliness can be both confronted and relieved.”

100. “There are limits to what even interested persons can ask of each other.”

101. “The way I think about things and experience things is not particularly linear, and it’s not orderly, and it’s not pyramidical, and there are a lot of loops.”

102. “That no single, individual moment is in and of itself unendurable.”

103. “This is so American, man—either make something your god and cosmos and then worship it, or else kill it.”

104. “Psychotics—say what you want about them—tend to make the first move.”

105. “Truly decent, innocent people can be taxing to be around.”

106. “Where the State is not a team or a code, but a sort of sloppy intersection of desires and fears, where the only public consensus a boy must surrender to is the acknowledged primacy of straight-line pursuing this flat and short-sighted idea of personal happiness.” 

107. “The sun is like a sneaky keyhole view of hell.”

108. “That everything is on fire, slow fire, and we’re all less than a million breaths away from an oblivion more total than we can even bring ourselves to even try to imagine.”

109. “I never, even for a moment, doubted what they’d told me. This is why it is that adults and even parents can, unwittingly, be cruel—they cannot imagine doubt’s complete absence. They have forgotten.”

110. “Look. Listen. Use ears I’d be proud to call our own. Listen to the silence behind the engines’ noise. Jesus, Sweets, listen. Hear it? It’s a love song. For whom? You are loved.”

111. “American experience seems to suggest that people are virtually unlimited in their need to give themselves away, on various levels. Some just prefer to do it in secret.” 

112. “That other people can often see things about you that you yourself cannot see, even if those people are stupid.”

113. “Tell them there are no holes for your fingers in the masks of men. Tell them how could you ever even hope to love what you can’t grab onto.”

114. “The true thoughts that go on inside us are just too fast and huge and all interconnected for words to do more than barely sketch the outlines of, at most, one tiny little part of us at any given instant.”

115. “God seems to have a kind of laid-back management style I’m not crazy about.”

116. “Mediocrity is contextual.”

117. “To make someone an icon is to make him an abstraction, and abstractions are incapable of vital communication with living people.”

118. “You get someone who stays up all night torturing himself mentally over the question of whether or not there’s a dog.”

119. “He suddenly felt nothing, or rather nothing, a pre-tornadic stillness of zero sensation, as if he were the very space he occupied.”

120. “Is it all right to boil a sentient creature alive just for our gustatory pleasure?”

121. “There are secrets within secrets, though—always.”

122. “I wish you way more than luck.”

123. “It is named the ‘Web’ for good reason.”

124. “To experience commitment as the loss of options, a type of death, the death of childhood’s limitless possibility, of the flattery of choice without duress—this will happen, mark me. Childhood’s end.”

125. “Please learn the pragmatics of expressing fear—sometimes words that seem to express really invoke. This can be tricky.”

126. “When a solipsist dies, everything goes with him.”

127. “That what appears to be egoism so often isn’t.”

128. “Genuine pathological openness is about as seductive as Tourette’s Syndrome.”

129. “The severing of an established connection is exponentially more painful than the of an attempted connection.”

130. “And although I played along with him for a while so as not to prick his bubble, inside I felt pretty bleak indeed, because now I knew that he was going to be just as pliable and credulous as everyone else, he didn’t appear to have anything close to the firepower I’d need to give me any hope of getting helped out of the trap of fraudulence and unhappiness I’d constructed for myself.”

131. “I had kind of a midlife crisis at 20, which probably doesn’t augur well for my longevity.”

132. “I’d tell you all you want and more, if the sounds I made could be what you hear.”

133. “The integrity of my sleep has been forever compromised, sir.”

134. “My bones are ringing the way sometimes people say their ears are ringing, I’m so tired.”

135. “The familiar panic at feeling misperceived is rising, and my chest bumps and thuds. I expend energy on remaining utterly silent in my chair, empty, my eyes two great pale zeros. People have promised to get me through this.”

136. “There is no hatred in my love for you, only sadness. I feel all the more strongly for my inability to explain or describe it.”

137. “I don’t want to hurt myself. I want to stop hurting.”

138. “Everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute center of the universe, the realest, most vivid and important person in existence.”

139. “I’m screaming for help and everybody’s acting as if I’m singing Ethel Merman covers.”

140. “I am concentrating docility on the question of why U.S. restrooms always appear to us as infirmaries for public distress, the place to regain control.”

141. “My personal belief is that because technology and economic logic have gotten so sophisticated, cruelties can be perpetrated now that would have been unimaginable two or three hundred years ago.”

142. “Yes, I’m paranoid—but am I paranoid enough?”

143. “I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea.”

144. “And I like how the guru of the towel dispenser doesn’t laugh at them or even shake his head sagely on its big brown neck. He just smiles, hiding his tongue. He’s like a baby. Everything he sees hits him and sinks without bubbles. He just sits there. I want to be like that. Able to just sit all quiet and pull life towards me, one forehead at a time.”

145. “He said she went around with her feelings out in front of her with an arm around the feelings’ windpipe and a glock 9mm to the feelings’ temple like a terrorist with a hostage, daring you to shoot.”

146. “Almost always gotten on impulse, tattoos are vividly, chillingly permanent.”

147. “Hell hath no fury like a coolly received postmodernist.”

148. “And he wishes, in the cold quiet of his archer’s heart, that he himself could feel the intensity of their reconciliations as strongly as he feels that of their battles.”

149. “That it is statistically easier for low-IQ people to kick an addiction than it is for high-IQ people. That boring activities become, perversely, much less boring if you concentrate intently on them.”

150. “Not that that mystical stuff’s necessarily true. The only thing that’s capital—T, true, is that you get to decide how you’re going to try to see it.”

151. “I’m just afraid of having a tombstone that says here lies a promising old man.” 

152. “The soul’s certainty that the day will have to be not traversed but sort of climbed, vertically, and then that going to sleep again at the end of it will be like falling, again, off something tall and sheer.”

153. “She committed suicide by putting her extremities down the garbage disposal—first one arm and then, kind of miraculously if you think about it, the other arm.”

154. “This is water.”

155. “My worst character flaw that I’m conscious of is that I tend to think my way into circles instead of resolving anything. It’s paralyzing and boring for people around me.”

156. “She took a sort of abject pride in her mercilessness toward herself.”

157. “Most really pretty girls have pretty ugly feet, and so does Mindy Metalman, Lenore notices, all of a sudden.”

158. “The quiet has a kind of menace. The whole cubular building seems to Hal to hold the tensed menace of a living thing that’s chosen to hold itself still.”

159. “I’m a typical American, half of me is dying to give myself away and the other half is continually rebelling.”

160. “Destiny has no beeper—destiny always leans trenchcoated out of an alley with some sort of ‘psst’ that you usually can’t even hear because you’re in such a rush to or from something important you’ve tried to engineer.”

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