Quotes from Oblivion

David Foster Wallace ·  329 pages

Rating: (10.6K votes)


“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.”
― David Foster Wallace, quote from Oblivion


“The truth is you already know what it's like. You already know the difference between the size and speed of everything that flashes through you and the tiny inadequate bit of it all you can ever let anyone know. As though inside you is this enormous room full of what seems like everything in the whole universe at one time or another and yet the only parts that get out have to somehow squeeze out through one of those tiny keyholes you see under the knob in older doors. As if we are all trying to see each other through these tiny keyholes.

But it does have a knob, the door can open. But not in the way you think...The truth is you've already heard this. That this is what it's like. That it's what makes room for the universes inside you, all the endless inbent fractals of connection and symphonies of different voices, the infinities you can never show another soul. And you think it makes you a fraud, the tiny fraction anyone else ever sees? Of course you're a fraud, of course what people see is never you. And of course you know this, and of course you try to manage what part they see if you know it's only a part. Who wouldn't? It's called free will, Sherlock. But at the same time it's why it feels so good to break down and cry in front of others, or to laugh, or speak in tongues, or chant in Bengali--it's not English anymore, it's not getting squeezed through any hole.

So cry all you want, I won't tell anybody.”
― David Foster Wallace, quote from Oblivion


“What teachers and the administration in that era never seemed to see was that the mental work of what they called daydreaming often required more effort and concentration than it would have taken simply to listen in class. Laziness is not the issue. It is just not the work dictated by the administration.”
― David Foster Wallace, quote from Oblivion


“The fraudulence paradox was that the more time and effort you put into trying to appear impressive or attractive to other people, the less impressive or attractive you felt inside -- you were a fraud. And the more of a fraud you felt like, the harder you tried to convey an impressive or likable image of yourself so that other people wouldn't find out what a hollow, fraudulent person you really were.”
― David Foster Wallace, quote from Oblivion


“The paradoxical intercourse of audience and celebrity.The suppressed awareness that the whole reason ordinary people found celebrity fascinating was that they were not, themselves, celebrities. That wasn't quite it. (....) It was more the deeper, more tragic and universal conflict of which the celebrity paradox was a part. The conflict between the subjective centrality of our own lives versus our awareness of its objective insignificance. Atwater knew - as did everyone at Style, though by some strange unspoken consensus it was never said aloud - that this was the single great informing conflict of the American psyche. The management of insignificance. It was the great syncretic bond of US monoculture. It was everywhere, at the root of everything - of impatience in long lines, of cheating on taxes, of movements in fashion and music and art, of marketing. In particular, he thought it was alive in the paradoxes of audience. It was the feeling that celebrities were your intimate friends, coupled with the inchoate awareness that that untold millions of people felt the same way - and that the celebrities themselves did not. Atwater had had contact with a certain number of celebrities (there was no way to avoid it at BSG), and they were not, in his experience, very friendly or considerate people. Which made sense when one considered that celebrities were not actually functioning as real people at all, but as something more like symbols of themselves.”
― David Foster Wallace, quote from Oblivion



“It is a fact of life that certain people are corrosive to others' self esteem simply as a function of who and what they are.”
― David Foster Wallace, quote from Oblivion


“If I understand you right,' he says, 'you're saying that you're basically a calculating manipulative person who always says what you think will get somebody to approve of you or form some impression of you you think you want.' I told him that was maybe a little simplistic but basically accurate, and he said further that as he understood it I was saying that I felt as if I was trapped in this false way of being and unable ever to be really open and tell the truth irregardless of whether it'd make me look good in others' eyes or not. And I somewhat resignedly said yes, and that I seemed always to have had this fraudulent, calculating part of my brain firing way all the time, as if I were constantly playing chess with everybody and figuring out that if I wanted them to move a certain way I had to move in such a way as to induce them to move that way. He asked if I ever played chess, and I told him I used to in middle school but quit because I couldn't be as good as I eventually wanted to be, how frustrating it was to get just good enough to know what getting really good at it would be like but not being able to get that good, etc.”
― David Foster Wallace, quote from Oblivion


“Even as I wrote my note to Fern, for instance, expressing sentiments and regrets that were real, a part of me was noticing what a fine and sincere note it was, and anticipating the effect on Fern of this or that heartfelt phrase, while yet another part was observing the whole scene of a man in a dress shirt and no tie sitting at his breakfast nook writing a heartfelt note on his last afternoon alive, the blondwood table's surface trembling with sunlight and the man's hand steady and face both haunted by regret and ennobled by resolve, this part of me sort of hovering above and just to the left of myself, evaluating the scene, and thinking what a fine and genuine-seeming performance in a drama it would make if only we all had not already been subject to countless scenes just like it in dramas ever since we first saw a movie or read a book, which somehow entailed that real scenes like the one of my suicide note were now compelling and genuine only to their participants, and to anyone else would come off as banal and even somewhat cheesy or maudlin, which is somewhat paradoxical when you consider – as I did, setting there at the breakfast nook – that the reason scenes like this will seem stale or manipulative to an audience is that we’ve already seen so many of them in dramas, and yet the reason we’ve seen so many of them in dramas is that the scenes really are dramatic and compelling and let people communicate very deep, complicated emotional realities that are almost impossible to articulate in any other way, and at the same time still another facet or part of me realizing that from this perspective my own basic problem was that at an early age I’d somehow chosen to cast my lot with my life’s drama’s supposed audience instead of with the drama itself, and that I even now was watching and gauging my supposed performance’s quality and probable effects, and thus was in the final analysis the very same manipulative fraud writing the note to Fern that I had been throughout the life that had brought me to this climactic scene of writing and signing it and addressing the envelope and affixing postage and putting the envelope in my shirt pocket (totally conscious of the resonance of its resting there, next to my heart, in the scene), planning to drop it in a mailbox on the way out to Lily Cache Rd. and the bridge abutment into which I planned to drive my car at speeds sufficient to displace the whole front end and impale me on the steering wheel and instantly kill me. Self-loathing is not the same thing as being into pain or a lingering death, if I was going to do it I wanted it instant’ (175-176)”
― David Foster Wallace, quote from Oblivion


“(..)-Dr. G. would later say that the whole "my whole life flashed before me" phenomenon at the end is more like being a whitecap on the suface of the ocean, meaning that it's only at the moment you subside and start sliding back in that you're really even aware there's an ocean at all. When you're up and out there as a whitecap you might talk and act as if you know you're just a whitecap on the ocean, but deep down you don't think there's really an ocean at all. It's almost impossible to. Or like a leaf that doesn't believe in the tree it's part of, etc. There are all sorts of ways to try to express it.”
― David Foster Wallace, quote from Oblivion


“The reality is that dying isn’t bad, but it takes forever. And that forever is no time at all. I know that sounds like a contradiction, or maybe just wordplay. What it really is, it turns out, is a matter of perspective.
—David Foster Wallace “Good Old Neon” (2004)”
― David Foster Wallace, quote from Oblivion



“I balked at trying antidepressants, I just couldn't see myself taking pills to try to be less of a fraud.”
― David Foster Wallace, quote from Oblivion


“Atwater knew — as did everyone at Style, though by some strange unspoken consensus it was never said aloud — that this was the single great informing conflict of the American psyche. The management of insignificance. It was the great syncretic bond of US monoculture.”
― David Foster Wallace, quote from Oblivion


“-when he thinks of the starry-eyed puerility and narcissism of these fantasies now, a rough decade later, Schmidt experiences a kind of full-framed internal wince, that type of embarrassment-before-self that makes our most mortifying memories objects of fascination and repulsion at once, though in Terry Schmidt's case a certain amount of introspection and psychotherapy had enabled him to understand that his professional fantasies were not in the main all that unique, that a large percentage I bright young men and women locate the impetus behind their career choice in the belief that they are fundamentally different from the common run of man, unique and in certain crucial ways superior, more as it were central, meaningful--what else could explain the fact that they can and will make a difference in their chosen field simply by the fact that thy themselves have been at the exact center of all they've experienced for the whole 20 years of their conscious lives?”
― David Foster Wallace, quote from Oblivion


“The almost-35-year-old Terry Schmidt had very nearly nothing left anymore of the delusion that he differed from the great herd of the common run of men, not even in his despair at not making a difference or in the great hunger to have an impact that in his late twenties he'd clung to as evidence that even though he was emerging as sort of a failure the grand ambitions against which he judged himself a failure were somehow exceptional and superior to the common run's - not anymore, since now even the phrase Make A Difference had become a platitude so familiar that it was used as the mnemonic tag in low-budget Ad Council PSAs for Big Brothers/Big Sisters and the United Way, which used Make a Difference in a Child's Life and Making a Difference in Your Community respectively, with B.B./B.S. even acquiring the telephonic equivalent of DIF-FER-ENCE to serve as their Volunteer Hotline number in the metro area.”
― David Foster Wallace, quote from Oblivion


“I don't think he was used to patients who were already aware of what their real problem was. He was also a bit of a pill-pusher. I balked at trying antidepressants, I just couldn't see myself taking pills to try to be less of a fraud. I said that even if they worked, how would I know if it was me or the pills? By that time I already knew I was a fraud. I knew what my problem was, I just couldn't seem to stop. I remember I spent maybe the first twenty times or so in analysis acting all open and candid but in reality sort of fencing with him or leading him around by the nose, basically showing him that I wasn't just another one of those patients who stumbled in with no clue what their real problem was or who were totally out of touch with the truth themselves.”
― David Foster Wallace, quote from Oblivion



“The fraud part of me was always there, just as a puzzle piece, objectively speaking, is a true piece of the puzzle even before you see how it fits.”
― David Foster Wallace, quote from Oblivion


“...a thing among things, its self's soul so much vapor aloft, falling as rain and then rising, the sun up and down like a yoyo.”
― David Foster Wallace, quote from Oblivion


“...this was depressing, much the way discovering that somebody is easy to manipulate is always a little depressing.”
― David Foster Wallace, quote from Oblivion


“It's not that words or human language stop having any meaning or relevance after you die, by the way.”
― David Foster Wallace, quote from Oblivion


“She smelled of talcum powder and Big Red.”
― David Foster Wallace, quote from Oblivion



“The great myth is that the bad ones don't last long.”
― David Foster Wallace, quote from Oblivion


“It is a fact of life that certain people are corrosive to others’ self esteem simply as a function of who and what they are. The”
― David Foster Wallace, quote from Oblivion


“The truth is you've already heard this. That this is what it's like. That it's what makes room for the universes inside you, all the endless inbent fractals of connection and symphonies of different voices, the infinities you can never show another soul. And you think it makes you a fraud, the tiny fraction anyone else ever sees? Of course you're a fraud, of course what people see is never you. And of course you know this, and of course you try to manage what part they see if you know it's only a part. Who wouldn't? It's called free will, Sherlock. But at the same time it's why it feels so good to break down and cry in front of others, or to laugh, or speak in tongues, or chant in Bengali--it's not English anymore, it's not getting squeezed through any hole.”
― David Foster Wallace, quote from Oblivion


“Right from the start, what I liked best about the analyst was that his office was a mess.”
― David Foster Wallace, quote from Oblivion


“Benadryl makes me extremely foggy and sleepy, it always has.”
― David Foster Wallace, quote from Oblivion



“The German logician Kant was right in this respect, human beings are all pretty much identical in terms of our hardwiring. Although we are seldom conscious of it, we are all basically just instruments or expressions of our evolkutiuonary drives, which are themselves the expressions of forces that are infinitely larger and more important than we are.”
― David Foster Wallace, quote from Oblivion


“...and David Wallace blinks in the midst of idly scanning class photos from his 1980 Aurora West H.S. yearbook and seeing my photo and trying, through the tiny little keyhole of himself, to imagine what all must have happened to lead up to my death in the fiery single-car accident he'd read about in 1991...”
― David Foster Wallace, quote from Oblivion


“The executive intern responded: 'Do we all really value a painting more than a photograph anymore?”
― David Foster Wallace, quote from Oblivion


About the author

David Foster Wallace
Born place: in Ithaca, New York, The United States
Born date February 21, 1962
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