86+ Best David Foster Wallace Quotes

David Foster Wallace was an American writer and university professor in the disciplines of English and creative writing. His novel Infinite Jest was listed by Time magazine as one of the 100 best English-language novels published between 1923 and 2005. Profoundly inspirational David Foster Wallace quotes will challenge the way you think, and help guide you through any life experience.

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Famous David Foster Wallace Quotes

No single, individual moment is in and of itself unendurable. – David Foster Wallace

In this country we’re unprecedentedly safe, comfortable, and well fed, with more and better venues for stimulation. And yet if you were asked, ‘Is this a happy or unhappy country?’ you’d check the ‘unhappy’ box. We’re living in an era of emotional poverty, which is something that serious drug addicts feel most keenly. – David Foster Wallace

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. – David Foster Wallace

Do not underestimate objects. – David Foster Wallace

It seems important to find ways of reminding ourselves that most familiarity is meditated and delusive. – David Foster Wallace

The truth will set you free. But not until it is finished with you. – David Foster Wallace

It takes great personal courage to let yourself appear weak. – David Foster Wallace

Progressive liberals seem incapable of stating the obvious truth: that we who are well off should be willing to share more of what we have with poor people not for the poor people’s sake but for our own; i.e., we should share what we have in order to become less narrow and frightened and lonely and self-centered people. – David Foster Wallace

Some words have to be explicitly uttered, Lenore. Only by actually uttering certain words does one really DO what one SAYS. ‘Love’ is one of those words, performative words. Some words can literally make things real. – David Foster Wallace

I do things like get in a taxi and say, The library, and step on it. – David Foster Wallace

Whatever you get paid attention for is never what you think is most important about yourself. – David Foster Wallace

The entire ball game, in terms of both the exam and life, was what you gave attention to vs. what you willed yourself to not. – David Foster Wallace

Most really pretty girls have pretty ugly feet, and so does Mindy Metalman, Lenore notices, all of a sudden. – David Foster Wallace

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. – David Foster Wallace

And meteorologists have nothing to tell people in Philo, who know perfectly well that the real story is that to the west, between us and the Rockies, there is basically nothing tall, and that weird zephyrs and stirs joined breezes and gusts and thermals and downdrafts and whatever out over Nebraska and Kansas and moved like streams into rivers and jets at and military fronts that gathered like avalanches and roared in reverse down pioneer oxtrails, toward our own personal unsheltered asses. – David Foster Wallace

Fiction is one of the few experiences where loneliness can be both confronted and relieved. Drugs, movies where stuff blows up, loud parties – all these chase away loneliness by making me forget my name’s Dave and I live in a one-by-one box of bone no other party can penetrate or know. Fiction, poetry, music, really deep serious sex, and, in various ways, religion – these are the places (for me) where loneliness is countenanced, stared down, transfigured, treated. – David Foster Wallace

The key is the ability, whether innate or conditioned, to find the other side of the rote, the picayune, the meaningless, the repetitive, the pointlessly complex. 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. – David Foster Wallace

Good literature makes your head throb heartlike. – David Foster Wallace

There are very few innocent sentences in writing. – David Foster Wallace

Genuine pathological openness is about as seductive as Tourette’s Syndrome. – David Foster Wallace

It can become an exercise in trying to get the reader to like and admire you instead of an exercise in creative art. – David Foster Wallace

Acceptance is usually more a matter of fatigue than anything else. – David Foster Wallace

The man who knows his limitations, has none. – David Foster Wallace

But if you’ve really learned how to think, how to pay attention, then you will know you have other options. It will 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. – David Foster Wallace

In the broadest possible sense, writing well means to communicate clearly and interestingly and in a way that feels alive to the reader. Where there’s some kind of relationship between the writer and the reader – even though it’s mediated by a kind of text – there’s an electricity about it. – David Foster Wallace

Of course, the fact that Dostoevsky can tell a juicy story isn’t enough to make him great. If it were, Judith Krantz and John Grisham would be great fiction writers, and by any but the most commercial standards they’re not even very good. – David Foster Wallace

You have wondered, perhaps, why all real accountants wear hats? They are today’s cowboys. As will you be. Riding the American range. Riding herd on the unending torrent of financial data. The eddies, cataracts, arranged variations, fractious minutiae. You order the data, shepherd it, direct its flow, lead it where it’s needed. You deal in facts, gentlemen, for which there has been a market since man first crept from the primeval slurry. – David Foster Wallace

Rap’s conscious response to the poverty and oppression of U.S. blacks is like some hideous parody of sixties black pride. – David Foster Wallace

The new rebels might be artists willing to risk the yawn, the rolled eyes, the cool smile, the nudged ribs, the parody of gifted ironists, the ‘Oh how banal.’ – David Foster Wallace

If you can think of times in your life that you’ve treated people with extraordinary decency and love, and pure uninterested concern, just because they were valuable as human beings. The ability to do that with ourselves. To treat ourselves the way we would treat a really good, precious friend. Or a tiny child of ours that we absolutely loved more than life itself. And I think it’s probably possible to achieve that. I think part of the job we’re here for is to learn how to do it. – David Foster Wallace

I know I’m paranoid, but am I paranoid enough? – David Foster Wallace

Postmodern irony and cynicism’s become an end in itself, a measure of hip sophistication and literary savvy. Few artists dare to try to talk about ways of working toward redeeming what’s wrong, because they’ll look sentimental and naive to all the weary ironists. Irony’s gone from liberating to enslaving. … The postmodern founders’ patricidal work was great, but patricide produces orphans, and no amount of revelry can make up for the fact that writers my age have been literary orphans throughout our formative years. – David Foster Wallace

Think of the old cliché about ‘the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master.’ This, like many clichés, so lame and unexciting on the surface, actually expresses a great and terrible truth. It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with firearms almost always shoot themselves in: the head. – David Foster Wallace

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. – David Foster Wallace

It took years after I’d graduated from Amherst to realize that people were actually far more complicated and interesting than books, that almost everyone else suffered the same secret fears and inadequacies as I, and that feeling alone and inferior was actually the great valent bond between us all. I wish I’d been smart enough to understand that when I was an adolescent. – David Foster Wallace

We will, of course, without hesitation use art to parody, ridicule, debunk, or criticize ideologies. – David Foster Wallace

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. – David Foster Wallace

I had kind of a midlife crisis at twenty which probably doesn’t augur well for my longevity – David Foster Wallace

If you spend enough time reading or writing, you find a voice, but you also find certain tastes. 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 when that happens, reading those writers … becomes a source of unbelievable joy. It’s like eating candy for the soul. And I sometimes have a hard time understanding how people who don’t have that in their lives make it through the day. – David Foster Wallace

To make someone an icon is to make him an abstraction, and abstractions are incapable of vital communication with living people. – David Foster Wallace

Everybody is identical in their secret unspoken belief that way deep down they are different from everyone else. – David Foster Wallace

Real leaders are people who help us overcome the limitations of our own individual laziness and selfishness and weakness and fear and get us to do better, harder things than we can get ourselves to do on our own. – David Foster Wallace

If your fidelity to perfectionism is too high, you never do anything. – David Foster Wallace

How odd I can have all this inside me and to you it’s just words. – David Foster Wallace

Hideous psychic fallout they’d all endured both in active marijuana-dependency and then in marijuana-detox: the social isolation, anxious lassitude, and the hyperself-consciousness that then reinforced the withdrawal and anxiety – the increasing emotional abstraction, poverty of affect, and then total emotional catalepsy – the obsessive analyzing, finally the paralytic stasis that results from obsessive analysis of all possible implications of both getting up from the couch and not getting up from the couch. – David Foster Wallace

The point of books is to combat loneliness. – David Foster Wallace

Most of the writers I know are weird hybrids. There’s a strong streak of egomania coupled with extreme shyness. Writing’s kind of like exhibitionism in private. And there’s also a strange loneliness, and a desire to have some kind of conversation with people, but not a real great ability to do it in person. – David Foster Wallace

Under fun’s new administration, writing fiction becomes a way to go deep inside yourself and illuminate precisely the stuff you don’t want to see or let anyone else see, and this stuff usually turns out (paradoxically) to be precisely the stuff all writers and readers share and respond to, feel. – David Foster Wallace

Mario, what do you get when you cross an insomniac, an unwilling agnostic and a dyslexic? – David Foster Wallace

My own terror of appearing sentimental is so strong that I’ve decided to fight against it, some; but the terror is still there… Do you identify with a distaste/fear about sentimentality? Do you agree that, past a certain line, such distaste can turn everything arch and sneering and too ironic? Or do you have your own set of abstract questions to drive yourself nuts with? – David Foster Wallace

How promising you are as a Student of the Game is a function of what you can pay attention to without running away. Nets and fences can be mirrors. And between the nets and fences, opponents are also mirrors. This is why the whole thing is scary. This why all opponents are scary and weaker opponents are especially scary. See yourself in your opponents. They will bring you to understand the Game. To accept the fact that the Game is about managed fear. That its object is to send from yourself what you hope will not return. – David Foster Wallace

Almost nothing important that ever happens to you happens because you engineer it. – David Foster Wallace

Bliss a second by second joy and gratitude at the gift of being alive, conscious lies on the other side of crushing, crushing boredom. Pay close attention to the most tedious thing you can find (Tax Returns, Televised Golf) and, in waves, a boredom like you’ve never known will wash over you and just about kill you. Ride these out, and it’s like stepping from black and white into color. Like water after days in the desert. Instant bliss in every atom. – David Foster Wallace

Two young salmon are swimming along one day. As they do, they are passed by a wiser, older fish coming the other way. The wiser fish greets the two as he passes, saying, Morning boys, how’s the water? The other two continue to swim in silence for a little while, until the first one turns to the other and asks, What the hell is water? – David Foster Wallace

Stated as an English sentence, of course, this is just a banal platitude – but the fact is that, in the day-to-day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have life-or-death importance. That may sound like hyperbole, or abstract nonsense. – David Foster Wallace

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. – David Foster Wallace

Truly decent, innocent people can be taxing to be around. – David Foster Wallace

God seems to have a kind of laid-back management style I’m not crazy about. – David Foster Wallace

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. Because if you cannot or will not exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. – David Foster Wallace

I’d tell you all you want and more, if the sounds I made could be what you hear – David Foster Wallace

I wasn’t all that attracted to writing originally. I read a great deal. My parents read a great deal. I do know that as my interest in tennis waned, my interest in academics increased. I mean, I started doing my homework in high school and discovering that it was somewhat fun. And then in college I barely even played on the team because just classes were much more interesting. – David Foster Wallace

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. – David Foster Wallace

The severing of an established connection is exponentially more painful than the rejection of an attempted connection. – David Foster Wallace

Although the only way that I’m well known at Illinois State is that I am the grammar Nazi. And so any student whose deployment of a semi-colon is not absolutely Mozart-esque knows that they’re going to get a C in my class, and so my classes tend to have like four students in them. It’s really a lot of fun. – David Foster Wallace

Te Occidere Possunt Sed Te Edere Non Possunt Nefas Est (They can kill you, but the legalities of eating you are quite a bit dicier). – David Foster Wallace

If you’re writing fiction, you’re dealing with characters who, themselves, will have heartfelt sentiments but who, themselves, live in this culture right now and thus face all the impediments to sort of dealing with those parts of their lives that, you know, that we did. So, it would be not only silly but unrealistic to have a character saying that kind of stuff. – David Foster Wallace

Are we not all of us fanatics? I say only what you of the U.S.A. pretend you do not know. Attachments are of great seriousness. Choose your attachments carefully. Choose your temple of fanaticism with great care. What you wish to sing of as tragic love is an attachment not carefully chosen. Die for one person? This is a craziness. Persons change, leave, die, become ill. They leave, lie, go mad, have sickness, betray you, die. Your nation outlives you. A cause outlives you. – David Foster Wallace

In fact, the likeliest reason why so many of us care so little about politics is that modern politicians makes us sad, hurt us deep down in ways that are hard even to name, much less talk about. – David Foster Wallace

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. – David Foster Wallace

I think it’s easy to stop smoking; it’s just hard not to commit a felony after you stop. – David Foster Wallace

Great short stories and great jokes have a lot in common. Both depend on what communication-theorists sometimes called exformation, which is a certain quantity of vital information removed from but evoked by a communication in such a way as to cause a kind of explosion of associative connections within the recipient. – David Foster Wallace

I miss everyone. I can remember being young and feeling a thing and identifying it as homesickness, and then thinking well now that’s odd, isn’t it, because I was home, all the time. What on earth are we to make of that? – David Foster Wallace

There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of God or spiritual-type thing to worship – be it J.C. or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess or the Four Noble Truths or some infrangible set of ethical principles – is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. – David Foster Wallace

You will become way less concerned with what other people think of you when you realize how seldom they do. – David Foster Wallace

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. It’s the truth. Worship your 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 grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables, the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness. – David Foster Wallace

Stay conscious and alive, day in and day out. – David Foster Wallace

Boo, I think I no longer believe in monsters as faces in the floor or feral infants or vampires or whatever. I think at seventeen now I believe the only real monsters might be the type of liar where there’s simply no way to tell. The ones who give nothing away. – David Foster Wallace

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. – David Foster Wallace

Mario, what do you get when you cross an insomniac, an unwilling agnostic and a dyslexic? I give. You get someone who stays up all night torturing himself mentally over the question of whether or not there’s a dog. – David Foster Wallace

life’s endless war against the self you cannot live without. – David Foster Wallace

Morning is the soul’s night. – David Foster Wallace

There is no hatred in my love for you. Only a sadness I feel all the more strongly for my inability to explain or describe it. – David Foster Wallace

An ad that pretends to be art is at absolute best – like somebody who smiles warmly at you only because he wants something from you. This is dishonest, but what’s sinister is the cumulative effect that such dishonesty has on us: since it offers a perfect facsimile or simulacrum of goodwill without goodwill’s real spirit, it messes with our heads and eventually starts upping our defenses even in cases of genuine smiles and real art and true goodwill. It makes us feel confused and lonely and impotent and angry and scared. It causes despair. – David Foster Wallace

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. – David Foster Wallace

And I was this is just how I was afraid you’d take it. I knew it, that you’d think this means you were right to be afraid all the time and never feel secure or trust me. I knew it’d be See, you’re leaving after all when you promised you wouldn’t. I knew it but I’m trying to explain anyway, okay? And I know you probably won’t understand this either, but –wait– just try to listen and maybe absorb this, okay? Ready? Me leaving is not the confirmation of all your fears about me. It is not. It’s because of them. – David Foster Wallace

The fun of reading as an exchange between consciousnesses, a way for human beings to talk to each other about stuff we can’t normally talk about. – David Foster Wallace

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