The speech “This Is Water” was originally delivered by David Foster Wallace in 2005 at Kenyon College. Wallace was born on February 21st,1962, and finally died on September 12th, 2008. He was an American novelist who received his High School Diploma from Urbana High School and studied at the University of Arizona which is where he completed a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing, and later in his life attended Harvard University for philosophy but later left the program. Immediately into Wallace’s speech, you’re thrown the question of what is the meaning of liberal arts. Wallace suggests throughout his speech that the purpose of higher education isn’t for the material value, but instead to change how one thinks. Wallace argues that the ability gained from greater education helps one be more conscious of the decisions their making and from that greater consciousness they can decide what’s more important to think about and if there’s more options to choose from.
Wallace uses mainly logos and pathos throughout his speech to connect with his audience and spark critical thinking. Wallace makes his argument starting with things like selfishness, self-centeredness and that constant frustration that the world is somehow out to get you. Wallace uses anecdotal experiences, but these experiences are something the listener can connect to because of the first-hand experience in similar situations. Foster also uses phrases like “you guys get the idea” and“you guys understand” to slowly bridge the gap between speaker and listener. This in a sense relaxes the audience and helps Wallace explain the point he’s trying to prove using the hypothetical scenario. Wallace uses logos in his hypotheticals or anecdotal situations to deduce that humans have the capability to change their perspectives logically. Wallace also went on an emotional rollercoaster when he talked about people at the grocery store and the negative emotional responses that are produced in those moments, for example, a regular college graduate who came home but realized him/her didn’t have enough groceries so they have to sit through long and frustrating traffic and miserable waiting lines in the grocery store can create an emotional response which in most cases would be a convincing emotional appeal.
Wallace’s use of rhetoric is astounding especially in the beginning when he admits he’s not going to pretend to be someone that he isn’t “I’m not the wise old fish”. This helps Wallace’s ethos as he assures the audience he’s not pretending but, Wallace also does this because while he may be older than the graduates he still has to face those same struggles they face. Wallace’s use of logos is unique as he often ties it in with irony. For example, the atheist and the Eskimo story. The atheist assumes that God doesn’t exist because he wasn’t there to rescue him, but instead, he was lucky enough to come across some Eskimos, while the Christian is certain that they were sent my god. This all supports Wallace’s argument because Wallace addresses the idea of “blind certainty” an idea where there isn’t a drop of optimism because of personal beliefs. Wallace also uses another construct which appeals to logos when talking about other human beings that you might find frustrating or annoying. Wallace questions the origin of that frustration and that the answer might not be the one fixated in our minds but instead something meaningful or understanding, like disease, sickness or death. With these kinds of examples, Wallace successfully offers his audience a new lens to look through, one that’s more thoughtful and optimistic.
“About MY hungriness and MY fatigue and MY desire to just get home, and it’s going to seem for all the world like everybody else is just in my way. And who are all these people in my way? And look at how repulsive most of them are, and how stupid and cow-like and dead-eyed and nonhuman they seem in the checkout line, or at how annoying and rude it is that people are talking loudly on cell phones in the middle of the line. And look at how deeply and personally unfair this is.”. “In this traffic, all these vehicles stopped and idling in my way, it’s not impossible that some of these people in SUV’s have been in horrible auto accidents in the past”. The message Wallace is trying to paint out for us here is that there are moments in our life where we believe we know all the answers about our current reality, but we realistically don’t, often we we aren’t optimistic in those moments because of frustration and anger. Is it important to criticize someone we know so very little about? Does it even make sense? These are the kinds of questions Wallace wants the audience to ask themselves. Now in terms of effectiveness Wallace has built an intelligible system of purpose. A fundamental in Wallace’s argument is that he repeatedly refocuses his argument throughout the speech by referencing recent hypotheticals. This is essential because as Wallace references hypotheticals from before, his claims seem to have a clear consistency. This is a strong tool mainly because it stops the listener from wandering into hypotheticals or situations Wallace would find disapproval in.
Wallace’s speech is effective in regards that his arguments contain examples that have an emotional connection to the audience. The format of the speech and constantly redirecting the arguments back to the examples he used, to then successfully clarify why he used them and what it means is the most fruitful part of “This is Water”. Wallace argument is to always have perspective, even in very stressful and frustrating situations, there are people that have it worse, much worse. Don’t be blind sides enough to recognize that either. Your situation is never the worst and probably never will be, having this kind of perspective makes people feel like their not alone and if anything more open-minded to would could have happened or to what is happening.