“This Is Water” Final [Mumford]

In “Navigating Genres,” Kerry Dirk explains that genres shape our everyday lives; we make specific decisions because we know what response we will receive. The genre of a commencement speech comes with the expectation of including inspirational wisdom and advice, an explanation of the value of a good education, and a life lesson. David Foster Wallace achieves this, however, in a less conventional way than expected, forcing introspection and awareness.

“This Is Water” contains many of these characteristics of a typical commencement speech. David Foster Wallace attempts to shed some light on the value of a good liberal arts education by explaining how it teaches us to think. He also offers life lessons on how to be a good adult with small parables such as the fish and the closed minded people, giving advice on how to be aware. These points are typical of a commencement speech in trying to persuade the audience that he can help them navigate their new surroundings.

Dirk discusses the particular location of a genre in her essay, and this is a perfect example. The location grounds it as a graduation speech, but his own creativity challenges the limits of the genre because of the way it is received by the audience. He isn’t talking at his listeners like many speakers slip into the habit of doing, but rather gets in their heads and delivers his message as a challenge of awareness and social responsibility. He doesn’t separate his audience from the stories he tells, or allow them to hear the advice he gives and brush it off. They are the young fish in the sea, the selfish car driver, and the ignorant people in the bar. It checks off the boxes of the genre on paper, but the way in which it is received causes it to go far beyond similar speeches in its effectiveness, and redefines the genre’s possibilities. This allows the speakers after him to follow in his footsteps, fill in new niches opened in the genre, and push the expectations in their own ways.

One thought on ““This Is Water” Final [Mumford]

  1. You talk about genre in a general way, but I would like to see you analyze Wallace’s speech from the point of view of Dirk’s presentation of genres in “Navigating Genres.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *