“This is Water” [Sprosty]

When we hear the term “genre” we immediately think of a category regarding music, movies, or books. According to Kerry Dirk, a genre is “a rhetorical action meant to bring about a specific response.”  Dirk’s examples included a horror movie bringing about a feeling of fear while a romantic movie brings a feeling of happiness. However, a genre can also be a joke, an email, a speech, a Twitter post, or an essay.  Each of these genres will be written in a different way depending on the audience and how the audience is intended to react.

David Foster Wallace’s work, This is Water, is a commencement speech.  A commencement speech is thought to be inspirational, relatively informal, and pertain to an audience of students. Wallace’s speech begins with an analogy of two young fish swimming one direction coming across an older fish swimming the opposite direction asking, “How’s the water?”  The two younger fish ask each other, “What the hell is water?”  Wallace immediately follows this analogy with him saying that he is not the older fish.  In reference to Dirk, Wallace is attracting his audience by saying he is not some old wise guy who is going to tell what and what not to do with the rest of their lives.

Wallace gives his advice through stories that can easily be related to by graduating students.  His next story is about two men discussing God in a bar.  The life lesson of this story is the liberal arts teaches students how to think.  It teaches to understand why people think a certain way and not frown upon the opinion of others.

There has been a large misconception of the word genre. As Kerry Dirk says, genres can be many forms of writing or speech as long as it pertains to a certain audience and receives a reaction.  A commencement speech is intended to communicate inspiration and advice to an audience of graduating students.  David Foster Wallace is able to express his message through stories that are easily understandable for students.

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