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50 David Foster Wallace Quotes From The Philosophical American Author

David Foster Wallace was an American author. He wrote several novels, short stories, and essays. He was also a university professor of English and creative writing.

David came from a family of academics. His father taught philosophy at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, and his mother was an English professor at Parkland College. In 1985 David graduated from Amherst College, his father’s alma mater, with a degree in English and philosophy.

He used his honors thesis for English, as the manuscript of his first novel, The Broom of the System. Wallace earned a Master’s of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at the University of Arizona in 1987. He would end up teaching at several colleges and universities over the course of his career.

What was David Foster Wallace like outside of academics? Well, If you have seen pictures of David Foster Wallace, you will have noticed that he always wore a bandana. If you have wondered why he always wore a bandana, the answer has to do with his insecurity over his “heavy sweating.”

He had a lifelong struggle with depression and addiction, which contributed to his death. That makes these quotes from David Foster Wallace about loneliness even more poignant. Keep reading to learn more about his life.

Don’t forget to also check out these J.R.R. Tolkien quotes to help you climb out of life’s hole.

Best David Foster Wallace quotes on depression, loneliness, and more

1. “We’re all lonely for something we don’t know we’re lonely for. How else to explain the curious feeling that goes around feeling like missing somebody we’ve never even met?” ― David Foster Wallace

2. “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

3. “It’s a very American illness, the idea of giving yourself away entirely to the idea of working in order to achieve some sort of brass ring that usually involves people feeling some way about you—I mean, people wonder why we walk around feeling alienated and lonely and stressed out.” ― David Foster Wallace

4. “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

5. “The interesting thing is why we’re so desperate for this anesthetic against loneliness.” ― David Foster Wallace

6. “Fiction’s about what it is to be a fucking human being.” ― David Foster Wallace

7. “Good fiction’s job is to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” ― David Foster Wallace

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8. “There’s a kind of Ah-ha! Somebody at least for a moment feels about something or sees something the way that I do. It doesn’t happen all the time. It’s these brief flashes or flames, but I get that sometimes. I feel unalone—intellectually, emotionally, spiritually. I feel human and unalone and that I’m in a deep, significant conversation with another consciousness in fiction and poetry in a way that I don’t with other art.” ― David Foster Wallace

9. “We all suffer alone in the real world. True empathy’s impossible. But if a piece of fiction can allow us imaginatively to identify with a character’s pain, we might then also more easily conceive of others identifying with their own. This is nourishing, redemptive; we become less alone inside. It might just be that simple.” ― David Foster Wallace

10. “Sarcasm and jokes were often the bottle in which clinical depressives sent out their most plangent screams for someone to care and help them.” ― David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace quotes about freedom, truth, and time

11. “The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.” ― David Foster Wallace

12. “There are no choices without personal freedom, Buckeroo. It’s not us who are dead inside. These things you find so weak and contemptible in us—these are just the hazards of being free.” ― David Foster Wallace

13. “The truth will set you free. But not until it is finished with you.” ― David Foster Wallace

14. “Logical validity is not a guarantee of truth.” ― David Foster Wallace

15. “I’d like to be the sort of person who can enjoy things at the time, instead of having to go back in my head and enjoy them.” ― David Foster Wallace

16. “Everything takes time. Bees have to move very fast to stay still.” ― David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace quotes for everyday life

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

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

19. “Try to learn to let what is unfair teach you.” ― David Foster Wallace

20. “The parts of me that used to think I was different or smarter or whatever, almost made me die.” ― David Foster Wallace

21. “It is often more fun to want something than to have it.” ― David Foster Wallace

22. “I’d tell you all you want and more if the sounds I made could be what you hear.” ― David Foster Wallace

23. “That no single, individual moment is in and of itself unendurable.” ― David Foster Wallace

24. “Every love story is a ghost story.” ― David Foster Wallace

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25. “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

26. “If you are bored and disgusted by politics and don’t bother to vote, you are in effect voting for the entrenched Establishments of the two major parties, who please rest assured are not dumb, and who are keenly aware that it is in their interests to keep you disgusted and bored and cynical and to give you every possible reason to stay at home doing one-hitters and watching MTV on primary day. By all means, stay home if you want, but don’t bullshit yourself that you’re not voting. 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

27. “It takes great personal courage to let yourself appear weak.” ― David Foster Wallace

28. “Learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think.” ― David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace quotes for when you need a little inspiration

29. “Everything I’ve ever let go of has claw marks on it.” ― David Foster Wallace

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

31. “Whatever you get paid attention for is never what you think is most important about yourself.” ― David Foster Wallace

32. “Acceptance is usually more a matter of fatigue than anything else.” ― David Foster Wallace

33. “Truly decent, innocent people can be taxing to be around.” ― David Foster Wallace

34. “That there might not be angels, but there are people who might as well be angels.” ― David Foster Wallace

35. “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

36. “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

37. “The man who knows his limitations has none.” ― David Foster Wallace

Witty David Foster Wallace quotes

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

39. “It did what all ads are supposed to do: create an anxiety relievable by purchase.” ― David Foster Wallace

40. “You have decided being scared is caused mostly by thinking.” ― David Foster Wallace

41. “The integrity of my sleep has been forever compromised, sir.” ― David Foster Wallace

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42. “I am not what you see and hear.” ― David Foster Wallace

43. “Mediocrity is contextual.” ― David Foster Wallace

44. “It’s weird to feel like you miss someone you’re not even sure you know.” ― David Foster Wallace

45. “I had kind of a midlife crisis at twenty, which probably doesn’t augur well for my longevity.” ― David Foster Wallace

46. “There’s good self-consciousness, and then there’s toxic, paralyzing, raped by-psychic-Bedouins self-consciousness.” ― David Foster Wallace

47. “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

48. “Both destiny’s kisses and its dope-slaps illustrate an individual person’s basic personal powerlessness over the really meaningful events in his life: i.e. almost nothing important that ever happens to you happens because you engineer it. Destiny has no beeper; destiny always leans trench-coated out of an alley with some sort of Psst that you usually can’t even hear because you’re in such a rush to or from something important you’ve tried to engineer.” ― David Foster Wallace

49. “The thing about people who are truly and malignantly crazy: their real genius is for making the people around them think they themselves are crazy. In military science, this is called Psy-Ops for your info.” ― David Foster Wallace

50. “I’ll say God seems to have a kind of laid-back management style I’m not crazy about. I’m pretty much anti-death. God looks by all accounts to be pro-death. I’m not seeing how we can get together on this issue, he and I.” ― David Foster Wallace

What did you learn from these David Foster Wallace quotes?

Wallace’s battle with depression, alcoholism, drug addiction, and suicidal tendencies led to several hospitalizations. At one point in 1989, he spent four weeks at McLean Hospital—a psychiatric institute in Belmont, Massachusetts. While there he successfully finished a drug and alcohol detox program, which he would later say changed his life.

He had a volatile relationship with Mary Karr in the early 1990s that resulted in allegations of abuse. He would later marry Karen L. Green in December 2004.

Wallace’s novel The Pale King, which was nominated for a Pulitzer, was published posthumously. Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times wrote that The Pale King “showcases [Wallace’s] embrace of discontinuity; his fascination with both the meta and the microscopic, postmodern pyrotechnics and old-fashioned storytelling; and his ongoing interest in contemporary America’s obsession with self-gratification and entertainment.”

He was a talented and troubled man who impacted the literary world and if you haven’t read one of his novels, you should pick one up! If you are already a fan, share your favorite novel in the comment section below, along with any other favorite David Foster Wallace quotes and sayings.

Danielle Dahl, Lead Contributor
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