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Over the Wall of Self: A Found Poem by David Foster Wallace

Posted on Aug 16, 2015 by


After writing about This is Water by David Foster Wallace a couple weeks ago, I ended up listening to the beginning of a documentary, Endnotes, done by BBC. The opening, in Wallace’s own words, struck me as a kind of poem which I’m including here. These are words that could serve as inspiration for anyone who writes and reads—

There’s something magical for me

about literature and fiction

and I think it can do things

not only that pop culture can’t do,

but that are urgent now.


One is that by creating a character

in a piece of fiction you can allow

a reader

to leap

over the wall of self

and to imagine himself

being not just somewhere else

but someone else.


In a way that television and movies

that no other form can do

because people I think are essentially lonely and alone

and frightened of being alone.

I love his sense of urgency here. And his honesty—his vulnerability. And this image of leaping over the wall of self.

His comments also dovetail well with a New York Times article on the benefits of reading literary fiction–a study which appeared in the journal Science that demonstrated a link between reading literary fiction and developing empathy and emotional intelligence.

The photo can be found here. (I believe it’s someone doing Parkour.)