I once wrote about David Foster Wallace’s work, “It’s not easy reading; it’s essential reading.” As I finished Jamison’s essay on sentimentality in her collection, The Empathy Exams, the same could be said of it. She shares my high regard for Wallace as is evidenced by this paragraph near the essay’s end:

“I’m not the first voice to call for sentimentality in the wake of postmodern irony. There’s a chorus. There’s been a chorus for years. Once upon a time, it was directed by David Foster Wallace. Now it’s directed by his ghost. ‘An ironist in an AA meeting is a witch in church,’ he wrote in Infinite Jest, and for him the deeply earnest cliches of recovery represented one vector of literary possibility: the recuperated sentimentality of ‘single-entendre’ writing, big crude crayon-drawing feelings that could actually render us porous to one another–cliches that he positioned inside the infinitely complicated landscape of his imagined worlds. He was searching for literature that could make our ‘heads throb heart-like,’ that could hold feeling and its questioning at once.” (130)

“Render us porous to one another.” Exactly. Not the question one young fish asked another in Wallace’s only commencement speech, “What the hell is water?” His answer made succinct by the speech’s end: “This is water. This is water.”

Lack of communication is unhealthy.

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