How Time Narrows Life’s Sumptuous Branching Complexity

David Foster Wallace with bare lamp

Read on it’s own, the following passage from David Foster Wallace’s essay “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again” may sound pessimistic, fatalistic, oppressive. Read in context, I laughed so long and so hard that my face began to hurt. It is, nonetheless, a painful truth:

I am now 33 years old, and it feels like much time has passed and is passing faster and faster every day. Day to day I have to make all sorts of choices about what is good and important and fun, and then I have to live with the forfeiture of all the other options those choices foreclose. And I’m starting to see how as time gains momentum my choices will narrow and their foreclosures multiply exponentially until I arrive at some point on some branch of all life’s sumptuous branching complexity at which I am finally locked in and stuck on one path and time speeds me through stages of stasis and atrophy and decay until I go down for the third time, all struggle for naught, drowned by time. It is dreadful. But since it’s my own choices that’ll lock me in, it seems unavoidable — If I want to be any kind of grownup, I have to make choices and regret foreclosures and try to live with them.

For a sense of how funny this essay is, Mr. Wallace reads an excerpt here starting at 10:00 minutes in (the preceding story about the baton twirlers at the Illinois State Fair is better read here at the Harper’s Magazine 150th Anniversary on 25 May 2000).

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