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Thursday, April 02, 2009

This Is Water

Design by Mario J. Pulice

At first glance, an attractive, competent, and unremarkable cover for David Foster Wallace's 2005 commencement address to Kenyon College graduates.

On second thought: a pretty exceptional design.


Here's why: read the address. Wallace is urging everyone to try to escape what he calls our "default setting" of self-centeredness, but he leaves as an open question just what the environment you live in will look like. To paraphrase one of his examples, get pissed off at the person who just cut you off on the expressway, or realize that it just might be possible that car is rushing a sick child to the hospital, and that in fact it is you who is in their way.

The goldfish is here because of the story with which Wallace begins his address, but what makes this design work is the absence of water, the "this" of the title. It's not there because Wallace is sagely telling his audience that it's up to them to construct the world in which they'll live as adults, to determine if their water will be clear and bright or polluted and full of shit.

Buy This Is Water from Amazon.com

13 comments:

Angela L Ferrara said...

I love it! Great use of negative space...makes me want to see the the book in person.

Joseph said...

Indeed: the openness is another cue that there's a lot to be "filled in."

Anonymous said...

I admit I thought the goldfish was an upside-down pseudo-abstract bird at first glance.... Which might or might not be relevant.

Ian Shimkoviak said...

the whiteness also makes it look like the fish has a lot more to explore beyond the bounds of the 6x9" space.

Joseph said...

Ian: yup. Negative space at work :-)

Anonymous said...

But why such a boring fish? I would have liked a wild fish, rather than a species that lives in the constraints of goldfish bowls and aquariums.
EJ

alan said...

I like the goldfish. It's easily accessible as an icon. Everyone can relate to the experience of having one, directly or indirectly. It is easily identified by a general populace who might not know the aesthetic differences between a salmon or a trout without the help of a label in a grocery store.

The text at the top? Excellent call. It's like it's floating on the implied water as the goldfish swims down below. Well thought out, two thumbs up, etc.

Heather said...

To me it also meant...here is a fish OUT of water...will you help it, or won't you?

billieball said...

for me, the goldfish really works. ordinary, numerous, quotidian...but alive and unique.

like us.

Tropolist said...

I don't know, I was hoping for something a little more. Then again, DFW's covers never really justified his work in my mind. I never saw a cover for Broom or Infinite Jest I thought really brilliantly captured the works.

Erin Skinner said...

Brilliant. I passed along to a Kenyon grad. Thanks for sharing.

T-Bone said...

The type is weird – are the line breaks intentional? Why are 'Some/Thoughts' and 'Compassionate/Life' broken so awkwardly? The larger point size of the orange text encroaches into the grey area too… maybe there's a reason.

Robert Hanks said...

I think the slight awkwardness of the line breaks and different point sizes evokes Wallace's prose style rather elegantly. I like the way the page gets a broken orange diagonal, too.

Joseph: I've given you a splash award, for what that's worth, as a way of registering my admiration of this blog - explanation at http://roberthanks.typepad.com/zoo_in_the_head/2009/04/covered-in-glory.html