On the Failure of Stoic Ethics
James Stockdale’s A-4 Skyhawk was on fire. All the warning lights were flashing mad: fire alarms, hydraulic failure, electrical failure. Flak had hit his attack jet as he pulled it off a target. His plane was hurtling just above the trees at 575 miles an hour. It was a beast out of control. Nothing worked. Nothing Stockdale could do. Punch out. Eject. Quick. Tick. Boom — eject.
His parachute opens. He is somewhere above North Vietnam, floating 200 feet over a small village. It’s September 9th, 1965. Stockdale figures he has maybe thirty seconds at the outside before his feet hit the ground. Rifle shots whir through the air. He whispers to himself in his descent, “Five years down there, at least.” There is a lot of fighting left to this infernal war in which he’ll now be a pawn. “I’m leaving the world of technology and entering the world of Epictetus.”
Stockdale believed he would be a prisoner of war for five years. He sensed Epictetus would help him survive it. Who the hell was Epictetus?
Three years before this, before his plane was blown out of the sky, Stockdale received a book from his philosophy professor, Philip Rhinelander. He had stopped by Rhinelander’s office one last time before leaving Stanford’s campus to return to active duty. Stockdale had finagled his way into Rhinelander’s tutelage when he should have been devoting his time to studying international relations. He was making a mid-career pitstop in grad school on the way to getting a desk in the Pentagon. Philosophy wasn’t meant to be part of that, but Stockdale was hooked. Rhinelander handed him the collected teachings of a Roman slave, a Stoic named Epictetus. The collection had been put together nearly 1900 years ago. Handing him the book, Rhinelander said, “You are a military man — take this booklet as a memento of our hours together. It provides a moral philosophy applicable to your profession.” It was a bit foggy how this dead slave’s ancient teachings were relevant to air combat and cutting-edge aeronautics. He was a fighter pilot in the Navy. What would a dead Stoic have to say about flying A-4s and supersonic F-8 Crusaders? He thought his teacher had no idea what his job required. This ancient rag was irrelevant.
Three years later, floating down like a mote of dust to his captors, Stockdale believed his professor was right.
The core of Stoic ethics is virtue, arete in the Greek, which connotes a blend of excellence, skill, strength, and valor — not a thing to be a attained, like a gold medal or an Oscar, but a way of life, a way of doing things. And if arete secures us anything at all, it is the fulfillment of our highest potential as humans — eudaimonia — sometimes translated as happiness in English, but its sense is more akin to flourishing like a majestic redwood fully grown in the sun.
The Stoics parted company from Aristotle and his students — not without controversy — by distilling the practice of virtue solely down to the exercise of the will and the purification of motive. The success or failure of our actions is not our business. So what you or I might call the goods of life — wealth, health, family, lovers, and friends — the Stoic is morally indifferent to, for what matters to the sage is not that we possess these good things or spend time with them, but how we feel about their relationship to us. No one is made good simply by having them; nor is a life with them necessarily a good one. Take what we cherish away, and we shouldn’t believe that hurts us. Instead, the Stoic implores you to consider: how deep may these so called goods clutch into our hearts. Often we are twisted into vice by hitching our inner most selves to the fate of these external goods, trying to protect them, to hold on to them, to make permanent what can’t last. But the Stoic cultivates a moral, and therefore, emotional detachment from them, knowing that the sum of his worth factors no possessions in. Why feel grief for something over which you have no control?
The other matters you and I might call bad — death, cataclysm, poverty, imprisonment, undeserved notoriety, bodily harm — the Stoic sees as neutral raw material. How do you conduct yourself undergoing these supposed bad things? How do you respond to them? That’s the crux of it all. Not that anything happened to you. In and of themselves, they do not cause you to act wrongly. Just so: crisis, trauma, and deprivation could become strong material for virtuous action. The only thing that matters is whether you let what is outside of your control rob you of your dignity. To the Stoic in extremis, there is always something unmanly about begging for your life in tears in the moments before your death.
“Philosophy does not promise to secure anything external for man,” Epictetus tells us in The Discourses, the book Rhinelander had given to Stockdale. “To make the best of what is in our power, and take the rest as naturally happens.”
And what has the universe placed in our power? “The power to deal rightly with our impressions” or “impulses” — in short, the way we respond to events, objects, and people. All else remains beyond our control. Your grief, your joy, your sorrow, your passion — they’re up to you. Therefore the task of living well is to discipline our own judgment about what is good. If you attend to this emotional response, examine it, and train it, if you discipline the mind not to chase what merely appears to be good, Epictetus says “you will not do a single thing against your will, you will have no enemy, and no one will harm you because no harm can affect you.”
“Who, then, is the invincible man?” Epictetus concludes. “He whom nothing outside the sphere of choice can disconcert.”
Stockdale’s guess about being a prisoner for five years proved wrong. It ended up being seven-and-a-half, with four in solitary confinement wearing leg irons in an old French dungeon in Hanoi. He quickly learned there would be a lot of important things outside of the sphere of his choice.
As soon as his feet hit the ground that day in September, and he unfastened his parachute, he was overwhelmed by a mob of men. They pummeled him. They shattered one of his legs and broke a bone in his back. He knew right away his leg would never properly heal. He wouldn’t walk on it without crutches for a year.
Imprisoned, he was broken and humiliated. “You will help me,” one North Vietnamese captor told him. “You don’t know it yet, but you will.” To coerce confessions, they would often bind him in tourniquet-tight ropes that cut the blood flow to his limbs. Then his interrogators would jackknife him forwards and down, his head towards his ankles, which were both secured in lugs attached to an iron bar. The blood would rush to his head. He would feel his upper body circulation slow to a near stop. Pain. He would feel the most extreme pain. And then the panic of a world enclosing smaller…smaller…smaller to black. He tried his best — all the captured pilots did — but eventually Stockdale would scream out true answers to the questions his interrogators would ask. It was inevitable. With their techniques (learned from their French colonial governors), the North Vietnamese could reduce a confident ace to a self-loathing mess in ten minutes. This became known as “taking the ropes.” He and his fellow American airmen would hold out for as long as humanly possible, submit, give up whatever secrets they had, and confess guilt for things they never had done into tape recorders for propaganda. Afterwards they were thrown into a “cold soak,” a month of isolation to ruminate upon their crimes.
Stockdale remembers spending his first New Year’s shivering without a blanket, his legs in irons, hands in cuffs, lying in three days worth of his own piss and shit. That was only three months in.
There were about fifty Americans imprisoned in the beginning. Week after week, month after month, more and more pilots and backseaters were blown out of the sky by MiGs, missiles, and cannon fire. Many died in the air, but some ejected and floated down to prison. Over the years the total would accumulate to nearly 500. As a wing commander, Stockdale was the senior officer among them. He felt it was his duty to lead his fellow prisoners and maintain their cohesion as a group. They developed a secret community, a network mainly held together by tapping codes to each other through the prison walls.
But these tapped codes didn’t always stay secret. And sometimes the North Vietnamese would find notes or catch whispers and gestures. Every time it was to the ropes they’d go.
Tortured and returned to their cells, the pilots slumped in shame. As strong as their wills were, there was always a breaking point. They would give their interrogators what they asked for. And then back among their friends, they would weep, “I’m a traitor,” utterly ashamed of the secrets they had cried out.
Their friends would respond, “There are no virgins in here; you should have heard what I told them.” No one ever lashed out at someone for being weak. Everyone recognized their own fragility.
Of Stoicism, Stockdale concluded “It’s a formula for maintaining self-respect and dignity in defiance of those who break your spirit for their own ends.” He came to believe something Rhinelander had lectured him on at Stanford that had more of the flavor of Job than Epictetus: there is no double-entry moral bookkeeping in the universe, balancing out the good and the bad. The only proper reckoning is the state of your inner self, the workings of your conscience, the purity of motive. To the Stoic, and for Stockdale, the most grievous harm that can be done to anyone is not physical torture, but the harm a person can do to themselves by shattering their own will — a suicide of conscience — destroying the good man within. What he most keenly remembered and felt was the remorse over breaking himself in confession and the shame of caving in too early.
After seven and half years, they released him and he returned home in 1973 to what he felt was the world of yakety yak. If anyone has heard of Stockdale today, more often than not it isn’t because of his lectures on moral philosophy, but because of his terrible performance as Ross Perot’s running mate in the debates during the 1992 presidential election. At one point on live TV his hearing aid was turned off and so he didn’t hear the moderator’s question. Stockdale fumbled. A parody on Saturday Night Live made him look confused and dim. It was a disaster. That became the lampoon “Who am I? Why am I here?”
Never a good politician, he instead wrote and spoke widely over the years about his prison experience, always grounding it in the context of Epictetus, Solzhenitsyn, and Dostoevsky — all of whom spent time enslaved or imprisoned. A syllabus for his philosophy course at the Naval War College runs from Socrates to Mill to Camus. His most lengthy essay on Stoicism carries the subtitle — “Testing Epictetus’s Doctrines in a Laboratory of Human Behavior.”
Stockdale died at his home in San Diego in 2005. He was 81. If he were alive today, he would be shocked to discover just how big a commercial fad Stoicism has become.
Epictetus Comes to Market
“Stoicism is the new Zen,” a columnist for the Financial Times recently proclaimed.
Over at the New Yorker, Elif Batuman doubles down: “Born nearly two thousand years before Darwin and Freud, Epictetus seems to have anticipated a way out of their prisons.”
As it was for the Romans, so it is for the American apex. Stoicism is gaining ground as the ethos of choice for the continent-jumping (self-proclaimed) industry-disrupting Crossfit Millennial. Self-help for the young TED Man, for sensitive people with the desire to do something great, but whose idea of greatness is a TechCrunch article and a keynote at South by Southwest for the janissaries of the Internet revolution.
The popular cult of Stoicism has whittled the philosophy down from withstanding the iniquity of tyrants to the task of managing disappointment and 10,000 unread emails — inbox zero hero.
At the epicenter of it all stands Ryan Holiday, the Joan Rivers on the red carpet of today’s Stoic gala. In 2014 he published a book on how stoicism can teach you “how to get unstuck, unfucked, and unleashed.” The marketing guru and strategy consultant called it The Obstacle is the Way after a line by the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius. He uses anecdotes about generals, inventors, industrial titans and just about anyone else who’s accomplished anything to offer object lessons in the effectiveness of Stoic principles. We are invited to join a Macy’s balloon parade of Frederick the Great, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and George Washington, all of whom Holiday says “explicitly studied and practiced Stoicism.”
“There is no good or bad without us,” Holiday writes, echoing his Stoic role models. “There is only perception.”
In 2016, Holiday then followed up his bestselling Obstacle with The Daily Stoic, which offers “a daily devotional of Stoic insights and exercises,” a regimen that has long been — we are assured — “the secret weapon of history’s great figures from emperors to artists and activists…”
Then we have Tim Ferriss — the Stakhanov of Silicon Valley — who records a podcast with millions of listeners each week, in which he “deconstructs world class performance.” The author of the Four Hour Everything says he has read Seneca’s The Moral Letters to Lucillius more than one hundred times and it has been his constant companion for at least ten years. For Ferris, “Stoicism is a no non-sense philosophical system.” He is interested in results and it is true that certain Stoic practices have inspired modern therapies that have found success, in particular cognitive-behavioral therapy. So this is no tail-chasing academic exercise. We’re not merely trying to define what the meaning of “is” is. “Think of it as the ideal operating system for thriving in high stress environments,” he says.
Reading Holiday’s Obstacle or listening to Ferris’s Tao of Seneca, you can’t help but get swept away by their stoic gusto. But then along the way you suddenly awake from this carnival to realize how far you’ve come from the Stoa. My favorite such moment is when Holiday uses General Ulysses S. Grant’s attack on Vicksburg in 1863 to illustrate Epictetus’s maxim to “persist and resist.” Now hold yo’ hosses right there! When asked about his bellicose General, Abraham Lincoln didn’t ask what stoic philosopher the man had read. No, he asked what brand of whiskey the alcoholic loved to drink. The Congressmen Lincoln was talking to couldn’t tell him. “I urged them to ascertain and let me know,” Lincoln recalled. “For if it made fighting generals like Grant, I should like to get some of it for distribution.”
“Real strength lies in control or…the domestication of emotions,” writes Holiday. Or in the case of Grant, in getting drunk and ordering other men into the inferno.
Does this kind of Stoicism really serve us?
Some Remarks, Delivered on a Sad Occasion, About Some Supposedly Powerful Lessons on How to Think
On September 12, 2008, Karen Green came home at night to discover her husband, David Foster Wallace, had hanged himself from the patio rafters. He was and is widely considered the greatest writer of his generation, a “once-in-a-century-talent” his editor said. He was 46.
Like James Stockdale, Wallace is best known by the public for something other than his best work. In 2005 Wallace gave a commencement address at Kenyon College. It didn’t take long for it to go viral. Cut-and-paste transcripts spread like smiley-face Samizdat. From time to time it resurfaces: in May of 2013 millions of people in a single night watched a video homage to the address before the Wallace estate shut it down. It had over four million total views. The subject line of thousands and thousands of emails over the years: OMG You Will Love This!!!!!!
The MacArthur Genius Award winner spoke to the Kenyon graduating class that day about the importance of empathy. It was a simple message and Wallace knew it, but as Wallace said, “banal platitudes can have life-or-death importance.”
Beneath the playful, self-conscious mentions of commencement cliches, didactic little parable-ish stories, “rhetorical bullshit,” and the expectations of genre — chip all that away in the speech and we arrive at…the ghost of Epictetus, old wine in new bottles:
“‘Learning how to think’ really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot or will not exercise this kind of choice in life, you will be totally hosed.”
Wallace tells us he’s going to break free of the cliches to tell us something that no one ever really talks about in commencement addresses. He’s going to tell us how to deal rightly with soul-crushing boredom and routine, how to overcome the day in day out frustrations of long checkout lines at the grocery store and traffic jams:
“If you’ve really learned how to think, how to pay attention, then you will know you have other options. It will actually be in your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell-type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that lit the stars — compassion, love, the subsurface unity of all things.”
Wallace’s novel Infinite Jest famously (or infamously) contains 388 endnotes. If he had one here, he’d have to cf. the Stoics — right down to the subsurface Logos of the stars in the firmament and the divine spark within us being as one. “The only thing that’s capital-T True,” Wallace says, “is that you get to decide how you’re going to try to see it.” The routine real world is going to crowd in on you and grind you down in a repetitive rat race, and the simple truths are going to be forgotten, gradually slipping away from awareness, not because they are useless, but because they’re simple, just like the way a word loses its meaning when you repeat it over and over. A nattering voice will dominate your life, lording it inside your skull-sized kingdom unconsciously — that’s the worst part of it! — worshiping external goods like wealth, health, sex, fame, and power.
Choosing how you respond to the world, Wallace concludes, “is real freedom.”
In the hours before Wallace hanged himself, he organized and tidied the drafts of his last unfinished novel and left them in the house garage. The drafts, published posthumously as The Pale King, tell the story of a group of low-level IRS employees and how they cope with the boredom of their bureaucratic, soul-sucking jobs.
Wallace left a note with the drafts of the novel in the garage:
“Pay close attention to the most tedious thing you can find (Tax Returns, Televised Golf) and, in waves, a boredom like you’ve never known will wash over you and just about kill you. Ride these out, and it’s like stepping from black and white into color. Like water after days in the desert. Instant bliss in every atom.”
Wallace never made it out of the desert. This power he implored Kenyon’s graduating seniors to exercise — to change how we feel about anything in the world, to create our own meaning in a flick of the mind alone, to find bliss even in reviewing IRS tax forms, to see even the most petty frustration like loud Muzak in a crowded supermarket as not only meaningful but sacred — was in the end a fatal mirage.
Wallace had taken Nardil, an antidepressant, for almost twenty years. Feeling stable and also a bit fearful of the drug’s long term physical side effects, he tapered off it and onto other safer medications, but they didn’t help. His depression came to rule him and it wouldn’t budge in the last year of his life. His doctors administered twelve electroconvulsive therapy sessions — sending electric shocks through his skull to trigger short seizures. It didn’t help.
When the greatest writer of a generation tragically commits suicide, we should read him as the canary in the coal mine. It may be that biological facts meant Wallace’s depression was something outside of his control. But judging by the popularity of his writing, he was tuned into the spirit of the age. In seeing how he was lost, we can hope to find the possibilities still alive.
Bye Bye Miss American Pie: Moral Acedia; Social Entropy
Prozac, Celexa, Tofranil, Wellbutrin, Lexapro, Paxil, Zoloft — something on the order of 30 million Americans have prescriptions for at least one antidepressant. About 2 million Americans admit they’re addicted to painkillers. One in ten teenagers take medication for ADHD. Opioids kill as many Americans per year as guns do.
The number of books published on the topic of happiness jumped from 50 to over 4000 in less than a decade during the 2000s.
An outer disorder has anesthetized our inner lives. Americans confirm with greater and greater force T.S. Eliot’s observation that “Human kind cannot bear very much reality.”
In this numbing we can see the outlines of the social quest of our era, the quest for greater calm and security, the easing of pain, the resistance to change. We have become a society dissatisfied with the way things are, but instead of risking change to a external world that angers us or saddens us or bores the hell out of us, we choose to focus on how we respond to it. We choose, instead, to Netflix and chill. Sometimes with pills.
The economist Tyler Cowen submits the case in his book, The Complacent Class: over the last forty years, America has become the land of the ossified…static, crumbling on the edges, but soothed. In Colorado and Washington, even stoned. Content and comfortable with 5G streaming but tired standards of living, a virtual paradise, but a physical purgatory. NIMBY’ed into an exitless cul-de-sac of repeating repeal and replace policy debates. Trigger-warned in a safe space with heart-emojis all around. Child-proofed for $60k a year in tuition. Segregated by income, zip code, and college degree. Ask your doctor. Read our ad in Good Housekeeping. Did you get the Eventbrite from the protest planner for today’s riot?
The facts are these. iPhones notwithstanding, key measures show there has been a slow down in the rate of technological progress since the early 1970s. Productivity growth is down. The number of new companies entering the economy is down. The number of new companies that later become Fortune 500 companies is down. The median male wage is down from its highpoint in 1969…back when a man first set foot on the Moon. Alan Shepard played golf on the Moon in 1971, but in 2017 we can barely launch a man into low earth orbit. Civil engineers are no longer trained on how to build bridges, instead their education focuses on repairing existing ones. Median real wages for everyone — even for college grads — are flat to down since 2000. The percentage of Americans moving from one state to another — meaning to find new opportunities — is down, by half since the 70s. The frequency with which people change jobs is down. There are no new great universities. The same education is more expensive. American dynamism, as you can guess, is down. These trends point down at a faster clip in Europe and Japan. This is much, much worse than a long line at the grocery store or being stuck in traffic behind an asshole driving an SUV.
So what are we going to do about it?
“Question 46: Would you be happier with more control over what happens in your life or more control over your response to what happens?” Gregory Stock, Ph.D. The Book of Questions
Belonging & Purpose: Meanings Just Ain’t in the Head
“Did I preach these things in prison? Certainly not.”
The truth was, despite the consolation it gave him, Stockdale never thought Stoicism would help his tortured cellmates. He never tapped Epictetus’s maxims in code through the prison walls to his friends. “You soon realized that when you dared to spout high-minded philosophical suggestions through the wall, you always got a very reluctant response. No, I never tapped or mentioned Stoicism once.”
Still, years later, people would want to know what kept the captured pilots going. How did they survive for so long? Stockdale’s answer was not Epictetus and the Stoics. His answer was always, “The man next door.”
“Anybody who has been there knows that a neighbor in the cell block becomes the most precious thing on earth.”
Three things kept Stockdale alive and none of them were Stoic principles.
Survival came down to cultivating a sense of belonging, purpose, and stewardship.
Over a century ago Emile Durkheim found that people are more likely to commit suicide when they are separated from their communities. Durkheim noticed it was soul-destroying, not liberating, for people to be completely free from the bonds and expectations their relationships place on them. The North Vietnamese prison wardens used this to their advantage.
Isolation obliterates. Separating each prisoner from their friends, the North Vietnamese could kick out the props supporting the pilots one by one. These men were welded into a family. They had been together in tight places. They had come to depend on each other. Exclusion eroded that sense of belonging. When you’re in isolation for so long, there is a point at which the power of decision is lost. Alternatives creep into the mind and you become less certain of things. Your memories of language, poetry, history slip away. Alone, anyone would grow so depressed after a year of solitary imprisonment that they “would be willing to buy human contact at the price of collaboration with the enemy.”
If they were going to survive, something had to be done. Right and wrong were up for grabs. There was no cohesion in the group. Cardboard imperatives to obey the Code of Conduct were worse than nothing. Stockdale came up with a plan. He gave the group some rules: “we must all take torture before we do this and this and this.” By “this” he meant a confession or assent to what is false. And what was the threshold for that? “Not less than significant pain.”
The group grew tighter because it felt like they were fighting back. Their lives started making sense. They had a sense of purpose.
Still, the men would come back from torture and chew the cud— they should have held out longer before they submitted. They felt so unworthy and full of shame. “I can never face my friends again.”
Tapping through the walls Stockdale and the others would tell the tortured that they themselves had all done that and worse.
This was the mending process: shame, atonement, and catharsis through the brotherhood. The pilots found release in common knowledge. No matter what they were forced to say under torture, they shared the details through the wall. Their communion strengthened their resolve. To omit friends from an account of what truly matters — as the Stoics do — was for Aristotle to paint a thin portrait of a life that was not worth living. Stockdale learned it was a life that couldn’t even be lived.
Against the Stoics, the Greek epic and tragic poets held that powerful emotions — including negative emotions like sorrow and fear — could be sources of wisdom. The poets knew that our emotions let us feel through what we care about, what’s important to us, and that catharsis, whether individual or shared, is an important piece of our psychological well-being.
From Homer to Sophocles, they portrayed lives made richer and deeper by external goods necessary to our flourishing. They also showed how what lies beyond our control can break us. The Stoics recategorize these external goods as “preferred indifferents.” That way you shouldn’t feel so bad about losing them, even if that indifferent is your child. But the tragic poets of Greece — and Plato wanted to banish them for this — invite us to live in the thundercloud, to grieve profoundly in the communion of the theater for the loss of what we love, not to shut our eyes to suffering, but to affirm life and the world as beautiful in spite of it.
I judge the character of a civilization in its relationship to pain. There are things outside our control that we feel deeply about and they matter. Fight for them. How much displeasure is possible so long as we build a bridge to the stars? Live in the thundercloud, like a ship without masts, barely better than drifting its way home, but still set in its reckoning on some monstrous and infinite sea. Try to get home.
The rise of Stoicism™ is a sign of a civilization in decline. There is something decadent about a society trying to escape its own loss through a sour grapes philosophy. Let us face reality. The answer isn’t in the flick of the mind. We could come together with our friends— decide what we require of each other — and turn back the tide of decline.
This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to master our volatility when the chips are down or that powerful reactions to false beliefs are healthy. Our emotions can be off, ill-fitting to a situation. But perhaps all we need is a good night’s rest, less junk food, some time with friends, and good exercise. All of these help us gain emotional stability better than the sphincter squeezing contortions of Stoic impulse control.
Learn to feel anger at the right things in the right moment at the right intensity. That is arete. Not drinking and then sending other men into battle. Such virtue will take attention and discipline, but trust your emotion’s guidance or else you will totally get hosed.
“for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
So far, pure Wallace. Most people quote the line and leave it here. Perhaps Shakespeare flirted with moral relativism. We can’t really say because the line is not Shakespeare’s; it’s Hamlet’s. And he’s shaking Rosencrantz and Guildenstern off his tail to avenge the death of his father, the king. Hamlet goes on:
“O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.”
Alas, poor Wallace! What Hamlet knew well and Wallace didn’t is that the free movement of the mind is only a misdirection — an infinite jest caught in an infinite nutshell.
We have bad dreams for a reason. Kings have been usurped. It is time to overthrow the usurpers.
All of Stockdale’s quotes and details of his life and prison experiences are drawn from his moving and edifying Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Pilot.
Other useful resources:
The Stoics by F.H. Sandbach
The Examined Life by Robert Nozick (particularly his chapter on emotions)
A Guide to the Good Life by William Irvine
The Fragility of Goodness by Martha Nussbaum
Happiness for Humans by Daniel C. Russell
All Things Shining by Hubert Dreyfus & Sean Dorrance Kelly
The Power of Meaning by Emily Esfahani Smith
Farther Away by Jonathan Franzen (Two insightful essays on the loss of his friend, Wallace).
“The Unfinished: David Foster Wallace’s Struggle to Surpass Infinite Jest.” by D.T. Max in the March 9th, 2009 issue of the New Yorker.
The Birth of Tragedy & The Gay Science by Nietzsche
The Passions by Robert Solomon
Passions Within Reason: the Strategic Role of the Emotions by Robert H. Frank
Going Downtown by Jack Broughton