David Foster Wallace’s Hilarious Letter To His College Newspaper

David Foster Wallace, author of “Infinite Jest,” would have turned 50 today. To celebrate his birthday, here’s the letter he wrote to the Amherst College newspaper in response to a jerk who thought it was an unalienable right to blast AC/DC as loud as humanly possible.

To the Chairman:

I write in response to a letter from Dave Hubbard ‘87, who objects to the fact that those of his neighbors who find his (apparently regular) blasting of music irritating and distracting have the power to call security and make him turn his stereo down. Hubbard regards his neighbors’ unreasonable desire for quiet to think or to hear music of their own as dangerous infringements on his “freedom,” and as symptoms of the oppressive, deadening atmosphere that apparently now obtains on the Amherst campus following the decision to close fraternities.

Hubbard’s thoroughly dumb letter wouldn’t even deserve comment if it weren’t such an irritating example of a sort of attitude regarding noise and music and freedom that seems pretty widespread at this college. People seem to think that it’s their right not only to listen to whatever music they wish (which they could do at low volumes), not only to listen to it as loudly as they wish (which they could do on headphones), but to subject others to their particular choice of music and volume, too. (This sometimes gets as extreme as sticking their silly speakers in their windows.) Corresponding to their fascinating theory of loudness-as-inalienable-right is the idea that people who don’t want to be subjected to their choices are spoilsports or tools who want to deny loud-music lovers their “freedom.”

This idea is thoughtless in more than one sense of the word. It’s a fundamentally selfish (and so warped) idea of freedom. The way freedom is commonly and sensibly defined and understood, one is free to do exactly those things that do not infringe on other people’s freedom to do the things they value—like sleep, or read, or do homework, or talk to their friends, or listen to stuff they like…silly things like that. Hubbard’s blasting of AC/DC obviously denies people who can’t escape earshot the freedom not to have to listen to loud music (in the particular case of AC/DC, I think this freedom is probably cherished by every rational being over the age of nine). Since his blasting does this, he’s clearly not “free” to do it. He can of course still be an inconsiderate schmuck and try, until somebody gets irritated enough to call Security or to pay him a little visit himself. For those of us he’s forced his tastes on and annoyed, all we can say, in the words of the immortal lyricist S.O. Teric, is “So sad you’re off to Stanford at the end of the year/In the meantime take your speakers, and stick them in your ear.”

Dave Wallace ‘85

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