At least here in America, we’re in a time that’s very, very cynical. So that when you have a piece of pop-culture that has a very virtuous person or a hero, people see those qualities much more as presentations by someone who’s trying to get something, whether money or approval, than true human virtue or true qualities. One consequence of what American scholars call a post-modern era is that everyone has seen so many performances, that American viewers and American readers, we simply assume now that everything is a performance and it’s strategic and it’s tactical. It’s a very sad situation and I think the chances are that nations go through periods of great idealism and great cynicism, and that America and Europe, at least Western Europe right now, are in periods of great cynicism.
Having just re-read the commencement address, I note that one of the things Wallace does very well is reinvesting nostrums with meaning. He does it self-consciously in the commencement address, but it’s also on display in the interview. Assuming Ecclesiastes is right that “[t]he thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun,” it is the key to his literary excellence.