David Foster Wallace Learns How to Live

Whittle, Philip. 2023. David Foster Wallace Learns How to Live. Other thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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David Foster Wallace once said that “fiction is about what it is to be a human being”. But what did he mean? This question has been addressed by Marshal Boswell, Allard den Dulk, Clare Hayes-Brady, and Jamie Redgate; who have all added to our understanding by reading Wallace’s work through the ideas of dualism, existentialism, post-structural linguistics, and cognitive historicism. But, in my view, we have not got to the heart of the matter. In this thesis, I use Harold Bloom’s theory of misreading to address the ideas that have influenced Wallace, to unpick how he handles them, and uncover how he moves beyond them. By only reading his novels, I pay more attention than previously given to these tensions, allowing us to develop a deeper understanding of what drives his characters, how they shape each other, and how they create the force of Wallace’s human being. I read The Broom of the System as a novel that challenges the uncertainty of post-structural thought by turning away from the ontological foundations of postmodern fiction and choosing to believe in the certainty of reality. After that, I read Infinite Jest as a novel that continues to develop these ideas. But, this time, I see Wallace challenging the uncertainty of post-structural thought by encouraging the reader to love one of the book’s protagonists, Hal Incandenza. I then read The Pale King as a novel that turns to the root causes of our post-structural and postmodern world, the narcissism of modernist ideas and traditional values. In this novel, I see Wallace working to relinquish that narcissism. With these ideas of belief, love, and the relinquishment of narcissism, then, I suggest that, to Wallace, fiction and being human is about learning how to live.

Item Type:

Thesis (Other)

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David Foster Wallace

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

English and Comparative Literature


30 September 2023

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Date Deposited:

24 Oct 2023 10:36

Last Modified:

25 Oct 2023 11:36



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