Postirony, again. And DFW.

in David Foster Wallace, postirony

One negative consequence of publishing Pop Apocalypse is that I’ve been blogging very little about my dissertation. For four years, I pretty regularly updated my other blog, The Postironic Times, but in 2008 I closed up shop there, transferred all my postings to this site, but lost a bit of momentum in the switch.

Well, of course, I never stopped writing my dissertation (it sometimes seem as if I’ll never stop!) or conducting research on postirony or going to conferences or doing any of that tasty academic stuff.

Today, I received some good news: an MLA special session I proposed on the legacy of David Foster Wallace’s writing has been accepted. The roundtable panel will feature a distinguished group of academic folk who have done great work on Wallace. We are also very fortunate to have Michael Pietsch, Wallace’s editor at Little, Brown, participating in our discussion.

Here go a few key paragraphs from our proposal, which’ll give you a sense of what we have planned:

The September 2008 suicide of David Foster Wallace sent shock waves through the literary world. Equally admired for his fiction and nonfiction, Wallace was considered one of the best writers of his generation, “a huge talent, our strongest rhetorical writer,” according to Jonathan Franzen. As early as 1993, academic critics recognized the importance of Wallace’s prolific body of experimental writing, which as of now comprises two critically acclaimed novels–including the thousand-page “Infinite Jest”–three short story collections, two collections of eclectic essays, a book-length mathematical history of infinity, a co-authored book on rap culture, a short book on John McCain’s failed 2000 primary campaign, and others. Wallace’s writing style seemed utterly original but hard to categorize, weaving together a number of characteristic features: hypotactic, sometimes pages-long sentences that fuse highly technical vocabularies with colloquial diction; extensive digressions, footnotes, and endnotes, also sometimes many pages in length; a mixture of silly, elaborate jokes with a deep sense of moral seriousness; and a love of philosophical paradoxes and puzzles.


To focus our inquiry into the nature and scope of Wallace’s achievement, our discussion will largely concentrate on what is indisputably Wallace’s magnum opus, “Infinite Jest.” “Infinite Jest” is a novel that draws on a staggeringly diverse range of discourses–neuroscience, advertising, game theory, philosophy of mind, self-help and recovery theory, marginal economics, television history, among others–in order to ask fundamental questions about what it means to be human in an era of mass hypermediation and widespread cynicism. We will take this novel as the most accomplished articulation of Wallace’s aesthetic and philosophical aims, his attempt, as he put it in a commencement speech delivered at Kenyon College, “to do the work of somehow altering or getting free of [his] natural, hard-wired default-setting, which is to be deeply and literally self-centered, and to see and interpret everything through this lens of self.” Though we will all make reference to “Infinite Jest,” we will not limit ourselves only to discussing this encyclopedic work; our talks will use “Infinite Jest” as a platform or hub from which to stage a searching analysis of the broader set of issues that animate Wallace’s fiction, criticism, and journalism.

I’ll post more as the convention approaches in December. We hope to see you there.