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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Inarticulate and unshareable : negative feelings and the memoir in David Foster Wallace's post-Infinite Jest fiction Noh, Kisuk


This thesis reads David Foster Wallace’s post-Infinite Jest fiction against forms of confession found in the American “memoir boom,” a period marked by a surge in interest (both commercial and aesthetic) in nonfictional autobiography. More specifically, this thesis traces the way Wallace’s fiction between 1997 and 2008 registers diffuse and non-intentional affective states that typically do not appear in conventional memoirs. Problems attending the representation of such feelings first appear in Infinite Jest, intensify in Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, and become an explicit point of concern with respect to the memoir-genre in The Pale King. Taking the memoir boom as defining a rhetorical milieu of confession, candor, and sincerity in which Wallace’s later fiction should be situated, this thesis examines the short stories “Octet” and “The Depressed Person” with respect to Wallace’s growing concern about the seeming disjunction between extant literary forms and the “nameless interhuman sameness” of contemporary experience. This thesis then discusses The Pale King – a long novel that self-consciously situates itself within the memoir boom, and which continues Wallace’s interest in “inarticulate” and “unshareable” feelings. The Chris Fogle novella that makes up the twenty-second section of Wallace’s final novel will be read as enacting a critique of the ways in which “inarticulate” feelings were passed over in literary representations of emotional experiences during the memoir boom. By contrast, section twenty-four – which features a notoriously long description of a traffic jam – will be read as illustrating the ways in which Wallace’s fictional representations of “unshareable” feelings complicate the more optimistic claims about empathy, community, and civics that we find in his nonfiction.

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