UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

When pain "finds a voice" : the articulation and narrativization of pain in the work of David Foster Wallace and Charlie Kaufman Martin, Michelle Lee


In response to the increasing cultural interest in diversifying the canon by no longer engaging with problematic artists such as David Foster Wallace and Charlie Kaufman, this thesis argues the merit in continued critical engagement in their work—particularly, because of their complex treatment of pain. While paying particular attention to questions of gender, this thesis illuminates how their characters, when faced with its all-encompassing, destructive power, seek to express and address their own pain. First, “Breaching That Wall” examines how Wallace in “The Depressed Person” and Kaufman in Synecdoche, New York address the problem of pain’s inherent inexpressibility. Analyzing the ways in which characters struggle to articulate their pain, this chapter not only explores the inevitable failures that arise as they employ literary devices such as metaphor and synecdoche to approximate their pain experience but also elucidates the necessity in undergoing this process. Then, “Whereby One Does Not Equal Two” investigates how women become talismans, or “invested objects,” through which male characters seek to alleviate their pain. Using Julia Kristeva’s definition of melancholy, this chapter traces how the male protagonists’ pain permeates and corrupts their relationships in Wallace’s “B.I. #20” and Kaufman’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Ultimately, in uncovering the importance of empathy in the face of seemingly insurmountable pain, this thesis illustrates the significance of Wallace and Kaufman’s contribution to critical conversations about pain, gender, and the necessity of human connection.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International