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Chapter 17 - David Foster Wallace and Existentialism

from Part II - Ideas

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 November 2022

Clare Hayes-Brady
Affiliation:
University College Dublin
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Summary

The work of David Foster Wallace can be seen to critically renew ideas and concerns from existentialist philosophy and literature. Wallace repeatedly expressed his admiration of existentialist authors, and his fiction contains many explicit and implicit references to their writings. This chapter will provide an overview of the main themes and intertextual connections that Wallace’s work shares with the existentialists, such as a comparison with Sartre’s view of consciousness, Kierkegaard’s critique of irony, and Camus’s relation of meaningful existence to community; also, a brief comparative reading of the opening of Infinite Jest and Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis,” of “The Depressed Person” and Beauvoir’s “The Monologue,” and of “B.I. #20” and Dostoyevsky’s Notes from Underground. Overall, Wallace shares with these authors the conviction that philosophy and literature are partially overlapping activities, that some philosophical problems are best approached through literature, and that their works therefore blur the boundaries between these modes of writing.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2022

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