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  • Print publication year: 2020
  • Online publication date: December 2019

Chapter 8 - For Real? The Critique of TV Culture in the Short Fiction of Robert Coover and David Foster Wallace

from Part III - Literary Immediacy and Television


Discussing works by Robert Coover and David Foster Wallace, this chapter argues that the critical remediation of TV’s aesthetics of immediacy provided an innovative impetus for the experimental postmodernist fiction of the 1960s and 70s and the literary fiction of the 1980s and 90s. Among the first generation of writers to address TV, Coover parodies in his short story “The Babysitter” how TV conflates the fictive and the real by eroding the boundaries between on- and off-screen worlds. The story plays with narrative levels to debunk TV’s logic of spectacle and consumption. Twenty years later, Wallace likewise explores how TV alters our sense of the real. Yet he distances himself from the ironical stance he finds characteristic of both his postmodernist precursors and of TV. In his essay “E Unibus Pluram” and short stories like “Little Expressionless Animals,” he advocates a return to a self-reflexive poetics of sincerity. Although their poetics and historical moment differ, both Coover and Wallace rework televisual immediacy effects to challenge TV’s promise of direct participation and connection and to expand the representational reach and cultural pertinence of literature.

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