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Wallace’s ambivalent engagement with high postmodernism is by now axiomatic in criticism, but his relationship to more immediate literary influences is less well understood. This chapter traces Wallace’s network of twentieth-century intertextuality beyond the familiar territory of his troublesome inheritances of Barth, Pynchon and Updike, focusing particularly on his entanglement in the written cultures of the 1980s. Much of the critical work that situates Wallace as a postmodernist heir focuses on the formal innovation and experimentation in his writing; this chapter broadens out to consider geography, motif and theme as well as form and idiom. More particularly, the chapter places Wallace in the context of the “Brat Pack,” arguing that his writing, animated by a spirit of what Jill Eisenstadt called “excess and defiance,” owes as much to the literary group that came of age during the 1980s as to the postmodernist patriarchs more commonly discussed. Taking as a point of departure the early writing, especially The Broom of the System and Girl with Curious Hair, in which many of these formative influences are more clearly visible than in the more mature work, this chapter considers the ways in which Wallace interacted with his own milieu and immediate forebears. Following the recent work of Thompson and Boswell in particular, the chapter also refers to Wallace’s own writing about his predecessors and peers, in which he often reflects, and indirectly reflects upon, the primary tendencies and themes of his own output; indeed, this chapter argues that the essays on other writers of the twentieth century are as revealing in respect of Wallace’s own writing as any of the overtly self-reflective/directive pieces. This chapter operates in conversation with the other chapters in this section, arguing that any attempt to interpret Wallace’s writing must be informed by an understanding of his complex critical, cultural and intertextual networks.
Best known for his masterpiece Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace re-invented fiction and non-fiction for a generation with his groundbreaking and original work. Wallace's desire to blend formal innovation and self-reflexivity with the communicative and restorative function of literature resulted in works that appeal as much to a reader's intellect as they do emotion. As such, few writers in recent memory have quite matched his work's intense critical and popular impact. The essays in this Companion, written by top Wallace scholars, offer a historical and cultural context for grasping Wallace's significance, provide rigorous individual readings of each of his major works, whether story collections, non-fiction, or novels, and address the key themes and concerns of these works, including aesthetics, politics, religion and spirituality, race, and post-humanism. This wide-ranging volume is a necessary resource for understanding an author now widely regarded as one of the most influential and important of his time.