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Abstracts 1/2 - colloque international - Infinite Wallace / Wallace infini

Heath Iverson (University of St Andrews, Scotland, UK)

 David Foster Wallace as Avant-Garde Filmmaker : A History of ‘Anticonfluential Cinema’ 

From his acknowledgment of David Lynch’s impact on his own aesthetic development, to the encyclopedic knowledge of avant-garde film displayed throughout his novels, Wallace and his work call out to be understood not only relative to literary traditions of formal and linguistic experimentation, but also in the context of experimental cinema’s canon of theory and work.

This paper begins by surveying the expansive allusions to the cinematic form in Wallace’s interviews, essays, and fiction. Developing illustrative parallels between Wallace’s prose and selected experimental films--Infinite Jest’s “wraith” and Ed Emschwiller’s Thanatopsis (1962) or the evocation of Canadian wilderness in “The Great Concavity” as compared to Michael Snow’s La Région Centrale (1971)--I argue that aspects of Wallace’s stylistics are prefigured by the avant-garde film tradition.

Building on this allusive and stylistic affinity, I turn to close readings of Infinite Jest, especially the filmography of the novel’s James O. Incandenza and its fabulated “Anticonfluential Cinema” movement. I argue that Wallace’s text can be literally understood as a cinematic experiment, taking Incandenza’s “conceptual, conceptually unfilmable” films as a rubric for Infinite Jest itself. Drawing further parallels between the novel and the cinematic avant-garde, I discuss the fictional samizdat film, Infinite Jest, as an irresistible compulsion in relation to the seminal American experimental filmmaker, Hollis Frampton, and his remarks upon of the literary medium: “Once we can read and a word is put before us, we cannot not read it. We are drawn to read it...” Doing so, I hope to broaden our understanding of a persistent motif in Wallace’s work--the dialectic between rarefied forms of cultural production (i.e. experimental film and literature) and popular, though potentially soporific, products of mass entertainment. Additionally, the comparative approach adopted by this paper aims to generate new and productive critical avenues between film theory and both Wallace scholarship and literary theory at large.

Bart Thornton (The Collegiate School, Richmond, Virginia, USA)

 David Foster Wallace and Cinema

 In a note near the end of Infinite Jest (1996), David Foster Wallace offers a sly allusion to the Situationist provocateur Guy Debord. While watching Blood Sister, a film by the suicidal paterfamilias and avant-garde filmmaker James Orin Incandenza, a young tennis player/academician named Kent Blott demands a translation to an on-screen Latin transcription. He is told the phrase means, “We Are What We Revile or We Are What We Scurry Around As Fast as Possible With Our Eyes Averted” (note 298, 1054). The self-consciously defeatist and clunkily prolix title recalls that of Debord’s final film, In girum nocte et consumimur igni [We Turn in the Night and Are Consumed by Fire] (1978). For Wallace—whose knowledge of European cinema was vast, if often diverted to parodic ends—the conjunctions between Debord’s ideas and Incandenza’s output are significant and deep. As I will suggest, the Debordian strategies of detournement and derive are animating tropes throughout Wallace’s behemoth beast of a novel.

I will show that the trajectory of Debord’s final filmic testament—moving from defiant rhetoric to elegiac lyricism—mirrors the turn in Incandenza’s own cinematic oeuvre. As Incandeza, a Wild Turkey-swilling genius, becomes increasingly introspective and destructive, he begins to resemble more vividly the alcoholic and narcissistic Debord. As I will demonstrate, Debord’s movement in his ultimate film from philosophical prankster to eulogist of loss serves as a valuable template for examining Incandenza’s own cinematic arc and that of the novel as a whole. In light of these issues, I will also analyze two landmark European films about dissolute intellectuals whose traces can be found in Infinite Jest: Louis Malle’s Le feu follet [The Fire Within] (1963) and Jean Eustache’s La Maman et la putain [The Mother and the Whore] (1973).

Mike Miley (Metairie Park County Day School, Metairie, LA, USA)

 …And Starring David Foster Wallace as Himself: Performance and Persona in The Pale King

 In the David Foster Wallace Archive, there are seventeen paperbacks from Wallace’s personal collection in which Wallace wrote his initials beside passages he identified with. The topics of the books themselves are as varied as Wallace’s interests; however, each passage that compelled Wallace to inscribe “DFW” beside it is strikingly similar: no matter whether the book is Don DeLillo’s Libra or R. D. Laing’s The Divided Self or Walter Kaufmann’s Introduction to Alienation, each passage details the pressure a writer feels to perform.

This paper aims to compare these “DFW” annotations to the “David Wallace” chapters of The Pale King, where Wallace the writer endures a series of embarrassments after being mistaken for another “David Wallace,” and, as a result of this snafu, adds “Foster” to his nom de plume to protect himself from the “other David Wallaces running around out there, doing God knows what” (TPK 295). This paper will examine the multiple identities of Wallace in order to see where “David Wallace,” “DFW” and “David Foster Wallace” converge. When viewed within the context of the “DFW” annotations, Wallace’s interviews with David Lipsky and Charlie Rose, his confessional letters to DeLillo, his story “My Appearance,” and his carefully-crafted public persona, these “David Wallace” chapters in The Pale King, comedic though they are, depict the predicament of the contemporary fiction writer. Wallace portrays this writer as a figure always in the process of presenting a persona or, when not on stage, refining that persona for another performance. Scholars can see this dilemma materialize best with regards to Wallace, I contend, in the “DFW” annotations.

While writers like Jonathan Franzen may contend that this problem represents the industry standard in our media-saturated age, when a writer as devoted to sincerity as Wallace becomes ensnared by his own persona, then Wallace’s work shows how the contemporary author is trapped in a Wallace-esque double-bind where sincerity can only be achieved through artificial means. 

Tony McMahon (RMIT University, Australia)

 David Foster Wallace and Music: New Sincerity, (Post) Modern Lovers and the Grunge of Signifying Rappers

David Foster Wallace is rightly considered one of the twentieth and twenty-first century’s most media-immersed of writers. Yet despite his being the co-author of a book on rap, little academic attention has been paid to the potentially rich scholastic area of Wallace and music. It is my contention that Wallace scholarship would benefit immeasurably from exploring more closely the author’s relationship to this media. I begin this process by interrogating Wallace’s problematic status as a ‘grunge’ writer. Greil Marcus’ Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century provides a matrix for an examination of the relationships between avant-garde movements such as Dada, Situationism, punk and grunge, and how these relate to Wallace’s overall project. I also attempt to reinvigorate one of the author’s lesser known and extraordinarily under-theorised texts, Signifying Rappers, and present it as one of the keys to understanding Wallace’s work, as well as his development as a writer famed for the idiosyncratic use of language. In endeavouring to begin this revitalisation, I continue and develop arguments made by Tara Morrissey and Lucas Thompson in their paper ‘“The Rare White at the Window”: A Reappraisal of Mark Costello and David Foster Wallace’s Signifying Rappers’. Finally, I conclude that this potentially fruitful new area of Wallace Studies will not only provide fresh insights into the author’s work, but also have significant ramifications for the study of literature more widely.

Jay Johnson (Medecine Hat College, Alberta, Canada)

 The Canada-centric Arc in Infinite Jest

 David Foster Wallace’s magnum opus, Infinite Jest, is a bitingly satirical criticism of late 20th century American civilization: a multi-faceted attack on American morals, politics, environmentalism, spirituality, sports, recreation, and entertainment.

This critique establishes a marked difference between the world of Johnny Gentle’s America (clean up America and blame it on someone else) and Canada. Though this book is almost completely set in metropolitan Boston and examines the lives of people, young and old, rich and poor, addicted and non-addicted, in Boston, the multiple references and allusions to Canada establish a kind of dialectic between the two. 

Canada is the source of much that is significant in this novel: Avril Incandenza was born in Canada and her intellectual and moral perspectives were established there; James O. Incandenza, creator of the ‘samizdat entertainment’ as well as the tennis academy, though not born in Canada is buried there, and much of the imaginative creativity which resulted in the irresistible samizdat was inspired in Canada, both in Toronto and on the West Coast under the influence of Lyle, the guru who now resides on the towel dispenser in the exercise room of the tennis academy, living on diet cola and the sweat of young tennis players.

Canada’s role shifts throughout the novel. At first Canada is the principle victim of America as the recipient of massive radioactive toxicity spewed forth from the “Great Convexity,” the largest garbage dump in the history of the world; secondly, Canada becomes America’s worst enemy, the Other which is the source of all America’s troubles; and lastly, Canada provides a kind of moral alternative to America, a different approach to the attainment of happiness and success. 

In general, the Canada that is presented in this novel, though it is a wildly off-centre portrait of the real Canada, provides a striking contrast to the morally defective world of America in “The Year of Depend, the Adult Undergarment.”

Marshall Boswell (Rhodes College, Memphis, USA)

The Wallace Effect: The Anxiety of Wallace’s Influence in Contemporary Fiction

In his 1989 novella, “Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way,” David Foster Wallace staged what he called a “patricidal” battle between himself and one of his most formidable postmodern forebears, John Barth. Parodying but also engaging with Harold Bloom’s Oedipal model of artistic creation laid out in The Anxiety of Influence, Wallace tries in this early work both to address and to exorcise Barth’s impact on his own aesthetic while at the same time articulating how he hopes to move beyond Barth’s own brand of postmodern self-reflexivity. Twenty-five years later, Wallace himself has supplanted Barth as the writer to contend with. This paper explores how the writers of Wallace’s own generation have directly addressed in their own work Wallace’s looming presence as both a model and an artistic competitor. Jeffrey Eugenides 2011 bestseller The Marriage Plot is the most prominent work in this vein. Eugenides addresses his own ambivalent artistic relationship to Wallace via the character of Leonard Bankhead who, as many of the novel’s earliest readers noted, closely resembles Wallace himself. By invoking Wallace’s presence so overtly, Eugenides transforms his already self-conscious novel into an intriguing allegory for the contemporary post-postmodern novel and its relationship to the postmodern novels and post-structural work that preceded it. At the same time, the novel stages an artistic battle between himself and Wallace that also parodies Wallace’s own self-conscious critiques of Bloom’s The Anxiety of Influence. Although Eugenides mines Wallace’s personal life as well as his fiction to characterize Leonard, ultimately Eugenides is more interested in investigating and critiquing Wallace’s critical reception than in critiquing Wallace himself.  Via this multi-faceted agenda, The Marriage Plot not only revives the traditional love story by enacting a metafictional parody of same but also introduces a literary love triangle in which Eugenides and Wallace square off as rivals for the reader’s affection.

Tim Groenland (Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland)

 Infinite Jest and the Death of the Auteur

Since Wallace’s death, more than one critic has discussed the literal death of this influential writer alongside the notion of the theoretical “death of the author”, a concept which has now haunted criticism for almost half a century. I will argue that Wallace’s most celebrated novel can itself be seen as a response to the long-running debate on authorial absence.

Wallace was a central member of what has been called the “Theory Generation” of U.S. writers. His engagement with French theorists such as Roland Barthes and Jacques Derrida was - by his own admission - a transformative influence on his fiction, and the influence of poststructuralist thinking on his work is often explicit. From his first novel onwards, Wallace’s fiction continually explores the relationship between language and subjectivity, while essays such as “Greatly Exaggerated” show him to be a self-confessed “critical-theory jockey” fully conversant with the contemporary academic debate on authorship.

Infinite Jest was written in the wake of a period in which the poststructuralist interrogation of the subject dominated U.S. academic culture, and can be read as a sustained engagement with – and dramatization of – critical ideas on authorship. The reader is presented with a narrative built around the death of an author-figure whose intentions and ontological status come to represent crucial plot elements, and is finally drawn into a search for an authorial subject whose spectre continually hovers just beyond apprehension.

In this paper I will discuss how notes and editorial correspondence from Wallace’s archives show how the novel was shaped to encourage such a reading. I will also examine how the novel’s formal elements – and its obsession with media and technology – highlight the processes involved in the creation and reception of contemporary art and serve to question the position of the authorial subject within a rapidly-changing literary culture. 



Jackie O’Dell (Tufts University, USA)

David Foster Wallace and the Anxieties of Serious Fiction 

In the 1993 McCaffery interview, David Foster Wallace contrasts commercial fiction with “serious art,” which “force[s] [readers] to work hard to access its pleasures.” This elusive genre depends on a literary difficulty that challenges conventional interpretive strategies. Indeed, recent scholars have argued that Wallace ushered in new critical trends and aesthetic forms that call into question poststructuralist paradigms, but Wallace’s difference from postmodern metafiction would not have been so readily apparent in the mid-1990’s. This paper considers how Wallace’s early fiction and literary manifestos deployed a unique rhetoric of deferral (evident in Wallace’s rhetorical questioning and in Infinite Jest’s textual gaps) that made a new public of readers more attentive to the difference between postmodern fiction and the genre Wallace was pioneering. Though Wallace helped instigate a shift out of postmodernism, it is crucial to recognize how his anxieties about the possibility of novelty made this transition possible. As others have noted, Wallace was not the “anti-rebel” he describes in “E Unibus Pluram,” but a writer whose novelty resides in his efforts to anxiously evade such labelling. His brand of serious fiction, I argue, is a genre of deferral, an anti-genre that simultaneously evokes and disowns identifiable literary styles. This deferred closure is nowhere more evident than in characters’ readings of the samizdat cartridge “Infinite Jest,” which I read against the grain of criticism that has understood the film as the epitome of addictive commercial entertainment. Though what we know of “Infinite Jest”’s plot reads as a parody of banal psychoanalytic platitudes, its uncertain effect on those who view it becomes a talking point among other characters who are anxious to forestall the social destruction the film seems to produce. “Infinite Jest”’s inscrutability forces readers to reflect on their own ability to discern works as “serious” and novel, throwing into relief the challenges Wallace’s work posed to the reading practices of those invested in particular forms of “serious” fiction.

John Roache (University of Manchester, UK)

David Foster Wallace and the Function of Criticism

 The ‘opaque abstraction’ of contemporary academic writing ‘so closely resembles political and corporate doublespeak [...] that it’s tempting to think [its] real purpose is concealment and its real motivation fear’. Thus is Foster Wallace’s withering attack on the ‘verbal cancer’ produced by ‘little gray people who take the machines others have built and just turn the crank’.

My paper will examine Wallace’s often-overlooked aversion to literary criticism (the ‘radical-intellectual fad’ of today) in the context of his own growing critical reception by Wallace Studies. Moreover, I will offer a reading of Wallace’s paradoxical self-fashioning as both ‘hardcore theory-wienie’ and ‘everyday civilian’: he is a problematically post-postmodern author who, like Don DeLillo’s Bill Gray, could ‘blend into that great mass’ while simultaneously prescribing ‘the need for an absolute being, a way out of weakness and confusion’.

If the ironized strains of postmodernism are diagnosed by Wallace as a Wittgensteinian word-holiday, a prolonged abstraction which can only be solved by some acquiesence to ‘gooey’ sentimentality, then my paper will judge these claims by examining that most cerebral prop in Infinite Jest: the endnote. How are we to read the note affixed to Rusk’s diagnosis of Hal’s ‘Coatlicue complex’ but which admits ‘No clue’? And what of n304, which, within Struck’s ‘insufferable’ plagiarism of U.S. Academese, contains vital information on A. F. R. – but which is only reachable via a sub-network of endnotes for the first 700 pages?

By tracing the historico-theoretical tensions of a device which has often been read as a ‘trademarked’ signal of Wallace’s genius, my paper will instead show that the endnote takes part in a long-standing controversy – from Coleridge to Nabokov – over just what it is that the critic is supposed to do; and why we ‘little gray people’ can do more than just turn the crank.

Laura Morris (University of Cologne, Germany)

 The Emancipated Reader : The Radical Aesthet[h]ics in David Foster Wallace’s Brief Interviews with Hideous Men

Wallace’s fictional worlds paint a grim picture of a media-saturated society that is pervaded by self-conscious characters, emotional poverty, and culture’s addiction to pleasure and drugs. However, while his work functions as an examination of contemporary America and the values it perpetuates, Wallace finds himself at an impasse: Admiring writers like Dostoevsky for advancing ideologies through their work, yet also acutely aware of the impossibility of a reversal of postmodernism, Wallace is caught in the double bind of the incompatibility between the urge to provide the reader with moral values and culture’s aversion to strong convictions and principles.

Relating my paper to a revised understanding of the nature of aesthetics with reference to Jacques Rancière, I will show how these seemingly oppositional stances are by no means mutually exclusive in Wallace’s work. Rather, his oeuvre signals a new moral purpose of art after the postmodern experiment, based on a notion of aesthetics that is not located in a set of prescriptive rules. I will suggest that Wallace’s work mirrors Rancière’s coupling of a theory of aesthetics that harbors art’s ambiguous play between autonomy and subordination as a principal issue allowing for art to impact real life, and a treatment of reception that strives to do justice to the role of the audience: Wallace’s own aesthetics recognizes the reader, as I will argue, as an active agent in the process of interpretation permitting her to translate the work into her own words. Meanwhile, his writings serve as mediator between the author and his readership. Both Wallace and Rancière thus aim to liberate the audience from passivity by subverting the consciousness of the readership which can be interpreted as the promise of new possibilities and promises in real life.

Laura Kreyder (University of Milan, Italy)

 Le bon usage : le Français chez David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace revendiquait ses racines dans le Midwest et a mené une vie toute "américaine" où ne figurent que de rares et brefs voyages à l'étranger : en Angleterre puis à Capri, alors qu'il était déjà marié, pour participer à une série de rencontres littéraires, et quelques jours en France, au printemps 2001.

Or, de manière sous-jacente, c'est la culture française qui l'a le plus marqué, dès ses études où il choisit le français comme langue étrangère et s'enthousiasme, dans les années 1980, pour Derrida. Les références abondent, aussi bien dans  le domaine du cinéma (Bresson, Bazin, Desplechin), que de la literature (Perec, Camus qu'il disait lire et admirer peu avant sa mort dans une lettre à Tom Bissell, en février 2008). L'examen de sa bibliothèque, aujourd'hui conservée à Austin, révèle la présence de titres français traduits et en langue originale.

D'autre part, comment ne pas s'interroger devant son utilisation de la langue française dans Infinite Jest? Bien qu'on lui en ait fait remarquer le caractère fautif, Wallace, par ailleurs défenseur de la linguistique prescriptive en anglais, ne fera pas de corrections lors de la réédition en poche de son oeuvre majeure.

Cette étude entend donc analyser les citations, allusions et références à la culture française, et, à partir d'un relevé quantitatif, soutenir une hypothèse sur sa stratégie littéraire (poétique, satire, hybris) concernant son usage du français dans Infinite Jest.

Calvin Thomas (University of Georgia State, Atlanta, USA)

Art is on the way: from the abject opening of Underworld to the shitty ending of Oblivion

 A source-study of a sort, this essay is based on conjecture about reading matters that may have informed some variations on the theme of art and abjection in writings by Don DeLillo and David Foster Wallace.

Certain moments in the prologue to DeLillo’s massive novel Underworld—called “The Triumph of Death,” after the painting by Bruegel, but set in the 1951 Brooklyn Dodgers/New York Giants playoff game and organized in terms of the historical synchronicity between Bobby Thomson’s pennant-clinching ninth-inning homerun (called “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World”) and, on the other side of the world, the Soviet Union’s reported test-detonations of atomic bombs in Kazakhstan —suggest DeLillo’s familiarity with “A Theory of Mass Culture,” the 1957 essay in which “Cold War” intellectual Dwight McDonald rails against the “spreading ooze” of  popular culture industrially produced and homogenized for “the masses.” McDonald is particularly repelled by Life, a high-circulation magazine which he thinks fatally erases the boundary between authentic art and popular kitsch by featuring reproductions of seriously regarded paintings nestled among schlocky stories about the latest Hollywood celebs, as if these quantities of culture were all of the same quality. DeLillo dramatizes McDonald’s argument—and particularly his rancor against Life—in a conspicuously abject fashion at the opening to Underworld: at the climactic moment of Thomson’s “shot,” Bruegel’s “Triumph of Death,” as mechanically reproduced in the glossy pages of Life, is ecstatically torn to pieces by a nameless fan and made to let fall as celebratory confetti onto certain historical personages depicted as attending the game: the secretively cross-dressing lawman J. Edgar Hoover, the criminally connected entertainer Frank Sinatra,  and the then profusely vomiting fatso Jackie Gleason (who has eaten one too many ballpark franks). Mixing shreds of falling Bruegel with Gleason’s chunky spew, DeLillo’s prologue suggests his own authorial/intestinal distress about the fate of language in the logic of late capitalism, his anxieties about art, writing, history and commerce as arenas of abjection in which fundamental distinctions between high and low, life and death, law and crime, worth and waste—and, perhaps underlying all of Underworld’s anxieties, male and female—threaten to crumble.

As for Wallace, his story “The Suffering Channel,” the last piece in Oblivion, concerns one Virgil Atwater, a writer for a magazine called Style, who, in July 2001 (the editorial offices of Style are located in one of the doomed towers of the World Trade Center) is assigned to report on a Mr. Brint Molke, a man from the Midwest whose claim to mass-cultural fame involves his ability to produce signature pieces sculpture out of his behind, not first defecating and then manually sculpting these works of art but rather “miraculously” bringing fully-formed Winged Victories of Samothrace and such rectally into the world. Using the “scatontological” mode of analysis first brought forth in my book Male Matters: Masculinity, Anxiety, and the Male Body on the Line—which explores dysgraphic male anxieties about the links between writing, abjection, long forgotten fantasies of cloacal birth, and tense projections of impending death—I here tautologically speculate that Wallace’s “Suffering Channel” is based, if not on his actual reading of Male Matters (I will claim to remember having sent him a copy of the book in 1997), then at least on his perceived anxieties, as articulated at the end of Oblivion, about precisely these dysgraphically scatontological links. Moreover, I argue that my speculation about what Wallace may or may not have been reading is not merely (and self-servingly) tautological (involving the use of my own analysis to argue that Wallace’s fiction is based on his use of my own analysis) but, more precisely, annular (corresponding to the more conspicuously anal dimensions of annulation that Wallace limns in Infinite Jest—the massive production that of course first prodded me to think that Wallace might want to take a look at my Male Matters).

Stephanie Lambert (University of York, UK)

 ‘We recoil from the dull’: David FosterWallace and Don DeLillo’s Digressive Tactics

This paper will trace affinities between Don DeLillo’s The Names (1982) and Underworld (1997) and David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King (2011) by focusing on both writers’ tendency to stem the narrative flow by introducing digressions, whether in the form of excessive detail, lists, tangents, oscillations between different narrators, or endnotes. Seeking to break with readings of both authors as postmodern – or post-postmodern – I will argue that these works are a continuation of the modernist project of representing the everyday. Recent studies such as Liesl Olson’s Modernism and the Ordinary and Bryony Randall’s Modernism, Daily Time and Everyday Life have asserted the centrality of the everyday to modernist literature, positing that modernist writers’ stylistic innovations arose from a desire to represent ‘everydayness’. In The Pale King, for example, Wallace writes: ‘you will regard features like shifting p.o.v.s, structural fragmentation, willed incongruities & c. as simply the modern literary analogs of “Once upon a time . . . “ or “Far, far away, there once dwelt . . .” or any of the other traditional devices that signaled the reader that what was under way was fiction and should be processed accordingly’ (72). This claim indicates that formal devices associated with modernist writing have lost the ‘shock of the new’ and become naturalised, therefore rendering them more appropriate for representing the everyday and replicating the shifting modes of attention we train upon it. I will suggest that DeLillo and Wallace both curb narrative progression for politically progressive ends: DeLillo’s digressions work to counteract the spectacular narratives of terrorism and democracy building; Wallace’s digressions resist the functionalist logic of the IRS. By redeeming the non-functional, the ‘dull’, both authors force us to retrain our attention on the everyday, and in doing so highlight how overarching power structures pervade everyday life.

Lefteris Kalospyros (National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece) and M. Kostas Kaltsas (independent scholar, Greece)

The social mass and the solipsistic bead : Oedipa Maas, Lenore Beadsman and the limits of self-revelation

 It has already become commonplace to refer to Thomas Pynchon’s significant influence on David Foster Wallace. To date however there have been few sustained attempts to delineate the nature of this influence beyond vague generalities about the systems novel, and the use of irony and paranoia, that focus almost exclusively on the writers’ magna opera – Gravity’s Rainbow and Infinite Jest. But a careful reading of the writers’ minor works, in this case The Crying of Lot 49 and The Broom of the System, reveals specific and fascinating correlations, on both a philosophical and a literary theoretical level. We argue that the adventures of Oedipa Maas and Lenore Beadsman can be approached through Heidegger’s belief that there is no a priori defined human substance – on the contrary, human beings are what they become in their active participation in life: our being is defined by the world into which we are thrown. Oedipa and Lenore find themselves thrown into worlds not of their own choosing, and their quests for the Tristero and Lenore’s missing grandmother respectively, force both to abandon their middle-class conformity and relative affluence and to seek their being in relation to the complex technological and linguistic networks that surround them. For Oedipa, revelation seems to be prevented by the powerful Foucauldian network of power relations and robust technological signifieds that overwhelm her, while Lenore is allowed to overcome her inability to treat language as a function of relationships between persons though, significantly, not through her own agency. Finally, we argue that, in bringing together worlds logically incompossible with one another, Oedipa and Lenore both function as Lacanian ‘floating signifiers’. Lenore’s struggle, however, articulates Wallace’s early focus on solipsism and Wittgensteinian linguistic theory as opposed to the sociopolitical preoccupations clearly present in Pynchon’s Oedipa’s quest. 

mise à jour le 19 mars 2019