Reading incompletion: the fiction of David Foster Wallace

Gurowich, Tim Cahill (2020) Reading incompletion: the fiction of David Foster Wallace. Doctoral thesis (PhD), University of Sussex.

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This thesis makes a contribution to the growing field of criticism on David Foster Wallace, reconsidering the fundamental question of how we read Wallace’s fiction—the particular interpretative activity demanded by his work. Wallace’s fiction is essentially defined by its incompletion: an unfinished-ness which forms a foundational structural and thematic principle throughout his career. Tracing the various kinds of incompleteness found across Wallace’s oeuvre, this thesis questions how these incompletions inform our readerly responses to his writing. In this, it shows how Wallace’s work provokes a particularly self-conscious form of ‘active reading’, one which makes us persistently aware of our own role in ‘realising’ or ‘completing’ the text. This enquiry draws on a range of theoretical sources, including Iser’s phenomenology of reading, Blanchot’s conception of the ‘solitude’ of the literary work, and Felski’s contemporary discussions of the affective dimensions of the reading process. Ultimately, it shows how Wallace’s writing directs us outwards, inviting us to consider more broadly the complex, participatory nature of reading itself—the extent to which interpretation always involves an encounter with incompletion, a negotiation with an unfinished-ness inherent in every literary text.
This investigation takes a chronological approach—tracing the development of Wallace’s concerns across his career—but also a thematic one, using each chapter to address a different facet of incompletion. The first two chapters focus on Wallace’s reading, addressing his intertextual engagements, both literary and philosophical, in The Broom of the System and Girl with Curious Hair. Chapter three investigates the tension between encyclopaedic ‘mastery’ and inevitable incompleteness in Infinite Jest. Chapter four explores the focus on silence and absence which characterises Brief Interviews with Hideous Men and Oblivion. Finally, chapter five draws these various enquiries together in reading the radical unfinished-ness of Wallace’s posthumously-published final novel The Pale King.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: School of Media, Arts and Humanities > English
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PS American literature > PS0700 Individual authors > PS3550 1961-2000 > PS3573.A425635 Wallace, David Foster
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 10 Feb 2020 10:46
Last Modified: 16 Mar 2022 15:48

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