Matt Prout
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The problem of other minds in ‘Good Old Neon’
in Reading David Foster Wallace between philosophy and literature
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This chapter argues that ‘Good Old Neon’ can be seen as a direct confrontation with the problem of other minds, and that it addresses this philosophical question through both its formal structure and its thematic content. Furthermore, I claim that through its presentation of its protagonist, Neal, the story suggests that understanding one’s relationship to others on the basis of the sceptical logic of a philosophical problem is seriously misguided. For Stanley Cavell, philosophical scepticism originates in ‘the attempt to convert the human condition … into an intellectual difficulty, a riddle’, and thereby to interpret ‘a metaphysical finitude as an intellectual lack’. This chapter claims that we can see Neal’s tendency to intellectualize the question of his own fraudulence, and his related sense of his own incommunicable interiority, as habits of mind that stop him seeing that the problem of his privacy is a human problem rather than an insoluble intellectual riddle.

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