Clare Hayes-Brady
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‘I am in here’
David Foster Wallace and the body as object
in Reading David Foster Wallace between philosophy and literature
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Wallace’s writing is full of bodies, often in grotesque situations of pain, addiction, or stress. From LaVache’s Leg in The Broom of the System to Cusk’s sweaty self-consciousness in The Pale King, the body is a site of contested identity, a physical inscription of the mind–body problem. Wallace’s engagement with the body situates the body as both locus of subjectivity and focus of objectification, and through examining his close attention to embodied subjectivity it is possible to elucidate aspects of his preoccupation with solipsism and human connection. Of particular interest is how our embodied experiences, according to Wallace, shape and foreclose our linguistic engagement with the world.

Through close readings of a number of scenes, this chapter works towards an outline of Wallace’s poetics and ethics of embodiment. The chapter draws on existing scholarship on Wallace arguing that Wallace’s engagement with the body speaks also to a post-Kantian desire to locate the self both in opposition to and in co-operation with the unknowable other. I argue that Wallace uses the body – often the female body, often in pain – to dramatize coherent alterity. By the same token, Wallace engages in a struggle to imagine a whole and fully contained self, but this imaginative process is troubled by the forces of late capitalism in the form of drugs, labour, entertainment, and violence. The chapter argues that the body of Wallace’s work is a site of epistemological and phenomenological crisis that engages with the deepest and most sustained questions of his craft.

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