Mara Mattoscio
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‘The interstices of her sense of something’
David Foster Wallace, the quest for affect, and the future of gendered interactions
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Drawing on affect theory, this chapter proposes to read Brief Interviews with Hideous Men as an exploration of the socio-structural nature of affects. I maintain that, in contrast with Lauren Berlant’s notion of ‘cruel optimism’, Wallace’s attitude in this book is one of ‘wry pessimism’, predicated on the need to point out our societal crisis and the refusal to take for granted a linear idea of future progress. By examining two specific stories in the collection, namely the futuristic ‘Datum Centurio’ and the multi-section, meta-fictional ‘Octet’, I argue that Wallace goes beyond both argumentative appraisal and performative critique of the problematic present. Rather, he attempts to show what the affective consequences of today’s sexist society can be on future human connections that promise to be more and more dependent on advanced technological devices. While highlighting the inescapable ambiguity of language, Brief Interviews centres the chase for affect – both embodied and narrated – and urges readers to ‘invest’ in their own structural affective inadequacies in an attempt to track apparently irretrievable emotions down in the ‘interstices’ of our gender-constrained world.

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