Lola Boorman
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‘You are loved’
Race, love, and language in early Wallace
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Love has always been at the centre of David Foster Wallace’s aesthetic philosophy. But critics have struggled to square Wallace's commitment to love with his tendency to represent sex and sexuality as violent and dysfunctional. While Wallace’s fictional explorations of love have been important in working through Wallace’s troubling relationship to women and gender, in his biography as well as his writing, critics have tended to overlook how race shapes the exploration of love in his early work, most notably in Girl with Curious Hair (1989) and his co-authored essay Signifying Rappers (1990). Beginning with Girl with Curious Hair, this chapter examines how Wallace uses race to develop a logic of distance and separation across two stories: ‘Girl with Curious Hair’ and ‘Lyndon’. ‘Lyndon’s exploration of race, sexuality, and the intersection between personal and political love play out against the backdrop of the civil rights movement. Reading the story alongside James Baldwin’s evocation of love in The Fire Next Time (1963), it aligns Baldwin’s examination of white lovelessness and his metaphor of interracial love as political action with Wallace’s/// interrogation of love and distance. While Girl represents an attempt to work through the nuances of difference, in Signifying Rappers Wallace’s vision for love comes into tension with anxieties about race as a 'closed system'. This chapter asks a crucial question: what does Wallace’s whiteness have to do with love?

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