David Foster Wallace’s name is often linked with those of other innovative postmodernist authors, such as John Barth, Robert Coover, and Thomas Pynchon; however, his writing incorporates the intricate intellectual hilarity of these authors at the same time it includes a postironic sincerity and a puzzlement with the predicament of living in postmodern America. Throughout his writing, Wallace examines themes of loneliness and desire, detachment and self-awareness, and mass culture and spectacle. Claiming that books are saturated with the uniform sameness of the messages in commercial media, Wallace maintained that fiction’s role for the contemporary reader is “[to make] the familiar strange again.”
Knowledge is learned through language. To this end, Wallace’s work foregrounds narrative as an act that mediates the reader’s experience of the world through language. His short stories are often fragmented and defy simple summary, while his long fiction involves twisting, multidirectional sentences and interconnecting plots that rely heavily on contingency and uncertainty. His work is uncompromising in its use of multiple points of view and disparate plot lines that are often left unresolved, but rather than merely frustrating readers’ expectations, this openness demands that readers collaborate with the author in the experience of taking meaning from the text. One of Wallace’s primary achievements as a writer is his ability to develop...
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