Wallace and I: cognition, consciousness, and dualism in David Foster Wallace’s fiction

Redgate, Jamie Peter (2017) Wallace and I: cognition, consciousness, and dualism in David Foster Wallace’s fiction. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Printed Thesis Information: https://eleanor.lib.gla.ac.uk/record=b3304305


Though David Foster Wallace is well known for declaring that “Fiction’s about what it is to be a fucking human being” (Conversations 26), what he actually meant by the term “human being” has been quite forgotten. It is a truism in Wallace studies that Wallace is a posthuman writer whose characters are devoid of any kind of inner interiority or soul. This is a misreading of Wallace’s work.

My argument is that Wallace’s work and his characters—though they are much neglected in Wallace studies—are animated by the tension between materialism and essentialism, and this dualism is one of the major ways in which Wallace bridges postmodern fiction with something new. My project is itself part of this post-postmodern turn, a contribution to the emerging field of cognitive literary studies which has tried to move beyond postmodernism by bringing a renewed focus on the sciences of mind to literary criticism. As yet, this field has largely focused on fiction published before the twentieth century. I expand the purview of cognitive literary studies and give a rigorous and necessary account of Wallace’s humanism.

In each chapter I discuss a particular concern that Wallace shares with his predecessors (authorship; selfhood; therapy; free will), and explore how Wallace’s dualism informs his departure from postmodernism. I begin by setting out the key scientific sources for Wallace, and the embodied model of mind that was foundational to his writing and his understanding, especially after Barthes’s “Death of the Author,” of the writing process. In chapter 2, I unravel the unexamined but hugely significant influence of René Descartes on Wallace’s ghost stories, showing that Wallace’s work is not as posthuman as it is supposed to be. In chapter 3, I discuss the dualist metaphors that Wallace consistently uses to describe an individual’s experience of sickness. Focusing on the interior lives of both therapist and patient in Wallace’s work, I show that Wallace’s therapy fictions are a critical response to postmodern anti-psychiatry. Finally, in chapter 4, I reconcile Wallace’s dualist account of material body and essential mind by setting his work against both the history of the philosophy of free will and postmodern paranoid fiction.

If Wallace’s fiction is about what it is to be a human being, this thesis is about the human ‘I’ at the heart of Wallace’s work.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: David Foster Wallace, dualism, consciousness, american literature, postmodernism, post-postmodernism, brain, cognition, madness, cognitive literary studies.
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PR English literature
P Language and Literature > PS American literature
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Critical Studies > English Literature
Funder's Name: Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC)
Supervisor's Name: Burn, Dr. Stephen J. and Gair, Dr. Chris and Coyer, Dr. Megan
Date of Award: 2017
Depositing User: Mr Jamie Redgate
Unique ID: glathesis:2017-8635
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 22 Feb 2018 10:00
Last Modified: 28 Jan 2020 09:38
URI: http://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/8635
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