Term of Award

Spring 2017

Degree Name

Master of Arts in English (M.A.)

Document Type and Release Option

Thesis (open access)

Copyright Statement / License for Reuse

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.


Department of Literature and Philosophy

Committee Chair

Joe Pellegrino

Committee Member 1

Dustin Anderson

Committee Member 2

Gautam Kundu


Critical considerations of David Foster Wallace’s work have tended, on the whole, to use the framework that the author himself established in his essay “E Unibus Pluram” and in his interview with Larry McCaffery. Following his own lead, the critical consensus is that Wallace succeeds in overcoming the limits of postmodern irony. If we examine the formal trappings of his writing, however, we find that the critical assertion that Wallace manages to transcend the paralytic irony of his postmodern predecessors is made in the face of his frequent employment of postmodern techniques and devices. Thus, there arises a contradiction between Wallace’s stated aims that critics have largely endorsed and his clear stylistic debt to the very authors against whom he is supposedly rebelling. This critical consensus raises the question of how these distinctly anti-postmodern themes can be treated with identifiably postmodern literary techniques. The resolution to this apparent contradiction lies in the ends to which Wallace puts these postmodern means. Although Wallace’s fiction shares many characteristics with much of postmodern literature, he employs many of those same techniques to achieve a distinctly anti-postmodern goal: the praxis of a literary ethic that revolves around narrative empathy, both the textual empathy that the characters have for each other and the metatextual empathy that the reader has for the characters.

Research Data and Supplementary Material