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The Gathering of a Force: David Foster Wallace’s Millennial Fictions and the Literature of Replenishment

Foster, Graham John (2012) The Gathering of a Force: David Foster Wallace’s Millennial Fictions and the Literature of Replenishment. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.

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Abstract

This thesis charts the postmodern fin de siècle in North American fiction, through close scrutiny of David Foster Wallace’s writing, and his engagement with twentieth-century literary development. Through examination of the ‘blank generation’ fictions of Douglas Coupland, Bret Easton Ellis and Jay McInerney, and establishing the lineage of Wallace’s own influences, such as John Barth and Don DeLillo, this thesis demonstrates that Wallace’s writing is distinct from that of his contemporaries and explores his ambition to move American literature beyond its reliance on established tropes of postmodern expression. In his fiction, Wallace depicts a world where postmodernism has become the default, mainstream mode of expression. Focusing on Wallace’s novels, The Broom of the System (1987) and Infinite Jest (1996), this thesis interrogates his depictions of passivity and addiction through his creative rendering of contemporary consumer culture, going on to evaluate his attempts to develop a new moralism through pragmatic application of philosophical systems of thought. There is particular focus on how his ideas of morality parallel many of Iris Murdoch’s writings on the ethics of attention. This is one of the first theses to make use of the Wallace collection at the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas, and through archival research and close readings it builds on existing critical material in order to position Wallace’s work in the wider American canon, considering its conceptual links to past literary works. Through a critical engagement with Wallace’s work, this thesis reassesses the progression of late-twentieth century American literature and also identifies a Foster: 03943028 ii systematic attempt to initiate a new direction in novel-writing which defies traditional categorisations and more aptly describes the American millennial experience.

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