Wallace and I
Cognition, Consciousness, and Dualism in David Foster Wallace’s Fiction
Though David Foster Wallace is well known for declaring that "Fiction’s about what it is to be a fucking human being," what he actually meant by the term "human being" has been quite forgotten. It is a truism in Wallace studies that Wallace was a posthumanist writer, and too theoretically sophisticated to write about characters as having some kind of essential interior self or soul. Though the contemporary, posthuman model of the embodied brain is central to Wallace’s work, so is his critique of that model: the soul is as vital a part of Wallace’s fiction as the bodies in which his souls are housed. Drawing on Wallace’s reading in the science and philosophy of mind, this book gives a rigorous account of Wallace’s dualism, and of his humanistic engagement with key postmodern concerns: authorship; the self and interiority; madness and mind doctors; and free will. If Wallace’s fiction is about what it is to be a human being, this book is about the human ‘I’ at the heart of Wallace’s work.
Table of Contents
"[An] alarmed call to arms": Cognitive Science, the Humanities, and the End of Postmodernism
Wallace’s Humanist Fiction
"Theory after ‘Theory’"
How to Read Wallace’s Mind
1. "It’s much more boneheaded and practical than that": Authorship and the Body
The Death of David Foster Wallace
The Mind behind Wallace’s Work
"The Nature of the Fun"
2. "He’s a ghost haunting his own body": Cartesian Dualism in Wallace’s Ghost Stories
Wallace the Posthumanist
Interiority in the Early Stories
"I am soul"
Dualism in The Pale King
"I desire to believe"
3. "The heat just past the glass doors": Therapy, Madness, and Metaphor
"A very glib guy"?
"Looking at stuff under glass"
Wallace’s Treatment of Doctors
"A hell for one"
4. "(At Least) Three Cheers for Cause and Effect": Free Will, Addiction, and the Self
"Both flesh and not"
Free Will vs. the Body
Free Will after Postmodernism
"An individual person’s basic personal powerlessness"
"Pre-Nuptial Agreement of Heaven and Hell"
Jamie Redgate received his PhD from the University of Glasgow. His writing has been published in Critique, Electric Literature, with the Scottish Book Trust, and elsewhere. He was shortlisted for the Imprint Writing Award in 2018.
Jamie Redgate’s Wallace and I is a ground breaking study of Wallace’s vision of cognition. He demonstrates that Wallace’s posthumanist leanings in the context of neuroscience rub up against a sustained adherence to Cartesian conceptions of the self. As such, Wallace’s work proposes a model of cognition wherein the brain produces a quasi-Cartesian mind that is embodied and indelibly tied to and wholly dependent upon the individual’s physical body. The book makes a genuinely innovative contribution to our understanding of Wallace’s work, one that will be immensely clarifying to future Wallace scholars.
Marshall Boswell, Rhodes College