Date of Graduation

5-2016

Level of Access

Open Access Thesis

Department or Program

English

First Advisor

Marilyn Reizbaum

Abstract

Increasingly, David Foster Wallace is becoming a cult figure among literary enthusiasts. His novels, essays, and short stories are all known for their poignant critiques of modern culture. Since his 2008 suicide, Wallace’s name has come to represent a way of thinking that rejects – and perhaps transcends – the hegemonic power of late capitalism.

Wallace had a problem with pleasure. His writing often seemed to deflate or deconstruct what many people enjoy. For him, so much was “supposedly fun.” To understand Wallace’s relationship with pleasure, we must see how pleasure incorporates aesthetics and consumption.

Wallace takes issue with the pleasure that comes from the aesthetics of cultural commodities. Irony produces pleasure, which turns culture into a desirable commodity. In my first chapter, I argue that Wallace’s essays challenge aesthetic pleasure by deconstructing self-reflexive irony. In his descriptions of consumer culture, Wallace evokes the feeling of disgust to undo the aesthetic pleasure of consumption. In my second chapter, I move to Infinite Jest to show how Wallace engages with irony while using it to exceed aesthetic pleasure. Infinite Jest challenges the hierarchy of aesthetics and suggests that deformity and waste can be beautiful and important. Infinite Jest demonstrates that, by trusting others instead of pursuing aesthetic ideals, people can build communities that are more honest and fulfilling than the pleasure of consumption.

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