David Foster Wallace and

David Foster Wallace and "The Long Thing": New Essays on the Novels

by Marshall Boswell
     
 

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Of the twelve books David Foster Wallace published both during his lifetime and posthumously, only three were novels. Nevertheless, Wallace always thought of himself primarily as a novelist. From his college years at Amherst, when he wrote his first novel as part of a creative honors thesis, to his final days, Wallace was buried in a novel project, which he often

Overview

Of the twelve books David Foster Wallace published both during his lifetime and posthumously, only three were novels. Nevertheless, Wallace always thought of himself primarily as a novelist. From his college years at Amherst, when he wrote his first novel as part of a creative honors thesis, to his final days, Wallace was buried in a novel project, which he often referred to as "the Long Thing." Meanwhile, the short stories and journalistic assignments he worked on during those years he characterized as "playing hooky from a certain Larger Thing." Wallace was also a specific kind of novelist, devoted to producing a specific kind of novel, namely the omnivorous, culture-consuming "encyclopedic" novel, as described in 1976 by Edward Mendelson in a ground-breaking essay on Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow.

David Foster Wallace and "The Long Thing" is a state-of-the art guide through Wallace's three major works, including the generation-defining Infinite Jest. These essays provide fresh new readings of each of Wallace's novels as well as thematic essays that trace out patterns and connections across the three works. Most importantly, the collection includes six chapters on Wallace's unfinished novel, The Pale King, which will prove to be foundational for future scholars of this important text.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
06/09/2014
Collecting essays that originally appeared in two special issues of Studies in the Novel, this volume from editor Boswell (Understanding David Foster Wallace) showcases scholarly writing on Wallace’s (1962–2008) three novels: The Broom of the System, Infinite Jest, and The Pale King. Boswell divides the book into sections on the novels themselves along with a chapter titled “Wallace as Novelist.” The collection is weighted somewhat toward The Pale King, the author’s posthumously published, unfinished “long thing,” but offers a good mix of essays on all three books. Adam Kelly examines Wallace’s career as a whole and argues convincingly the he should be considered a “novelist of ideas.” Ralph Clare shows how Wallace uses the theme of boredom in The Pale King with great complexity, and Philip Sayers’s work on “representing entertainment” in Infinite Jest will also be important to the emerging field of Wallace studies. Although most essays are accessible and straightforward, the contributors occasionally indulge in jargon (“the Free Indirect Wraith Model,” “heteroglossic space”). Several chapters shed light on Wallace’s political philosophy and how The Pale King, in particular, “wrestles directly with matters of real world politics.” The book succeeds because the essays are not only substantial and provocative, but also because they are, like Wallace’s novels, in conversation with each other. It will lead the conversation about Wallace in exciting new directions. (July)
PublishersWeekly.com

The book succeeds because the essays are not only substantial and provocative, but also because they are, like Wallace's novels, in conversation with each other. It will lead the conversation about Wallace in exciting new directions.
Times Literary Supplement (reviewed by Paul Quinn)

A new collection of essays, edited by the pioneering Wallace scholar, Marshall Boswell, is dedicated to the literary form most conspicuously suited to a writer intent on communicating entire informational universes within and without ... The essays here reflect the polymathic scope of Wallace's engagement with the world and the world of ideas ... A principle value of this collection is to gather early critical accounts of an encyclopedic novel destined to refine our view of Wallace's achievement ... As another prominent Wallace scholar, Stephen J. Burn, puts it here, we are still 'at the prototype phase of The Pale King criticism ... it is only when we start to disentangle what Wallace originally planned from the published text ... that we can begin the critical project of understanding The Pale King in earnest.
Patrick O’Donnell

Edited by one of the premiere critics of David Foster Wallace's work, this sparkling collection of essays on Wallace's novels offers a host of new insights about Wallace's novels, including a healthy selection of essays on The Pale King, his last, unfinished novel published posthumously. All readers of Wallace--indeed, all readers of contemporary fiction--will benefit from these new perspectives on one of the most important writers to have emerged in the last thirty years of American literature.
Mary K. Holland

David Foster Wallace and 'The Long Thing' provides the first concerted generic consideration of Wallace's work, by using its focus on Wallace's novels and novella to explore his understandings and uses of the long form. While some essays examine his repurposing of structural aspects of the novel inherited from earlier postmodernism, like encyclopedicness and heteroglossia, others investigate ways in which his long works discover new communicative potential in the novel as print medium, and as intimately intertwined with the network of visual and cultural media in which it lies. Along the way, these essays introduce fruitful new frameworks for reading Wallace's work, including models of consciousness and Jamesian civic responsibility, while offering some surprising new readings of familiar themes like irony and communication. Insightful and deft textual analysis, especially of The Pale King, provides an additional delight. This collection will be a welcome addition to Wallace studies for all readers, scholars, and fans of Wallace's fiction.
Brian McHale

If you are obsessed with David Foster Wallace's novels, or even if you are only a causal reader (is there such a thing?), you will want to consult the essays in this volume. At a moment when the consensus about Wallace is congealing prematurely around a handful of canonical themes - Infinite Jest is about addiction, Pale King is about boredom, Wallace's fiction in general aspires to escape the gravitational pull of postmodern irony, and so on, you know the drill - these essays open up other perspectives and fresh alternatives. Even when they revisit the canonical motifs of Wallace criticism, they succeed in casting a bracingly estranging light on tried-and-true themes. Read these essays and don't settle for the same old same old!
Lee Konstantinou

David Foster Wallace first and foremost considered himself to be a novelist. The contributors to David Foster Wallace and "The Long Thing" rousingly show that we are only at the beginning of our collective journey through - and understanding of - Wallace's three massively, spectacularly important novels. Among its many delights, this collection moves beyond the critical commonplaces of what it's already fair to call David Foster Wallace Studies, and brings together bracing and original essays on Wallace's tornadic third novel The Pale King. An impressive achievement.
Andrew Hoberek

So much remains to be said about David Foster Wallace's seismic role in reshaping American fiction. In Marshall Boswell's new collection, established scholars and new voices provide compelling, fine-grained accounts of both individual novels and the threads that connect them.
Textual Practice - Kiron Ward

[This] collection is a valuable addition to Wallace scholarship
From the Publisher

“The book succeeds because the essays are not only substantial and provocative, but also because they are, like Wallace's novels, in conversation with each other. It will lead the conversation about Wallace in exciting new directions.” —PublishersWeekly.com

“A new collection of essays, edited by the pioneering Wallace scholar, Marshall Boswell, is dedicated to the literary form most conspicuously suited to a writer intent on communicating entire informational universes within and without ... The essays here reflect the polymathic scope of Wallace's engagement with the world and the world of ideas ... A principle value of this collection is to gather early critical accounts of an encyclopedic novel destined to refine our view of Wallace's achievement ... As another prominent Wallace scholar, Stephen J. Burn, puts it here, we are still 'at the prototype phase of The Pale King criticism ... it is only when we start to disentangle what Wallace originally planned from the published text ... that we can begin the critical project of understanding The Pale King in earnest.” —Times Literary Supplement (reviewed by Paul Quinn)

“Edited by one of the premiere critics of David Foster Wallace's work, this sparkling collection of essays on Wallace's novels offers a host of new insights about Wallace's novels, including a healthy selection of essays on The Pale King, his last, unfinished novel published posthumously. All readers of Wallace--indeed, all readers of contemporary fiction--will benefit from these new perspectives on one of the most important writers to have emerged in the last thirty years of American literature.” —Patrick O’Donnell, Professor and Chair of English, Michigan State University, USA

David Foster Wallace and 'The Long Thing' provides the first concerted generic consideration of Wallace's work, by using its focus on Wallace's novels and novella to explore his understandings and uses of the long form. While some essays examine his repurposing of structural aspects of the novel inherited from earlier postmodernism, like encyclopedicness and heteroglossia, others investigate ways in which his long works discover new communicative potential in the novel as print medium, and as intimately intertwined with the network of visual and cultural media in which it lies. Along the way, these essays introduce fruitful new frameworks for reading Wallace's work, including models of consciousness and Jamesian civic responsibility, while offering some surprising new readings of familiar themes like irony and communication. Insightful and deft textual analysis, especially of The Pale King, provides an additional delight. This collection will be a welcome addition to Wallace studies for all readers, scholars, and fans of Wallace's fiction.” —Mary K. Holland, Associate Professor of English, SUNY New Paltz, USA and author of Succeeding Postmodernism: Language and Humanism in Contemporary American Literature

“If you are obsessed with David Foster Wallace's novels, or even if you are only a causal reader (is there such a thing?), you will want to consult the essays in this volume. At a moment when the consensus about Wallace is congealing prematurely around a handful of canonical themes - Infinite Jest is about addiction, Pale King is about boredom, Wallace's fiction in general aspires to escape the gravitational pull of postmodern irony, and so on, you know the drill - these essays open up other perspectives and fresh alternatives. Even when they revisit the canonical motifs of Wallace criticism, they succeed in casting a bracingly estranging light on tried-and-true themes. Read these essays and don't settle for the same old same old!” —Brian McHale, Arts & Humanities Distinguished Professor of English, The Ohio State University, USA

“David Foster Wallace first and foremost considered himself to be a novelist. The contributors to David Foster Wallace and "The Long Thing" rousingly show that we are only at the beginning of our collective journey through - and understanding of - Wallace's three massively, spectacularly important novels. Among its many delights, this collection moves beyond the critical commonplaces of what it's already fair to call David Foster Wallace Studies, and brings together bracing and original essays on Wallace's tornadic third novel The Pale King. An impressive achievement.” —Lee Konstantinou, Assistant Professor English, University of Maryland, USA

“So much remains to be said about David Foster Wallace's seismic role in reshaping American fiction. In Marshall Boswell's new collection, established scholars and new voices provide compelling, fine-grained accounts of both individual novels and the threads that connect them.” —Andrew Hoberek, Associate Professor of English, University of Missouri, USA

“[This] collection is a valuable addition to Wallace scholarship” —Kiron Ward, Textual Practice

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781628924534
Publisher:
Bloomsbury Academic
Publication date:
07/31/2014
Pages:
272
Sales rank:
1,187,396
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.70(d)

Meet the Author

Marshall Boswell is Professor and Chair of English at Rhodes College, USA. He is the author of John Updike's Rabbit Tetralogy: Mastered Irony in Motion and Understanding David Foster Wallace. He is the co-editor, with Stephen Burn, of A Companion to David Foster Wallace Studies and served as Guest Editor for a two-part Special Issue of Studies in the Novel devoted to David Foster Wallace's novels. He is also the the author of two works of fiction, Trouble with Girls and the novel Alternative Atlanta.

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