The Logical David Foster Wallace

The Boston Review considers David Foster Wallace’s recently published thesis as well as his 2005 commencement address:

What Wallace did in his thesis—with the same understanding incisiveness of his later analyses of cruise ships, the porn industry, lobster biology, tennis, David Lynch, and a host of other matters—was show how to resist the seemingly compelling premises that led Taylor to that unhappy, fatalist conclusion. Wallace argues that Taylor has made a category mistake, presenting what is ultimately “a semantic argument for a metaphysical conclusion.” (Wallace is particularly good at unmasking the metaphysical arguments contained in or concealed by logical ones; years later, in his Everything and More: A Compact History of Infinity, he discussed how “implicit in all mathematical theories . . . is some sort of metaphysical position.”) Wallace can thus end on a lucid, heartening, and elegant note: “If Taylor and the fatalists want to force upon us a metaphysical conclusion, they must do metaphysics, not semantics. And this seems entirely appropriate.”

It’s a valiant effort, but it doesn’t really get beyond the fact that these two texts wouldn’t be very interesting except that they were written by David Foster Wallace. While I do support giving these posthumous Wallace texts a fair public hearing, most of what I’ve read indicates they’re not terribly great.

In my opinion The Pale King, the only one of these three that was ever even vaguely meant to be published in some way, will be by far the most interesting and worthy of attention.

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I don’t have much interest in the undergrad thesis, but I think the commencement address is worth more than you give it credit for. Granted, it reads like a speech aimed at 22-year-olds and certainly isn’t a great work of literature, but the core claim–that everyone worships something, and the most important choice one can make is *what* to worship–is compelling outside of merely being a way to better understand Wallace’s work. Of course, even if you don’t agree, it sheds a lot of light on Infinite Jest, particularly Steeply and Marathe’s conversation, and helps to show why I think IJ is fundamentally a religious novel.

Water has some interest, but it’s really nothing he didn’t say better elsewhere. Bottom line: good commencement speech, but few CSs are meant to be printed, published, and sold.


The Surrender is Scott Esposito’s “collection of facts” concerning his lifelong desire to be a woman.


Two long essays of 10,000 words each on sex in—and out of—literature . . .

The first essay dives in to Nicholson Baker’s “sex trilogy,” explaining just what Baker is up to here and why these books ultimately fail to be as sexy as Baker might wish.

From there the book moves on to the second essay, which explains just why Spaniard Javier Marías does right what Baker does wrong . . .


5 essays. 2 interviews.

All in all, over 25,000 words of Latin American literary goodness.

3 never-before-published essays, including “The Digression”—a 4,000-word piece on the most important digression in César Aira’s career.

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