Fictions of Proximity: Skepticism, Romanticism, and the Wallace Nexus tells the story of a nexus of contemporary novelists around David Foster Wallace who took up the legacy of logical positivism and reworked it between the 1980s and the 2000s in a way that has affinities with romanticism. The book shows how the writers of this ‘Wallace nexus’ use fiction’s complexities to challenge the idea that in human interactions, only complete fusion and transparency may count as instances of knowing. In place of this positivistic ideal of absorption, the book offers the freshly defined concept of ‘proximity,’ a closeness with separateness. It reads key novels of contemporary Anglo-American literature as ‘fictions of proximity,’ i.e., as texts that dramatize, problematize, and enact the movement into this position of proximity. To tell this story, the book draws on unpublished archival materials and understudied connections, advancing new interpretations of four novelists: David Foster Wallace, David Markson, Bret Easton Ellis, and Zadie Smith. Fictions of Proximity provides new readings of these writers, both of their canonical texts and of lesser-known works, and situates them with respect to prominent figures in contemporary post-positivist philosophy.
Tim Personn teaches literature and writing at the University of Victoria.
Part I: David Foster Wallace at the End of History
Chapter 1: Varieties of Post-Positivism: Pragmatism and Romanticism
Chapter 2: “The Powerful, Dual-Functioning Part”: Romantic Subjectivity in David Foster Wallace and Mark Costello’s Signifying Rappers
Part II: Skepticism in Contemporary Fiction
Chapter 3: ‘Looking’ in ‘Horror’ or ‘Ecstasy’: Romantic Desire in David Markson’s Wittgenstein’s Mistress
Chapter 4: Brechtian Rhetoric and Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho
Part III: Ironically Earnest, Earnestly Ironic: Fiction after Positivism
Chapter 5: Aporia in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest
Chapter 6: “The great unequivocal International Gestures”: Benjaminian Gestus in Zadie Smith’s The Autograph Man
Epilogue: Breathing with Wallace
About the Author