Irony, narcissism and affect: a study of David Foster Wallace's Infinte Jest

Woodend, Kyle Matthew (2018). Irony, narcissism and affect: a study of David Foster Wallace's Infinte Jest. University of Birmingham. M.A.

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This thesis contends with the critical paradigm in Wallace studies that posits affective interpersonal resolutions to a central ironic problem. I suggest that this 'x over irony' approach has reached something of a stalemate, especially in critical studies of Infinite Jest. I argue that a narcissistically operative irony isolates Infinite Jest's characters from interpersonal affectivity, but, at the same time, protects them from an engulfment threat; that is, isolation and engulfment form an affective double-bind in the novel that characters mitigate in singular ways. In the first chapter, I deal with the critical literature on Wallace, showing how Wallace's take on irony amounts to a criticism of its narcissistic uses. In the second chapter, I show how James Incandenza is the key figure of the isolating trajectory of the ironic-narcissistic defence. In the third chapter, I investigate Avril Incandenza in terms of the engulfment threat that relates to the horrific affects described in relation to psychotic depression. Lastly, I explore Hal and Orin in view of the isolation-engulfment double-bind in order to demonstrate the consequences of the narcissistic subjectivity in Wallace's fiction. Ultimately, I suggest that characters are caught in a two-sided affective threat that they mitigate, rather than resolve.

Type of Work: Thesis (Masters by Research > M.A.)
Award Type: Masters by Research > M.A.
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
School or Department: School of English, Drama and American & Canadian Studies, Department of English Literature
Funders: None/not applicable
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)


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