David Foster Wallace's hideous neoliberal spermatics


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Jackson, Edward William (2018). David Foster Wallace's hideous neoliberal spermatics. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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This thesis investigates male sexuality and neoliberalism in the work of David Foster Wallace. I argue that his texts conceive of male sexuality through neoliberal logics regarding responsibility, risk, contract, property, and austerity. Informing such conceptions are spermatic metaphors of investment, waste, blockage, and release. These dynamics allow Wallace’s texts to ground masculinity in an apparently incontestable sexual hideousness, characterised in particular by negativity and violence. By figuring male sexuality as a neutral economic issue, and one that lends itself to spermatic metaphors, his fiction and nonfiction present such hideousness as a fact to be accommodated for rather than changed. My analysis is broadly revisionist. I depart from readings that stress his texts’ opposition to neoliberalism by showing how they are embedded in, and complicit in reproducing, its key logics. I also nuance considerations of Wallace’s gender politics by arguing that their sexual traditionalism is indicative of an attachment to male hideousness, not their author’s intentions or failings. In these ways my thesis evaluates the complex pessimism animating Wallace’s treatment of male sexuality. I trace the interaction between neoliberal logics and spermatic metaphors throughout his oeuvre to consider how and why Wallace presents male sexuality as being so immutably rotten.

An updated version of this research has been published by Bloomsbury Academic, 2020 under the title 'David Foster Wallace's Toxic sexuality: hideousness, neoliberalism, spermatics', available here: https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/david-foster-wallaces-toxic-sexuality-9781350117761/

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
School or Department: School of English, Drama and American & Canadian Studies
Funders: Arts and Humanities Research Council
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN0080 Criticism
P Language and Literature > PS American literature
URI: http://etheses.bham.ac.uk/id/eprint/8538


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