On David Foster Wallace’s anti-irony

by look i have opinions

“Are his harangues against the tyranny of irony meant to be taken in earnest, or are they artfully constructed simulacra of what a sincere anti-ironist might sound like? Or both? If one way to escape from the blind alley of postmodern self-consciousness is simply to turn around and walk in another direction—which is […] what a great many very interesting writers, without making a big deal about it, simply do—Wallace prefers to forge ahead in hopes of breaking through to the other side, whatever that may be. For all his impatience with the conventions of anti-realism, he advances a standard postmodern view that ‘the classical Realist form is soothing, familiar and anesthetic; it drops us right into spectation. It doesn’t set up the sort of expectations serious 1990s fiction ought to be setting up in readers.’ Wallace, then, is less anti-ironic than (forgive me) meta-ironic. That is, his gambit is to turn irony back on itself, to make his fiction relentlessly conscious of its own self-consciousness, and thus to produce work that will be at once unassailably sophisticated and doggedly down to earth. Janus-faced, he demands to be taken at face value. ‘Single-entendre principles’ is a cleverly tossed off phrase, but Wallace is temperamentally committed to multiplicity—to a quality he has called, with reference to the filmmaker David Lynch, ‘bothness.’ He wants to be at once earnest and ironical, sensitive and cerebral, lisible and scriptible, R&D and R&R, straight man and clown, grifter and mark.”

—A. O. Scott (x)

Well, yes! Like I keep saying about irony and sincerity: why not both? Why not both?

That said, I read Infinite Jest when I was already getting deep in a self-reinforcing pattern of self-conscious and almost solipsistic thinking. I think I understand the trouble Wallace got himself in by forging ahead.

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